science

I have ADHD and was scared of psychedelics. Then I found myself eating magic truffles … | Deborah Frances-White


If you had asked me pre-pandemic if I would ever touch psychedelics, I would have said absolutely not. The speed of my brain is literally my only skill. As a standup comedian and podcaster, I can walk out on stage with absolutely nothing in my head and riff with an audience for an hour if I need to – which I know seems like a superpower to others – while ordinary powers, such as the ability to do my laundry every week, elude me.

I was recently diagnosed with ADHD – first in the green room by other comedians, then by a doctor. It seems that a lot of us comics have it. I guess it’s a job you can do if you are not neurotypical, because you see the world from an unusual angle and there is very little admin. I often see comics on Facebook posting: “I’ve just got Peckham in my diary for tonight; am I meant to be doing a gig for anyone there?”

I am sure there are many people with ADHD who have trained themselves to be great in office environments, but I suspect it’s too late for me, so I really need to hold on to that talk-fast-and-mind-map skill. That is why at music festivals I always said no to anything that might change my brain chemistry. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never see the face of God in a cloud, or myself as a baby cat on the ocean floor.

So, on one level, I was genuinely surprised to find myself consuming a cup of magic truffles at an entirely legal therapeutic retreat in Amsterdam. (These are a lot like magic mushrooms, but grow beneath the ground, rather than above.) At the same time, somehow it felt inevitable. The safe, repetitive domesticity of lockdown had made me face my demons and seek therapy, but it had also made me hungry for sensation and risk.

A friend had phoned me and told me that she had taken a trip to the desert and done ayahuasca. She said it had healed so many of her traumatised wounds with visionary reconciliations and not slowed down her speedy, creative brain at all. She said I should do it – but I had to wait till I “got the call”. I said: “Babe, you are literally calling me now – this is the call.” Her thinking was that it couldn’t be a phone call – it had to be more spiritual than that. I started looking for signs. They are there if you Google “retreats in Amsterdam”. You can get the Eurostar there now, you know.

But ayahuasca wasn’t on the cards for me. Lars, the shaman at the retreat that I settled for, said it was probably better to do truffles if you’ve have never done any psychedelics at all. He handed me a little bowl of truffles and told me to eat them all, then to lie down in the next room as soon as I needed to. I assumed I would be in a field staring at trees, but this is a therapeutic dose under supervision. You can’t walk or talk.

Soon I was in a room alone under a duvet cover covered in dancing flowers. The wardrobe in the corner was animated like something out of Beauty and the Beast. I thought I would close my eyes to get away from it for a minute, but that made the visions much more intense. I saw the whole of the 60s in an hour. I understood every album cover I had ever seen. Not long after, I was in the womb and then the afterlife.

It didn’t feel scary at all – it was like I had gone back to the ground and become part of the energy of the world. Still alive, but rested, without the constant demands of email. I saw people in my life in new and revelatory ways, as well as the first act of feminism in the rebellion of the Garden of Eden. When Lars checked on me, I said: “I don’t know if you’re real or not, but this is how religions are started, isn’t it?” He said: “Yes.”

I came out of it after four hours. My brain was as fast as ever, but at some kind of new and unusual peace. My therapist in New York reassures me that much research is going on around the world into the benefits of these natural substances for trauma sufferers.

Now, I have a gig in Peckham tonight. Does anyone know where it is?

Deborah Frances-White is a comedian, writer and the host of the podcast The Guilty Feminist. Arwa Mahdawi is away



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