The Rise of Community Microdosing
Something magical is happening in the San Francisco Bay Area involving mushrooms and community groups. People are gathering to microdose and participate in outdoor activities together where they can explore the benefits of psilocybin in a collective.
In the past few years, the cities of Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz have all passed resolutions to decriminalize the personal use and possession of plant-based psychedelics such as psilocybin containing “magic mushrooms” and ayahuasca.
Even though ongoing research is showing that psychedelics may be effective in treating substance use disorders, PTSD, depression and anxiety, there have been few opportunities for communities to openly form around using plant-based psychedelics because they are still illegal under state and federal law.
It appears that the broader social acceptance of psychedelics, combined with reduced concern about legal implications, has created more interest in the microdosing of psilocybin mushrooms. As more people seek out this experience, it has led to the expansion of groups that meet up for outdoor recreation such as hiking or picnicking, while enjoying the substance in small quantities. For many, the group setting is a safe place to experiment with the drug, while also providing a forum for more novice users to ask questions about the substance from more experienced participants.
Seth Warner, a well-known figure in the psychedelic community and expert on how to grow magic mushrooms, explains the phenomenon. “The science and the media have caught wind of the benefits of psilocybin and people are sharing them more broadly. Probably 90% of people interested in psychedelics have no psychedelic experience though, so the microdose is a really safe dose and the community is an amazing welcome mat.”
“There’s a real argument for local decriminalization and this kind of thing allows for non-capitalist models of connection and distribution among citizens where healthy and informed use is possible,” adds Warner. “It’s a really organic system instead of a clinical model. In a collective, people are learning through peers and it’s addressing more layers of the problem such as society’s ills from being disconnected.”
This trend towards the creation of community groups is helping to broaden the dialogue around plant-based medicine and is fast becoming the place where the curious and likeminded can gather. Check out these five unique collectives and what they have to offer people in the Bay Area.
Coming Out of Isolation
In response to the isolation that quarantine imposed in the pandemic, Christina Sandwen created The East Bay Psychedelic Healing Collective. Sandwen, who has a counseling practice for clients working with psychedelics, originally wanted to just host a picnic where people could find community and discuss their experiences taking psilocybin. She thought a handful might show up, so when more than 30 people arrived at her first picnic in 2020, she was shocked. It was immediately evident there was a need for something like this in her city of Berkley.
“In the context of modern society, life can be lonely,” says Sandwen. “And when you have a psychedelic experience it can be incredibly profound and life-changing, but there’s not really a lot of places to land those types of experiences, where people feel safe to be vulnerable and connect with each other.”
In addition to free community meet ups, the collective hosts a variety of psychedelic integration circles and workshops.
“Indigenous folks have been taking these things in community and know how important that community holding is,” notes Sandwen. “But what I’ve really observed is people come to my events over and over again because they hunger for a certain type of community. Community that centers deep connection and inclusivity, and that allows us to question the boxes we’ve all been told we must fit into.”
Services for Veterans
Other organizations have formed to support microdosing not just out of the need to address isolation but also to deal with trauma from violence. Founder Colin Wells from Veteran’s Walk and Talk has labeled his approach as “guerilla wellness,” an idea rooted in the belief that when conventional treatments fail, people should never stop searching for an alternative. While all are welcome, the group was created to help address the gap in mental healthcare for veterans.
After Wells was discharged in 2012 from the 2nd Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan, he struggled, like some veterans, to return to society. The army had provided a structure where he didn’t need to figure out housing, work or even meals. On his own, he suffered from PTSD, and when the Veterans Administration’s mental health services were not effective, he turned to opioids. Soon after, Wells says he was in and out of homeless shelters without hope that he could turn his life around.
“My defining characteristic was being a soldier and an addict,” Wells says. “That was all I knew. Being out in nature though, there was nothing fueling that narrative, except your own kind of subconscious that you’re working through. You can sit with cannabis or sit with mushrooms under a tree or cactus and start to unravel those preconceived notions of yourself and realize that you’re a part of this — the tree, dirt and sky — and these negative things that I’ve been through and done in my life, don’t define me and I can shed them and keep growing.”
Veteran’s Walk and Talk provides a community to discuss the challenges of returning home from war while being a place to share microdoses of psilocybin or other psychedelics that help in that transition. The group also assists veterans in finding work or even applying for disability when applicable. Wells explained that many veterans don’t even know that they’re eligible.
The hikes in nature are a central healing component in the Walk and Talk gatherings and since beginning in 2016, the group has more than a thousand participants with chapters all across California. Wells hopes to one day buy land where retreats can be held, so veterans can meet and share the plant medicines that they say have helped save their lives.
