This comedian tried to explain what drugs feel like and it went strangely
Drugs are confounding — both insanely common at concerts and dorm rooms — and just plain insane.
A new documentary starring comedian Shane Mauss, "Psychonautics: A Comic's Exploration Of Psychedelics," illustrates why drugs, especially psychedelic drugs like LSD, DMT and mushrooms, are the most interesting substances on the planet.
Few people since Terence McKenna have been able to talk about drugs in common terms as well as Mauss. Only thing is, like McKenna, Mauss goes a little bonkers in the process.
Now, drugs might not matter to you if you don't do them. But psychedelic mushrooms are likely to become legal in the next year or ten, either by a vote or as a medicine, similar to how cannabis became legal. You might want to be able to explain mushrooms to yourself — or your mom.
This movie, which won the audience award at the Dances with Films Festival in Los Angeles, could be just the ticket. Mauss says the movie is scheduled to be released in April on Amazon. But he gave Rooster a sneak peek. It has all the fundamentals — how psychedelics are good for depression and end of life anxiety and existential angst, as told by heavy-hitters in the psychedelic world like Terence's brother Dennis McKenna, James Fadiman, Rick Doblin and Marcela Ot'alora.
And the movie also shows the human side of these drugs. It starts by showing you how common psychedelics are: with Mauss in a public park in a city in Kentucky. He's steps from where citizen stroll by, yet he's filling large wicker baskets full of psychedelic mushrooms. The city is manufacturing kilos of controlled substances, right next to the dandelions. The city could jail itself if it wanted to.
Plus, on low doses, shrooms just relax you and make the world shimmer prettily, not that unlike two or three drinks. Mauss himself seems to be able to operate fine, even on pretty solid doses.
Back when Mauss was eating a couple grams of mushrooms a couple times a week — generally considered a lot — we asked Mauss how he got interested in psychedelics.
Well, Mauss was born In 1980 in a small town in Wisconsin named Onalaska, in the plain part. Shane was smart, excitable and curious. But he always felt like he didn't fit into Wisconsin.
He felt like everyone else loved following the plan for the happy Midwestern life — work hard, study, worship the flag, say a few prayers and end up in heaven.
But Mauss didn't click with their passions. Their patriotism. He didn't even root for the Packers.
Christianity vexed him the most. Mauss looked at all the holes in the Jesus story and realized it doesn't explain the world. Everybody else acted like they understood the world — except Mauss suspected they didn't. And this frustrated him.
At 16, Mauss tried mushrooms. It was so weird, so reality-shaking, so out-there, that it was almost a relief to Mauss. Like: actually, not only do those Jesus-loving patriots not understand the world we can all see, there are huge parts of the world they've never seen.
But psychedelics are not magic pills. They not really understandable — only experienced. Later in the movie, Mauss does way too many mushrooms, piles lots of ayahuasca and DMT on top, and thinks way too hard about them, and he goes muddled and manic.
By chance, Rooster called Mauss in the middle of that episode. Mauss talked like a typical manic person: about Jesus and Hitler and time travel and "ultimate truth" and how interdimensional entities might be sending messages from the future, that his thoughts could put cracks buildings.
That was around when Mauss took an involuntary week-long vacation to a padded room. The docs diagnosed him with bipolar, type one. He frazzled.
There are other ways to talk about what happened to Mauss. One phrase is that Mauss was having a "spiritual emergency," not a mental breakdown. Because, after all that happened, Mauss was no longer a scientific materialist. His worldview was bigger ... which may ultimately end up being the big takeaway from Mauss's journey, and history may end up writing it as the headline about psychedelics in general: the substances that changed the worldview of the West.
In movie terms, trips to mental institutions are not the funniest subjects for a documentary starring a comedian, and so the movie scoots away to other subjects.
But this is a super valuable documentary for its willingness to show you both sides of psychedelics: how great and how terrible, how uplifting and how dangerous, how mind-revealing and mind-confusing. The most interesting substances on the planet, no doubt.
If your Facebook and Twitter algorithms are tuned into it, you'll know there's a Psychedelic Renaissance going on — that LSD treats headaches, shrooms treat depression and DMT is just fucking nuts. You might also notice that there's no one Renaissance Man, no single spokesperson or face of the moment, not in the same way Tim Leary was the grand marshal of the Sixties psychedelic parade.
There's not going to be one Mr. Psychedelics this time around; the media is too fragmented for that. But Mauss may continue to be one of our best guides — not in spite of the fact that he was cracked by psychedelics, but because he was.