When you first start reading about crypto, for most, it’s an absolute headache. Money that seemingly comes from nowhere, the labyrinth that is “blockchain” or “cryptography”, claims that NFTs can change industries, despite the fact that they look like PS1 demos. You might look at it all and think “why the hell would anyone spend time on that?”
But then you take time to really understand what’s happening. You begin to open your mind to how smart contracts could completely change legal systems, blockchains could be used for voting and artists could use it to sack off record labels and, suddenly, it becomes a little bit mind-blowing.
You know what else is utterly mind-bending but avoided by many out of fear (and, some would say, misunderstanding)? Hallucinogens – LSD, psilocybin, choose your portal. It’s called a trip for a reason. “Colours, sounds, objects and even time can all seem very different” when you’re on substances such as shrooms and acid, according to drugs information website Frank. Sounds about right.
But what’s the connection between crypto and psychedelics, other than the fact they can both be total mind fucks? Well, Jahan Khamsehzadeh, author of The Psilocybin Connection, says, “There’s something extremely psychedelic about the way in which the blockchain works. It’s borderless. It’s virtual. It’s decentralized. It’s distributed trust. It’s all of these things that we find in the psychedelic experience naturally.”
So there are similarities between crypto and psychedelics, yes. But two things with a lot in common don’t necessarily make for an indisputable bond – just look at Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan (pre-November 2021) or Liam and Noel Gallagher. There’s more to this story than a slightly left-field mindset.
Last year, the New York Post reported a story on Christian Angermayer, an investor from Germany who “took hallucinogenic mushrooms and made billions off bitcoin”. This happened back in 2015 when he was on holiday in the Caribbean, where shrooms are legal. He took a few and apparently the visuals helped him understand crypto and see its potential. Similarly, after booming in the crypto and cannabis industries, business duo Jonathan Bixby and Mike Edwards seem to be turning their attention to psychedelics.
Why might these people be tripping and then looking at crypto or vice versa? Well, speaking to THE FACE, Khamsehzadeh says that “psychedelics often inspire people to want to make the world better – and it can’t get better until the major global issue of economy, and its system of being debt-orientated, is solved.” For many, the answer to this particular conundrum is crypto, which is decentralised and uses blockchain.
Similarities between the ideologies of crypto and psychedelic users also have a rebellious streak. Brandon Quittem, an entrepreneur and writer mostly known for exploring parallels between Bitcoin and mycelium, also mentions how people involved with crypto and people who take mushrooms generally feel they should be entitled to “cognitive liberty.” As he says, “They believe that it isn’t the government’s job to say what plants or mushrooms people can eat in my house. In a very similar way, you can make a parallel with monetary liberty – meaning if humans decide to make apples money, or Bitcoin money (or part of our money) that should be allowed. It shouldn’t be controlled by the state.”
This sense of cognitive liberty and anti-authority attitude is also evidenced via the place where a lot of the first bitcoin users spent their coins: the dark web. Silk Road, an online marketplace where you could buy psychedelics (among many other illegal things), was shut down in October 2013. At the time, the FBI seized over 144,000 bitcoins that belonged to Silk Road’s creator, Ross William Ulbricht. Back then, one bitcoin was worth around £150, so the total seized was £21.6 million (it’d be worth £4.48bn now). That was the personal account of the founder, so most of the wallets used for transactions on the platform would have been way smaller. But those wallets would have still been worth a lot of money today.
“Those people became bigger players in the game because they got in so early. So some people who influence the crypto space were already doing psychedelics,” says Khamsehzadeh.
Quittem adds to this, saying “both groups [of people] are extremely open-minded. They’re usually first-principles thinkers, stripping away cultural baggage and getting down to questions like: what is money? What is consciousness? The type of people who are into psychedelics are also the type of people who would be interested in Bitcoin and other blockchains.”
Blockchains are also very architecturally interesting when it comes to this intersection. Typically, the way they work is that every single computer (they’re called nodes) on the blockchain has all of the blockchain’s data. This means that “if you censor a part of the network, or you cut the network in half, the network just routes around these interferences and actually signals to the environment to repair itself,” says Quittem.
This mirrors the way magic mushrooms work in the wild. As Khamsehzadeh says, “the way fungal networks exist in nature is that they are large living systems which interconnect. This living system sends information and resources such as electrical impulses across its system, to break down dead matter and decompose into nutrients for the ecosystem.” Trippy.
Some crypto projects also make explicit references to psychedelic thought and fixations. Cosmos, for example, is aiming to be the internet between blockchains (which it compares to separate websites in this sense). The cosmos itself is an idea often referenced in “psychedelic” imagery. This makes sense when you consider the work of psychologist Rosalind Watts, ecologist Sam Gandy and Collective Psychological Project founder Alex Evans, who have also written about “psychedelics offering a sense of expansive connectedness, just like astronauts have felt looking back to Earth from space.”
And of course, there are also many trippy elements to some of the technologies that crypto enthusiasts have adopted, as people create metaverses which include virtual and augmented reality experiences, mimic hallucinations and immersive experiences offered from using psychedelics.
So if money is a drug and Wall Street’s wolves are known for their marching powder, it would seem there’s a compelling case for crypto being the substance of choice when imagining the trippy future of finance. Take a hit.