Addressing the Impacts of Violence
Another microdosing hiking group formed in response to PTSD serves those impacted by urban violence. In 2016, a man known as Brotha Peace from Richmond, California, survived gunshot wounds, but was left riddled with anxiety, paranoia and insomnia. In search of a remedy like Wells, he turned to nature and psilocybin. Peace also added a meditation practice to calm his nerves.
Joining up with a fellow city resident, Scid Howard, who had a similar experience with gun violence in Oakland, California, the two created From the Hood to the Woods. Meeting monthly for hikes across the Bay Area, this community provides a reprieve from the stressful environment of city life and gang violence.
When asked why taking psilocybin in a group setting might be more beneficial, Peace says, “Psilocybin is connected to the mycelium network and the mycelium network bridges and brings things together to communicate. I feel like it does the same thing for other people.”
Peace also explained that the microdose allows people to still be social and active in nature, as opposed to a larger dose that would require more solo introspection. “The microdose, for me personally, has been very beneficial in giving me a boost of energy and clarity. It also improves my mood,” he says.
Since creating the group in 2022, Peace has seen a turnout of around 80 people at each meetup. He hopes to turn the gathering into a weekend festival one day where people can continue to share mushrooms, play music and participate in ceremonies of gratitude, but also sell food, art and homemade wares.
Sharing Mushrooms on the Trail
Also located in Oakland is Hikerodose, a hiking and microdosing collective that was formed by Warner. Hikerodose is a project of MycroRising which empowers community members to cultivate their own mushrooms while supporting people in online or in-person consciousness building events. Membership in this collective includes access to useful educational materials on microdosing protocols, risk factors and dosage recommendations.
Warner and the group’s volunteer coordinator, Jeff Curry, have an online sign-up for hikes but have been diligent about growing the group slowly, only promoting it by word-of-mouth so that the event remains intimate and safe. People introduce themselves at the beginning and an animal spirit card is pulled that gives the hike a particular focus in its symbolism. In the middle of the hike the group stops for tea and has a discussion as to what the chosen animal brings up for them in their lives.
“People like cozy nooks,” says Warner. “And that can be a moment in time or a physical space, which is this idea that it’s a little place to take shelter and the card helps facilitate that.” Curry says of the ceremony, “What we’re really doing is showing up and being vulnerable for each other in a ritualistic way which is something we discovered by accident actually.”
Members of the collective also share mushrooms that they’ve homegrown and the group provides free access to a safe supply of microdoses for members who are interested. The event is always free. The friends formed the group because it was something they enjoyed doing and if others wanted to join then, great. “Turns out people that like to grow and eat mushrooms are fascinating, funny, interesting people,” says Curry.
More than just gathering with likeminded people, taking psilocybin can also facilitate spiritual growth and deeper self-awareness, Warner says. “Mushrooms have been really reliable allies to me to take a deeper catalog of where I’m at and how I’m feeling. They’ve helped me find a better semblance of balance in my life and access more of me, so I can make decisions from a place of more self-awareness.”
Macro and Micodosing for Healing
As a microdosing and entheogenic healing coach, Elena Pratte, puts improved self-awareness at the top of the list of benefits from taking psilocybin. Also known as EntheoElena, Pratte says that after a cancer diagnosis in 2007, she searched for remedies to heal herself physically. What she discovered was that physical, emotional, mental and spiritual healing were inseparable from each other.
“Plant medicine made me look at how I can deepen my relationship with others, including myself, and create more flow and harmony,” says Pratte. “It facilitates healing because it enhances your self-awareness. It makes you question your motivations and vested interests. Ultimately, sacred medicine, when properly administered in the right set and setting, can usher one to feel more love, compassion, empathy, wisdom, intuition, creativity, trust, acceptance and wonder.”
While Pratte facilitates both macro and microdosing sessions in various locations in the East Bay Area, her microdosing hike is focused on discussion only. Group members share experiences or discuss harm reduction while in nature. Pratte also does one-on-one psychedelic journeys with clients, but notes the obvious benefits from taking the plant in a collective. “Healing is always enhanced in a community setting. It feels more supportive, nurturing and protective,” she adds. “You feel more grounded when you have each other.”
Although Northern California feels friendlier and safer than most areas around the country for microdosing in a collective, it might not be an anomaly for long. Voters in Oregon and Colorado have also approved similar ballot measures for the decriminalization of plant-based medicines. At the end of March this year, Senate Bill 58, which would decriminalize some plant-based psychedelic substances, was passed by the Senate Public Safety Committee. The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), would decriminalize these plants in the entire state of California.
Curiosity around psilocybin continues to be amplified by mainstream media as well with Netflix’s Fantastic Fungi documentary and Michael Pollan’s book and documentary How to Change Your Mind. Even in cities that have yet to decriminalize psilocybin, the desire for like-minded individuals to gather and discuss experiences around this substance shows no sign of stopping.
Featured image: The hiking community From the Hood to the Woods. Courtesy of From the Hood to the Woods.