Can the Trip app really expand your mind? I took it for a test drive to find out.

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I’ve been working from home since March 12, 2020. Well, I should probably say “working.”

My social media feeds are filled with photos of plump, homemade loaves of sourdough, job promotion announcements, and fellow writers sharing new works in publications they’ve always dreamed of being published in.

Me? I’m operating at about 40 percent capacity, sliding into debt, having difficulty concentrating, and feeling anxious as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to surge higher every day.

I’m not deeply depressed, but only because I meditate every day, take vitamin D and B12, practice yoga, and talk virtually to a therapist once every 2 months.

I’m definitely not killing it by any means.

So, I couldn’t help but be curious about Trip, a new app by Field Trip Health, which is opening a chain of psychedelic therapy clinics in the United States and Canada.

Launched in September, the app is designed to support the at-home psychonaut on a trip fueled by psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ketamine, or other psychedelics to improve mental health.

As winter crept in and made outdoor hangs with friends fewer and further between, I decided to give the app a try. Here’s what happened.

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I smoke cannabis in the evening to wind down, but I haven’t had a macrodose of ‘magic’ mushrooms — between 2–5 grams — for about a decade, and that was with friends at a party.

I did try some microdoses over the summer, though. Remembering how my mom’s hair had appeared to send off gentle wisps of smoke and how hard it had been to maintain my cool with that small dose, I thought 1 gram of golden teacher mushrooms (in chocolate form) would be plenty for me to trip safely, and effectively test drive the Trip app.

Along with lots of helpful literature about how to prepare for a psychedelic trip, how to handle a bad one, and how to meaningfully process the experience afterward, the app has a few features designed to enhance or support you while you’re tripping.

“Trip blends modern understandings of neuroscience and psychology with the wisdom of experienced practitioners in meditation, breathwork, and self-exploration,” according to a press release for the app.

“It supports users with intention setting, mood tracking, guided journaling and integration, and personalized music that has been scientifically designed to help guide you through emotions associated with different intentions,” the press release states.

It sounds serious and scientific. But it also makes me wonder if anyone who made this app had ever tried shrooms before.

After indicating that I’m about to embark on a new trip (aka, before the drugs kick in), the app prompts me to breathe in deeply, and then breathe out deeply, with an animated graphic of a blue sky in the background.

It then asks, “How are you feeling right now?”

There are five choices:

  • much better than usual
  • better than usual
  • same as usual
  • worse than usual
  • much worse than usual

I select “worse than usual” and am then prompted to name the emotion. “Apprehensive,” I write, wondering how the heaviness of the pandemic and the absence of friends will make this mushroom adventure different from any other.

“What is your intention for this trip?” the app asks, with six options:

  • to discover
  • to grow
  • to heal
  • to process
  • to transform
  • a custom intention of my choice

“To grow,” I select, feeling like this is, ultimately, more about content creation than self-care.

“How are you hoping to grow?” it then asks, as a purple mountain range glides by in the background. “Through experiential learning,” I type.

“What type of Trip are you taking?” it asks, and I simply call it “Mushroom.” Then, “How far are you looking to go?”

There are three options:

  • light
  • moderate
  • deep

I choose moderate.

Then the app offers up five music options, all created by an AI company called LUCID, Inc., that’s designed to support mental health.

It recommends “Transcendence,” a new-agey soundscape with birds chirping in the background. They say it’s best aligned with my intention to grow.

The other options include, “Liberation,” “Connection,” “Valence,” and “Triumph,” but it’s tough to distinguish too much between them. All of them sound like music I’ve heard at spas, just with a little more piano sound here or more of a soft guitar sound there.

I go with the recommended “Transcendence,” and finally hit the “Begin Trip” button, and the app screen becomes an animated, aerial shot of a long river.

There’s a button in the middle that says “Record a thought,” where I guess I can do that. “Transcendence” plays in the background.

Despite hitting “Begin Trip,” my body hasn’t yet processed the psilocybin; I feel nothing. So I decide to pause the music and put my phone down until they do.

Sitting by the Christmas tree with my cat in my lap, my vision wobbles and I feel lighter. The drugs are kicking in, and fairly heavily — so much so that I quickly start Googling “1 gram of golden teacher mushrooms” to make sure I haven’t gone overboard.

By the sounds of it, people are taking double or triple the dose I’ve taken for this purpose.

I’m very glad — as the lights of the tree start to undulate and my cat’s fur begins moving like a prairie grassland in the wind — that I haven’t ingested anything near that.

I look back at my phone, and this time, the app seems so much harder to use. I try and fail to hit the play button on “Transcendence” a few times because my motor skills are now impaired, but I get it going again.

I can barely look at the animation of the river at sunrise on my screen. I feel nauseated — there’s just far too much movement happening in there, but also not really anything going on to keep me interested. I’m far more transfixed by the Christmas tree, and momentarily consider starting a cult devoted to my new lord, this tree.

I remember that I’m supposed to record thoughts in the app, and shakily try to hit the red button for that purpose. But it’s just so hard when I’m like this. I don’t know if I’m doing it right, and I’m chuckling at how this seemingly basic thing has become so difficult under the influence of psychedelics. I find a pen and write down “Christmas tree cult.” Is this therapy?

“Transcendence” has also transformed its tone, taking on an intolerable doomsday vibe that makes it feel like something very bad is about to happen. I turn it off, too, and play Laura Marling, whose folky psychedelia sounds feel warm and comforting in a more human way.

For the next few hours, I thought about a lot of things, and as I’d anticipated, the weight of the pandemic shrouded the experience with some darkness.

But I also delighted in the thought that I’d likely be writing a satisfyingly negative take of the Trip app, and imagined I’d be sharply recommending people experience nature and play beloved music instead.

But I felt differently when I reflected upon the app the next day.

At its very best, Trip introduces aspiring psychonauts to a solid checklist of considerations before embarking on a therapeutic psychedelic trip.

Thinking about the atmosphere, setting intentions, journaling and monitoring your emotions before and after a trip are all good ideas that I hadn’t thought about in earnest before.

And the literature in the app is genuinely helpful.

But at its worst, it’s a marketing tool for a company struggling to open clinics at a crucial time in their business plans — plans which have been thrown off-course because of COVID-19.

And after my trip — one that many would consider on the lighter side — I can’t caution new consumers enough: Psychedelics alter consciousness, and they bring you to both bright and dark emotional places.

If you do decide to try home-based psychedelic therapy, do plenty of reading first, and consider having a friend with you in person or at a distance.

While Trip can’t replace true psychedelic therapy under professional supervision, it offers a good foundation for intentional tripping, especially if you’re new to psychedelics.

Kate Robertson is a Toronto-based editor and writer who has focused on drugs, primarily cannabis, since 2017. She has been published in The Guardian, Maclean’s magazine, the Globe and Mail, Leafly, and more. Find her at @katierowboat.