Two photographs of a dark haired woman. On the left she is sat draped in a tartan shawl, on the right she is show looking at the camera straight on.
All photos: Mathias de Lattre 
Drugs

My Bipolar Mother's Quest For Relief With Magic Mushrooms

French photographer Mathias de Lattre's project "Mother's Therapy" examines the relationship between mental illness and psychedelic therapies.
Gen Ueda
Brussels, BE
September 27, 2021, 8:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.

On a December evening in 2012, Mathias de Lattre’s mother ended up in an emergency room. She’d walked to the hospital alone hoping to free herself of what she regularly thought of as her “morbid impulses”. Staff transferred her to the psychiatric department of a Paris-area hospital.

Soon after admission, de Lattre’s mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was prescribed a chemical cocktail to be taken four times a day, but it seemed to have little effect on her condition. Struck by the ineffectiveness of the treatment, her son decided to do some research of his own, hoping to figure out what else might ease this lifelong illness.

As his mother became increasingly isolated, sinking further into depression, de Lattre, skeptical of the dominant and default models of Western medicine, spent more and more time gathering information on alternative practices. He became particularly interested in the use of psychotropic drugs through human history, collecting texts by specialists, analysing archeological records and studying shamanistic rituals. He even took a trip to Peru to investigate therapeutic uses of ayahuasca.

A photographer by trade, ​​de Lattre took care to document the discoveries he was making. They went go on to form the contents of “Mother’s Therapy,” a body of work originally published in 2017 whose purpose is two-fold: It chronicles how mankind has used hallucinogenic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes while telling the story of a mother’s quest for relief.

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - black and white image of austere institutional building atop a grass lawn.

Photo: Mathias de Lattre

The book takes us back to prehistory, to the first representations of what seem to be shamanic rituals. Stones carved into mushrooms, cave paintings of anthropomorphised creatures and shamans — these might be the oldest traces of mankind’s knowledge of altered states of consciousness we’ve come across to date.

While concrete proof of an ancestral interest in the hallucinogenic remains elusive, de Lattre is utterly certain that, at the very least, “early human’s vision of the world was more open, more spiritual, than our own.”

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - book containing drawings of mushrooms held open by caucasian hand on a grey table.

A selection of Mexican mushrooms, edible portals to another world. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

There’s been considerable amounts of research into the use of psilocybin — the psychedelic compound found in around 200 or so species of mushroom across the globe — conducted over the years, but as of yet, Mathias has found no sign of it being clinically tested on people with bipolar disorder.

During his extended research period, Mathias came across an experiment conducted by American author and ethnomycologist Robert Gordon Wasson. In 1955 he traveled to Oaxaca to meet Mazatec healer Maria Sabina, and the experience formed the basis of a widely-read 1957 article for Life magazine, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom”. Decades later, Mathias would end up speaking with a psychotherapist who had studied in Mexico with descendants of Sabina herself.

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - composite image: on the left is a cave painting, on the right a mushroom carved out of stone.

On the left, a cave painting. On the right, a mushroom carved out of stone. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Increasingly convinced of the therapeutic possibilities of mushrooms when used carefully under the guidance of professionals, Mathias suggested to his mother that she try psilocybin in accordance with shamanistic protocols and under the watchful gaze of a specialist.

His mother has recently cut ties with her former psychiatrist to embark on a course of self-administered microdosing, though she still meets with a psychotherapist who checks in on her condition. Bit by bit, the drug has made her existence tolerable. In the book, de Lettre writes that as a result of this idiosyncratic combination therapy his mother has “regained a vital [kind of] momentum that gives her the energy and motivation she needs to rebuild her life”.

Mother’s Therapy doesn’t present de Lattre’s mother’s experience as a model to emulate. Instead, the photographer feels it should be viewed as both a visual account of how people react to despair, and as a testimony to how much a mother wanted her life back. 

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - woman sat on floor wrapped in tartan shawl clutches small blue bowl in her lap

After cutting ties with the psychiatric community, Mathias de Lettre's mother decided to explore hallucinogens. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - Black and white photo of a woman sat in front of a scrawled-upon wall.

Mathias' mother photographed in a French psychiatric hospital. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - Topless photo of the photographer's mother stood in front of a mottled white wall.

Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - Photo of the entrance to Font-de-Gaume, a French cave filled with prehistoric cave paintings.

The entrance to Fone-de-Gaume, a French cave containing around 200 prehistoric paintings. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - Close up photo of a mushroom lying on a wooden desk.

The desiccated remains of a Mexican mushroom picked in the mid-1950s. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - Colour photo of the photographer's black haired, topless mother against a very pale blue background.

Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - Three white plates and a small white bowl laid on top of an ornate red, white, blue, and orange tapestry.

Ritual in action. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mathias de Lattre, France, magic mushrooms - the author's mother, wearing a beige coat, stood in a shallow body of blue water, looking toward's a light pink sky.

The photographer's mother stood in a Swiss lake. Photo: Mathias de Lattre

Mother’s Therapy by Mathias de Lettre is published by The Eriskay Connection and is available now.