WARNING: This story discusses suicidal thoughts and drug use
Two Kiwi siblings are fighting for greater awareness and understanding for those using magic mushrooms medicinally.
Michaela and Zach Cotogni, who live in the Wellington region, are well known in the mushroom community, and are the minds behind the book Blue Honey, which documents the experience of those using mushrooms containing psilocybin.
While both have found benefit from the substance, they turned to psilocybin for vastly different reasons.
Prior to trying the drug, Michaela had spent over a decade in and out of the New Zealand mental healthcare system trying to deal with a treatment resistant illness.
"I'd been on about every pharmaceuticals for mental illness and combination that they have for depression, PTSD and anxiety."
The pair feature on this month's In the Loop podcast deep dive to discuss their journeys and awareness work.
Two years ago Michaela reached the end of her rope and wanted to give up.
She believed then that the cocktail of prescriptions she'd tried were making her symptoms worse, and had resolved to stop them.
"And what happens if I kill myself? That's it."
Zach, who had previously had success stopping drinking by using psilocybin, rang their mother and asked permission to give his younger sister the substance.
Quite immediately Michaela said she noticed her chronic migraines, which she says are known as "suicidal cluster headaches", began to subside.
"Now I don't get headaches anymore, unless I'm not drinking water, or something like that. [It] alleviated my suicidal ideation, my depression, my PTSD, my anxiety, and actually helped me to get back into therapy."
Had it not been for the substance, Michaela told the Herald she would have likely taken her life.
An expert who studies the substance said the jury is out about whether taking hallucinogens causes positive or negative changes to the brain and warns of the risks.
University of Auckland School of Pharmacy associate professor Suresh Muthukumaraswamy previously told the Herald while some in clinical trials report positive impacts, they have a number of mechanisms in place that aren't there for regular users.
"There are a number of things to be aware of, including that those in the study have a lot of psychological support, and people 'in the wild' don't have that when difficult things might be encountered, also there might be more varied provenance in the wild."
Also in clinical trials people are screened for risks like heart issues and psychosis risk before taking the drug.
People currently using prescription medication for a mental illness should seek medical advice if they're planning to make any changes to their prescription.
Zach too feels that without trying psilocybin, he could have been either dead, or not with his wife and family.
"I would just be a continual pest on society. And this is the thing that when I was drinking, I was in and out of court. I was, you know, upsetting people's lives. Just stupid shit for being drunk. And, you know, getting into trouble. Every bad decision I've ever made is a direct reflection of being drunk."
As well as this Zach, who works at a respected company, said his work and day-to-day performance has improved since using the drug.
But, because they've been so open about their psilocybin use, the pair told the Herald they've had to stop using the drug, because they don't want to run into legal issues.
It is still a crime to consume magic mushrooms, a Class A drug. Possessing it holds a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or $1000 fine.
Listen to the full interview on this month's Deep Dive episode.
WHERE TO GET HELP
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• What's Up: 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111