Psychedelic mushrooms might be able to help those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
This is the premise of comedian Adam Strauss’ one-man show, The Mushroom Cure, which showed at Cherry Lane Theater in New York City this past summer.
The show is autobiographical, based on Strauss’ real struggles with this mental health condition. Strauss was diagnosed with OCD after a breakup in his late twenties, though he had been seeing therapists and trying medication for other diagnoses, such as generalized anxiety disorder and moodiness. “I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts which has, I don’t know if this is true, but it was always said that it has the highest per capita of psychiatrists for any city in the world,” Strauss says. “I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I had already been on medication for about 10 years. And the OCD didn’t even emerge as OCD until around that time.”
“I was on all sorts of medications for about 15 years and about 6 or 7 of those years were when I was specifically diagnosed with OCD,” Strauss explains. “I tried I think every SSRI that was on the market then. I tried benzodiazepines, I tried stuff that I don’t even know what class of medication it is, I tried everything.”
Strauss’ OCD was rooted in decision making, and he was desperate to find something that worked for him after not reacting that positively to all the medications he had tried. That’s when he found something online about the benefits of psychedelic mushrooms for people living with OCD, so he gave it a shot.
While the mushrooms didn’t entirely cure his OCD, he did find them to be beneficial and has become an advocate for advancing medical research of them. In fact, all the profits from The Mushroom Cure go to MAPS, a foundation that looks to make psychedelic medicine a legal treatment. “There’s a lot more research coming out now than there has been in the past few decades but there’s still only a trickle,” Strauss says. “[MAPS] annual budget is $4 million, whereas Pfizer spent $210 million last year just to market Cialis. So the amount of money going into research is infinitesimal compared to the amount that’s going into pharmaceuticals. As a result, stuff is received relatively slowly.”
Aside from the mushrooms, another thing that has helped Strauss cope with his OCD is a 12-step group called Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous. “In my mind that was at least as important as the psychedelics for me,” he says. “It’s a great resource for people with OCD. It’s free, they have phone meetings so you just call in. No one has to know you’re there, you don’t have to talk if you don’t want. I got a lot out of that, I still get a lot out of it.”
When it comes to representations of OCD, Strauss notices they tend to be trivialized. “On the one hand, OCD is viewed as a trivial thing - people saying ‘I’m so OCD I spent three hours cleaning my apartment this weekend just because my parents are coming.’ So it’s trivialized but on the other hand I think when people are really confronted with real, heavy duty OCD, it’s bizarre, it’s freakish, and it’s terrifying,” he explains. Additionally, many people also only assume OCD is about cleanliness rituals such as handwashing. As a matter of fact, he believes this is why he wasn’t diagnosed with the condition earlier on. “My experience, all the psychiatrists I saw did not diagnose me with OCD until I saw [the therapist mentioned in the play] and I think it’s because I didn’t have the stereotypical hand washing,” he says.
In terms of feedback Strauss has gotten, many people have approached him after the show because something in it resonated with them. “The people who talk to me, they’ve had some sort of experience that’s been powerful or real to them,” he says. “And that’s what I’m going for because I guess it’s sharing, really, I want to share my experience and have other people share with me as deeply as they can.”Though the Cherry Lane showings of The Mushroom Cure have ended, Strauss hopes to continue to put on this play in other theaters, or even create a movie version of it. “Telling this story is the most important thing in my life, to put it bluntly,” Strauss says. “I want to keep telling this story to whoever wants to hear it, in whatever form I can, wherever I can.”