Psillow travel guide: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Psillow travel guide: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam has long been known as a city to experiment and explore, one of the few destinations in the western world where drug laws dance in an endless grey area. For those seeking ‘alternative’ activities on their Eurotrip, Amsterdam has always been held as a holy grail of ‘deviance’ and excess. Hundreds of ‘coffeeshops’ are scattered among the bars and attractions, though coffee is often a second thought.

The Dutch ‘Tolerance Policy’ effectively decriminalized cannabis

These establishments purvey the most choice cannabis on the face of the planet, free to smoke and enjoy in atmospheres from bohemian dive to modern and sterile. While hashish is often on the menu, the extracts and refined products prevalent in California draw undue attention. Like the tulips that characterize the Netherlands, flower is the focus in the great city of Amsterdam.

Cannabis can be found within a few hundred yards of the train station, the most common point of arrival. A direct left will lead you into De Wallen, the ‘red-light district’ where girls and boys dance in the windows and distract your gaze. Along with lax marijuana laws, prostitution is also an allowed profession in this extravagant European destination, leaving tourists as gluttons for pleasure.

You need not spend your time indoors—there are many parks, pathways and streets that sprawl throughout the city. Smoking a joint in a secluded park, or staggering through the well-lit streets on an incredible trip, are rarely seen as noteworthy in this shrine to debauchery. Beside the cannabis, booze and sex, ‘smart shops’ dot the landscape offering herbal extracts, capsules, products and most importantly, ‘magic truffles.’ For some, a vacation to Amsterdam might have been, and still can be, a convenient place for a first, or at least legal, psilocybin experience.

A cornucopia of Psilocybe species were available in the classic mushroom form before the 2008 death of a young tourist resulted in a ban on mushrooms specifically. By contrast, the USA bans the active compounds psilocybin and psilocin, prohibiting all psilocybin-containing forms, not the ‘fruits’ of the species themselves. While the classic Psilocybe cubensis was previously the king of Amsterdam, now and always being the most popular species for home-growing, a new group of fungi took over in the Dutch city after the ban.

Psilocybe mexicanaPs. galindoi and Ps. tampanensis have become the dominant legally-cultivated species. These produce sclerotia, also known as ‘philosopher’s stones’ or ‘magic truffles.’ They are a dense form of mycelium naturally formed by certain species to survive wildfires and other natural disasters. Unlike normal mycelium, these masses can contain quantities of active compounds on par with mushrooms.

They effectively skirt the laws on ‘magic mushrooms,’ while containing both psilocybin and psilocin that make ‘the magic’ of most Psilocybe species. These truffles are most commonly sold fresh, firm but moist, with a flavour often described as ‘sour walnut.’ The packaging has become more elaborate over time, with decaled and designed plastic containers touting the strengths and highlights of each product.

A growing number of options for those averse to tripping alone

While the taste and form may differ, ‘philosopher’s stones’ provide an experience that is often indistinguishable from that of Ps. cubensis, or ‘shrooms.’ Aside from their everyday recreational consumption, a familiar trend has begun to rise around the ‘truffles’ that imbue the city with yet another layer of magic.

The concept of guided psilocybin therapy, or ‘trip-sitting,’ began hundreds or thousands of years in the past. Maria Sabina, the famous curandera, or ‘native shaman,’ of the Sierra Mazateca in Mexico, helped introduce the western world to psilocybin mushrooms. She guided the ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson in the first velada experienced by a ‘foreigner,’ a healing vigil incorporating the ‘magic mushrooms’ of Ps. mexicana.

Ceremonies like these are becoming more commonplace in Amsterdam. Now, you can hire the services of a ‘professional’ guide, for either yourself or in groups up to a dozen. Soccer moms and CEOs, along with the expected smattering of hippies and students, are legally exploring new depths with the assistance of these ‘neo-shamans.’ Some approach the undertaking in a clinical, almost medical setting, appealing to Silicon Valley executives; most harken more closely to the healing vigils of antiquity.

The growing industry of ‘magic truffles’

Wherever business and psychedelics combine, controversy and skepticism tends to arise alongside. Some of these ‘guides’ or ‘professional trip-sitters’ charge up to 1000 euros ($1500CAD, $1135USD as of Feb. 2019) for a single, six hour session. While that no doubt comes with bespoke service and ‘professional’ guidance, the notion has riled a community that thrives on openness and communal ideals. Nonetheless, individuals travel from around the world for a transformative experience.

With the lines blurred on legality, and otherwise exclusive products available, it’s only a matter of time before commercialism commences. Money has been made on the sale of Psilocybe species for decades in Amsterdam; the species, form or gateway is only a nuance. For the average traveler, these ‘spiritual retreats’ are a universe away; the cobbled streets, magnificent squares, luscious parks, and even secluded hotel rooms, play stage to mind-bending and restorative psilocybin experiences.

For those seeking a party, Amsterdam is in the upper echelons of European destinations. For those striving to ‘chill,’ the cannabis sold legally is on par, or better, than any you’ll find illicitly or legally elsewhere. Amsterdam will always be a haven for those seeking to ‘travel’ and ‘explore.’ Psilocybin is available and provided in the clear light of day—what you buy is what you get. A legal experience is only a train- or plane-ride away, until we make it a reality around the world.