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How Magic Mushrooms at a Concert Unexpectedly Alleviated My ADHD Symptoms

I was at a Death Grips show at the Warfield in San Francisco when one of my oldest friends showed up wearing a massive cowboy hat and handed me four desiccated—but relatively large—psilocybin mushrooms. “These should do the trick,” he told me, palming them into my hand in one fluid motion.

A few weeks prior, we had decided it was a good idea to do some shrooms at this show. If you’re not familiar, Death Grips is an experimental rap group out of Sacramento, CA, consistently drawing praise and befuddlement from critics. Their music is loud, intense, chaotic, and fun.

The smart move would have been consuming one cap and stem, observing how it felt, and then taking more if I felt like taking more. But instead, I popped all four caps and stems into my mouth and buckled up.

It’s often hard to tell how strong a magic mushroom is. The amount of psilocybin in an individual piece hinges on factors such as freshness, storage methods, and how they were grown. The intensity of a trip can also be affected by everything from your mental state to how much food you consumed during the day.

Things went sideways about thirty minutes in. I am no stranger to psychedelics—I mean, I go to Burning Man every year—but suddenly, the blaring music and large groups of people became overwhelming. So I grabbed my friend, and we exited onto Market Street. At this point, powerful but pleasant audio and visual hallucinations set in. We strolled around San Francisco’s colorful Tenderloin neighborhood for a time, then caught an Uber back to my house.

For people who have tripped on powerful psychedelics before, what I’m about to describe will make perfect sense. For those who haven’t, I'll do my best. The second I walked through my front door, I could no longer remember who I was. This is commonly known as ego death. Soon after, I lost the ability to speak coherently. I had no idea what my name was, where I lived, or what I did for a living.

After a few hours of pacing around my home office and staring at the intricate patterns of the wood grain in my bookshelves, I softly returned from the void—verbal abilities intact—but confused about what the exact year was. The remainder of the evening was a hilarious series of clichéd high-person activities. I tried (and failed) at making mac and cheese, tried to convince my friend to help me steal a speedboat, and threatened multiple times to fight the ocean. By sunrise, I was glowing but exhausted—like a wet cloth that had just been wrung out.

In general, I’m an upbeat, optimistic person, having never experienced depression or anxiety. I have no problems with addiction. My only issue is I’ve been prone to disorder and wandering thoughts my entire life. After my colleague Dave Holmes eloquently wrote about being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, I got myself checked out and, eureka.

Finally, I had an explanation for the lifetime of missed deadlines, lack of organization, and frequent inability to get places on time. Usually, I can get by with a mix of exercise and vitamins. Occasionally, I’ll pop a tiny bit of Adderall or—god, I feel slightly ashamed admitting this—some Zyn, to put myself in a place where I can focus.

In the weeks following the trip, I noticed an uptick in creativity. My work felt effortless to produce. Checking my phone held little appeal. I was more present. And, most importantly, my ADHD symptoms largely disappeared. People with ADHD describe how it feels in thousands of different ways. For me, it’s as if every single task in my life, no matter how important or mundane, is mission-critical. Once I start a task, my mind is already leaping ahead before the first one is done.

Suddenly, I could focus on something without feeling pulled in a thousand different directions. Keeping a calendar straight, turning in work on time, and getting to appointments felt like second nature. I was floored. Is this how neurotypical people feel all the time? The mushrooms probably had an effect. But how? I decided to search for answers from some of the brightest minds researching psychedelics today.

Psychedelics increase neural communication. There's going to be more complexity in the brain. You're turning that volume knob up.

Dr. Connor Murray, a neuroscientist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience who specializes in treating compulsive and addiction issues with psychedelics, explained that while I’m not the typical patient he works with, the psychedelics still had a positive impact.

“In your case, even though you were not seeking relief from something like alcoholism, you were still able to have the same types of therapeutic effects,” he said. “On the microscopic level, psychedelics act on the serotonin system, specifically the 5-HT2A receptor.”

For those of us without a doctorate in neuroscience, the 5-HT2A receptor is like a traffic cop for serotonin in the brain. Normally, serotonin acts on the surface of our neurons, but certain psychedelics enter the cell and activate an intracellular storage of 5-HT2A. “That's where all this magic happens in terms of these structural changes in the neuron itself,” Dr. Murray added.

When you look at a neuron under a microscope, there are little branches called dendrites and axons, structures that allow neurons to communicate with other cells. Dendrites receive information; axons send information out. “What you see is this genesis of dendrites where there's this big arborization, there's a lot more ability to connect and send signals down the line,” says Dr. Murray.

Imagine your brain as a ski slope. All day, every day, people are carving down it, making deeper and deeper paths in the powder. The ruts are so deep, so well-worn, it’s almost impossible to take a new route. Psilocybin acts like a blizzard, covering the slope in fresh snow and allowing you to zig-zag down the hill in any way you please. In essence, the large dose of psilocybin allowed different parts of my brain to communicate in new ways, and a byproduct was that, for a little while at least, my ADHD symptoms evaporated.

“Psychedelics increase neural communication, increase psychoplastogenicity. There's going to be more complexity in the brain,” says Dr. Murray. “You're turning that volume knob up.”

Do you think psychedelics could be a viable treatment for ADHD?

  • Yes, they offer a new approach to treatment.

  • No, the risks and side effects are too high.

  • Unsure, more research is needed.


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