How do you explain a magic mushroom trip to someone who has never had one?
Better yet, what if you could show it to someone?
Terence McKenna, macrodose mushroom explorer and outspoken psychedelic advocate himself was known to wax poetic on the untapped potential of Virtual Reality, saying ‘The thing that excites me the most about these informational technologies is I think we are going to be able to use Virtual Reality to show each other the inside of our own heads” in his Dreaming Awake at the End of Time symposium in December of 1998.
Today, such a feat is no longer speculative but very literal and constantly improving in its capabilities and precision. Enter Cyber Mushroom, the ‘Virtual Reality Mushroom Trip’ engineered by London-based technologist and futurist Batuhan Bintas.
“I was initially inspired to create Cyber Mushroom as a way of ‘hacking the system’,” says Batuhan, who goes by ‘Batu’ for short.
“Psychedelics changed my life. I want everyone to experience the power and beauty of a mushroom trip; unfortunately, psychedelics are illegal in most countries. So I questioned, how can I find a way to allow more people to experience the magic of mushrooms? My answer, which was given by mushrooms, was through digital technology.”
Psychedelics changed my life. I want everyone to experience the power and beauty of a mushroom trip
I first encountered Batu showcasing Cyber Mushroom in a massive atrium at the University of Exeter during the Breaking Convention psychedelic research conference in March 2023.
Equal parts space pirate and digital wizard, the larger-than-life personality behind Cyber Mushroom seemed to be everywhere at once pitching his prized digital technology during the frenetic multi-day conference.
Among the numerous people who demoed the experience throughout the week, I noticed none other than mushroom king Paul Stamets taking the headset for a test trip.
“My current vision for Cyber Mushroom is to create a digital platform where people can share their trip reports and immerse themselves into each other’s journeys through VR. This way we can create a library of trip reports. I’m a true believer that psychedelic experiences have more commonality rather than differences – as if these experiences connect us to a shared parallel dimension.”
Batu has found many people willing to immerse themselves in his visionary virtual experience, which continues to update, improve, and expand horizons in lockstep with the evolution of technology itself.
Within the Cyber Mushroom platform, journeyers are tasked with selecting from a number of different mushrooms spread out in VR space on a table in front of them. Participants select which mushroom they would like to ‘trip’ with by reaching out with the hand controllers provided as part of the experience, and upon grasping one of the mushrooms are propelled into a curated cyber journey through time and space.
The virtual worlds within the platform include Mayan and Egyptian pyramids and motifs, giant Sphinxes, towering mushrooms rotating upon electric green grass, tunnels of light and radiant alphabet characters, and a giant Terence McKenna himself that people can engage with among other impressive features.
Batu was a regular on the European festival circuit this last summer – After our initial meeting at Breaking Convention in England, I encountered him again at the 30,000 person Ozora Festival in Hungary the first week of August. Again, Cyber Mushroom created a buzz among the festival goers that only a breakthrough technology as such is liable to do.
After Ozora, I ventured to England with Batu and spent a few days hanging around East London with the eccentric cyber alchemist. I had a chance to see Cyber Mushroom interwoven into the social fabric of the community there, where many people from different demographics and subcultures are familiar with Batu and Cyber Mushroom.
We headed up to Oxfordshire together to showcase the wearable mushroom trip technology yet again at Campout conference.
The experience has many interesting elements of a high-dose mushroom trip, most notably the alpha green numerical and alphabetic figures that drape down like a vertical curtain and evolve in real-time. I witnessed multiple psychedelically naive people put on the cyber mushroom headset and engage, and each seemed thoroughly impressed by the uniqueness and peculiar magic of the cyber journey. One Cyber Mushroom digital journeyer even remarked the experience reminded them more of a DMT trip than the mushroom experiences they’d had.
Research into Virtual Reality applications for use as an accompanying feature or integration tool alongside psychedelics is actively being conducted at such prestigious institutions as Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where neurocognitive researcher Zeus Tipado is currently investigating the intersection of DMT and VR. A number of other psychedelic companies are investigating digital therapeutics in combination with ketamine therapy as well.
Batu’s aspirations for the full potential of VR include social impact above and beyond cybernetic tripping thrills. He has taken his VR headset and VR educational programming into disaster zones to help liberate the minds and spirits of people who are physically trapped in situations beyond their control. After Turkey’s devastating earthquake earlier this year, Batu brought VR to people on the ground as a means of helping them reconnect with a sense of optimism and inspiration during extremely challenging times. He aims to do the same in refugee camps around the world as well.
An added bonus with Cyber Mushroom is that it is very well-suited for children and elder adults who can experience the ‘mental playground’ of an expanded state of mushroom-informed awareness without the accompanying sense of intensity and prolonged confusion of the senses that might occur during an actual psilocybin mushroom-induced state. If things get heavy, one can simply remove the headset.
As a veteran psychonaut, I must caution that the Cyber Mushroom VR experience falls quite short of an actual high-dose mushroom trip at this point in time. For one thing, the distinct body sensation of warmth and rolling vibrations is absent from the digital version of the trip, and the imagery itself clearly doesn’t have the same propensity for personalized visionary insight and reflection of the interior contents of one’s psyche. But all of that is subject to change as VR and information technologies continue to advance rapidly and real-time input from users is adapted into the virtual tripping model. The possibility of tactile sensory experiences by wearing a customized body suit is also something that one can imagine factoring into the increasingly realistic psychedelic experience provided by Cyber Mushroom at some point in the future.
“My future vision is to connect each digital mushroom found within the experience to Artificial Intelligence, so you can talk directly to the mushrooms. With generative AI, it can generate the trip or the world you wish to share or experience directly. Eventually, we may be able to connect the entire living mycelium network to AI and VR so we can directly communicate with our planet’s biggest and oldest living organism.” extols Batu in his characteristic boundless optimism and curiosity.
While psychedelic mainstreaming and emerging technologies like VR and AI each present unknown opportunities and challenges for global society, the stewardship of visionaries like Batuhan Bintas and the promise of Cyber Mushroom and similar platforms offer tangible reasons to participate in creating a better future where technology is empowered by humanitarianism rather than diametrically opposed to it.