A Cautionary Tale: Magic Mushrooms and Hiking Don’t Mix

A group of hikers in England got so ill from taking mushrooms that a search and rescue team had to retrieve them. And they're not the first psychedelic enthusiasts to have a trip go wrong on the trail.

Photo: Alan Rockefeller via Wikimedia Commons

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Every hiker has had a bad trip before. But a group of hikers in England’s Lake District gave the term new meaning last week, when they got so ill from taking magic mushrooms that they needed rescue.

On April 8, the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team received a number of calls from walkers who had encountered “a group of young adult males who had taken magic mushrooms.” The psychedelic experiment apparently hadn’t gone as planned: According to a post on the team’s site, two of the hikers, including the one who had driven the group to the trailhead, were “feeling unwell.” Rescuers located the group and then walked the stricken psychonauts out, after which they were “given advice by the team medic regarding the timing of their onward travel,” which we presume is a nice way of saying “told to please not drive until the trees stopped pointing and laughing at them.”

Hikers occasionally do drugs on the trail, a fact that will shock no one except for my grandparents. That’s been true since there were hikers, drugs, or trails, and continues to be true today. Backpacker’s adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado is both a hiking town and a college town, which means that on any given weekend you’re likely to notice someone on the trail who’s just a little too invested in how pretty the wildflowers are, and a little too oblivious to everything else.

Just because hiking in an altered state of mind is common doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. While the individuals in last week’s incident walked out without trouble, some psylocibin-curious hikers have met much grimmer ends. In 2022, a 25-year-old hiker drowned during a hike on Washington’s Wallace Falls Trail after allegedly taking mushrooms. British Columbia’s North Shore Rescue has responded to a laundry list of injuries and incidents involving hikers on psychedelics, including one who had to be evacuated by helicopter following a bad acid trip, and a pair who fell 200 feet into a ravine while on mushrooms and marijuana. 

The problem isn’t so much the drugs as the environment in which the hikers took them: After last year’s death on Wallace Falls Trail, Dr. Nathan Sackett, a medical researcher at the University of Washington, told Seattle’s King 5 News that while magic mushrooms are generally safe on their own, “accidents are prone to happen” when people take them in a wilderness area where natural hazards abound.

“As psychedelics become culturally more normative, it’s really important that people know they should do them in a controlled environment,” Sackett told the station. “Hopefully, one day, people won’t have to hide in the woods to experience them.”

So, aspiring psychonauts, consider this a cautionary tale: Trails and magic mushrooms don’t mix. Find a safer space for your chemical experimentation—or at least find someone sober to hold onto the car keys.

From 2023