Strange to relate, my friend Alfred does not find himself in a state of bliss after more than two months micro dosing psilocybin mushrooms.
Neither is he living with 72 virgin maidens in paradise as a reward for his martyrdom to experimental medicine.
Googling “psilocybin depression” comes up with 277,000 hits, many of which claim that magic mushrooms “reboot” the brain of those suffering from depression.
Many of these claims relate to those who have feasted on The Full Monty psychedelic blowout, rather the the more wimpish approach adopted by the fearful Alfred. Nonetheless, there are many blogs and posts claiming near miracles from mere micro dosing.
In early days, and with retrospect, Alfred supposes the placebo effect may have been in play, although early doses certainly seemed to induce periods of profound relaxation.
While current (thrice weekly) doses can often induce a pleasant state, Alfred is unable to report that his brain has been “rebooted”.
The naive hope had been for a complete mind makeover. A state where every day and every minute would be filled if not with joy, then at least with an absence of customary cynicism and ennui.
A permanent state of optimism as opposed to perennial pessimism. A state where the sun shines and the lilies bloom. Where, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, there “flies no sharp and sided hail“.
It is strange how we humans tend to exaggerate, especially when addressing total strangers. The extravagant claims of many hundreds of bloggers had promised Alfred nothing less than Moksha (or did he misconstrue what he read?) but hyperbole should never be taken at face value. For, by definition, hyperbole is not meant to be taken literally.
Has Alfred anything good to say? Can he report any benefits from his journey into Flower Power? Has he managed to “turn on, tune in, drop out” ? Has Alfred’s life improved one whit?
The honest truth is that Alfred is not at all sure, although his wife claims he has become easier to live with. But every statistician knows the dangers of confusing correlation with causation.
So has Alfred’s life actually improved? Perhaps. A little. Perhaps he is more resigned. He certainly realizes with ever greater clarity what causes him distress, and by contrast what soothes and caresses his damaged pysche.
Distress, as may be expected, comes from worries common to all mortals. The need to survive being prime amongst those. But the more esoteric and existential concerns have by no means disappeared.
On a more positive note, the ever mercurial Alfred finds ever greater solace in poetry, music, art and architecture.
Most days find him studying a choral work or, somewhat eccentrically, reading psalms out loud in an isolated and empty Norman church.
Solitude and silence, contemplation and meditation. A withdrawal from the world of competition, vanity and vulgarity seem to make their mark.
But nirvana? No, Alfred would not claim to be enjoying a heaven on earth. Or anywhere else for that matter.
So, what of the mushrooms? Not one to give up hope too soon, Alfred will soldier on. If his brain ever does get “re-booted” he will shout his gospel from the very rooftops. But his gut feel is that you should not hold your breath.