NHL Legend Mark Messier Opened Up About a Shroom Trip That Changed His Life

·8 min read
Photo credit: New York Daily News Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: New York Daily News Archive - Getty Images

In the summer of 1981, I decided I needed a break. After ten months of totally committed mental and physical grinding, and a grueling battle against the Islanders in the playoffs, I wanted to get away from it all for a little while.

Our family vacations in Oregon as a kid had taught me and [my brother] Paul to understand the importance of resetting after a hard effort, and finding balance in life. Those trips had also instilled a sense of wonder in us: We saw that the world was vast and worth exploring.

With the memory of a trip to Hawaii the previous year fresh in my mind, Paul, Paul’s college roommate Vince Magnan, a junior hockey buddy of mine named Darrell Morrow, and I set out on the first of what would become a tradition of post-season trips. We all had a sense of adventure, and some years, we would literally spin the globe. Wherever our finger landed, we would go.

My finger landed on the Caribbean island nation of Barbados. The fact that it was summer—Barbados’s low season for tourism—made it an especially lucky spin.

The four of us arrived on the island with nothing on our agenda but exploring and enjoying. We stayed at a place called Boomer’s Guest House, which is no longer around. Modest would be an overstatement. It was four cots in one room with no air-conditioning. But it was a great spot, a short distance from the beach toward town. And Boomer, the proprietor, was a big, welcoming, gregarious guy.


We rented bikes and hit the beach. At night we drank beer with the other guests back at a common bar and dining area at the guesthouse. A bunch of other people, traveling from all over, were staying there, too, and we all made friends.

One day, one of the other guests at Boomer’s said: “C’mon with us, we’re gonna go make some tea.” I asked what he meant: “Why do you have to make tea? Can’t you buy it?”

He told me this tea was special. It was magic tea, he said. They were going to go to a farmer’s field to pick some mushrooms to make it. I’d never heard of making them into tea before, but I understood what the words magic and mushrooms meant in this context. I knew people ate them and had mind-altering experiences.

Why not, Paul, Darrell, Vince, and I decided. I was eager for new experiences, enticed by the excitement of the other guests, and up for an adventure.

We went out to a field—Boomer, too: He had organized the whole thing, it turned out—and started picking mushrooms that were growing in the cow dung. I took my shirt off and tied it at one end so that it would hold what I was harvesting. It wasn’t long before it was completely filled up with these skinny little brown mushrooms.

We came back to the guesthouse and dumped the mushrooms into a vat with a couple of quarts of boiling water and started mashing them down as they cooked until it became a super-dark liquid. When it was ready, we took the brew and strained it, so we were left with only the liquid. We poured it into teacups, about halfway up, and drank.

Paul, Vince, Darrell, and I sat around with everyone at the guesthouse bar, waiting to see what would happen. The bar was on the honor system—you were free to eat and drink whatever you liked as long as you wrote it down. Almost right away, I started feeling loose. We were all laughing and having a good time. And then, suddenly, the lid came off.

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster
Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

Seemingly all at once, my sensations became amplified and intense. The music was piercing. The light was bright. My head was spinning. It all became too much and we went back to our little room and tried to sleep it off, but there was a problem. The geckos.

We had gotten used to these little lizard critters, which were plentiful on the island and were frequent guests in our room. The thing was, I wasn’t seeing them as lizards anymore. I was seeing dragons, with horns and fangs.

It was like Jurassic Park projected on the walls. They were coming at me from everywhere, with their tongues darting out. I swatted at them, but it made no difference. I was terrified, and yet—it was also awesome.

At this point I knew I had ingested way too much of the tea—a few sips would have been plenty—and desperately wanted to sober up. I took a shower and tried to shrug it off. When that didn’t work, the guys and I went outside and paced.

It was not a pleasant walk. Like weathering a storm at sea, there was nothing to do but square up and take it.

Finally, the fear and discomfort started to lessen. I began to feel better. Soon enough, I felt not only happy, but elated. What followed was an experience unlike any other I’ve had. For the rest of the night and well into the following morning, Paul, Vince, Darrell, and I were bonded together and riding the wave the mushrooms were taking our minds and emotions on. We laughed a lot. We cried, too—it was a wide range of feelings. I remember at one point we were playing Frisbee in a big open field and as the disk was coming at me, I truly believed it was an alien flying saucer.

When the mushrooms wore off, and after we got some sleep, we had a chance to decompress and look back. There was a profound sense of what the hell just happened?—and one comical, physical piece of evidence was part of that. At the bar where we jotted down our food and drink orders, we looked back at how our handwriting changed over the experience, going from clearly legible at the start, to barely readable by the end. But the journey we took went much deeper than that, and left me with the question: How is what happened even possible?

The only answer I could find was that our minds are capable of so much more than we understand. And that realization changed me.

It’s now well recognized, and becoming more so every day, that psilocybin mushrooms have medical benefits, even if the exact mechanisms are still to be discovered. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and other top medical facilities have found it to be an effective treatment for psychiatric distress, depression, anxiety, nicotine addiction, and substance-abuse disorders. Cities in the United States such as Denver and Oakland and Washington, D.C., have begun taking steps to de-criminalize psilocybin mushrooms. That being said, I’m not an expert, and it’s a good idea to talk to a medical professional if you want to know more.

But what taking them did for me, at the age of nineteen, was profound. I was electrified with an appreciation for how vast the mind is, that there is so much we don’t know. And that of course it wasn’t just my mind, but everyone else’s mind that was vast, too.

The result was a deep and lasting appreciation for the diversity of human beings. People cannot only act in different ways, it struck me, but they can think in different ways than I’d ever imagined. From there, I realized that intolerance is often due to a person not being able to recognize and respect this fact. Just because I wasn’t familiar with someone else’s perspective didn’t make them wrong. Never again would I believe that someone was fundamentally mistaken because their mind worked in a way I was unfamiliar with. I saw that they could just be exploring different parts of this same huge landscape of possibility.

The mind is a powerful thing, and it can either help or hurt you. Talent can take you far, but ultimately what separates you is how mentally strong you are. I started to wonder how I could train my mind to make my body do something extraordinary. At the time in the NHL, 99 percent of the training was physical. Over my career I became increasingly interested in sports psychology and breathing techniques. I wanted to marry the physical with the mental, not just to improve my game, but also my life. I learned that the mind is a muscle, and you have to train it—like you do all the other muscles—in pursuit of excellence.

From that point forward, I was willing to be more open to where other people were coming from. It was the start of the development of an important part of who I would eventually become: a more curious person. That in turn helped me become a better athlete, and a better leader. I was blindsided by the experience, but grateful, and still am to this day.

Excerpted from NO ONE WINS ALONE by Mark Messier. Copyright © 2021 by Mark Messier. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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