Inside the Megachurch Where Shrooms and Weed Are Religion

I negotiated with the armed guard, met its charismatic leader, and got anointed.
A religious leader in a green robe and weed-themed accessories stands at a mushroom pulpit.
Photo: Supplied by Church of Ambrosia

As soon as I press the buzzer, an armed female security guard appears from behind a barred door. I tell her I’m here to visit the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants. She nods and welcomes me inside this inconspicuous building on the corner of a block in a working class neighborhood in Oakland, California.

In the last year, the Church of Ambrosia – the nondenominational interfaith religion of which Zide Door Church is part – has grown to well over 100,000 members and has opened another chapter in San Francisco. It’s riding the wave of a boom in psychedelic churches in the U.S., and the skyrocketing demand for psilocybin mushrooms. The idea of these churches operating in the open and holding ceremonies may seem wild, but they are nominally protected by a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that defended the use of illegal drugs during worship services.


I go through an airport-style security process, leave my bag with the guards, and make my way up to what I had been told is an urban magic mushroom and weed haven. Through the corridor, I pass a poster advertising a “limited time only referral program”. It offers existing members “$5 Credit FREE!” if someone joins the church upon their recommendation. I tell the receptionist that I’m a journalist visiting town and that I’d like to meet with the church’s enigmatic founder, Dave Hodges, who I’d emailed a few days earlier without any response.

The receptionist isn’t sure if Hodges – who’s known for dressing in flamboyant and eye-catching robes adorned with cannabis and mushroom designs – is around. In any case, she tells me, I have to become a member of the church to make it any further and I’m handed an iPad to sign up.

“Do you work for Law Enforcement or Any Government Agency?” No.

“Do you accept Entheogenic Plants (including cannabis and mushrooms) as part of your religion?” Yes.

I complete the series of probing questions and file my application. Several other people are also in the process of being welcomed into the fledgling congregation – comprising what is now one of the largest megachurches in the US in membership terms.

A man in a green and gold robe preaches from a stage

Hodges during a sermon. Photo: Church of Ambrosia

I read one of the pamphlets and wait. It explains how psychedelic mushrooms and cannabis are divine sacraments that facilitate connection with God. It also contains a dosage chart, detailing the different weights of mushrooms required to achieve trips of varying intensity. It warns that “high dose work can be terrifying” and insists that seekers should only take XL amounts when they’re ready to converse with their souls. Sounds fair, but taking 50g of psychedelic mushrooms, as suggested, seems ridiculously risky.

After a 10-minute wait, I’m duly anointed as a member. I’m then invited to walk through the most church-like room yet, packed with rows of benches surrounding a podium where sermons are presumably given. Moments later, I’m in the hallowed land: the dispensary – though it's not called that officially, of course. One of the five employees behind the counter, a triptender (the psychedelic version of a budtender) walks over and asks me what I’m looking for.

The truth is, I just came to check it out. But, when in Rome… I scope the microdoses on a giant menu advertising up to 20 different shroom strains, plus a variety of tax-free cannabis products in seemingly unlimited quantities. The triptender advises me that the hillbilly mushroom microdoses are blended with chamomile and could be good for sleep, so I get a few of those. (Disclaimer: psychedelic mushrooms, even in small quantities, are not sleep aids, as I’ll discover the next evening.)

A man in green robes preaches from a mushroom themed pulpit.

Photo: Church of Ambrosia

“Any time you’re consuming any amount of mushrooms, you’re connecting with your soul,” Hodges tells me, when I finally get to meet him. “We want to make sure that people have safe access to these tools to be able to do the work.”

The church launched in 2019. It was the continuation of a joke that started at Burning Man, the avant-garde desert festival in Nevada, almost a decade prior. “The Church of More Pot emerged almost accidentally at Burning Man in 2010,” Hodges told the Tricycle Day newsletter. Literature for that religion was written up swiftly, too. “The Book of More Pot started as a Halloween stunt, but folks at Burning Man helped create a system and commandments for it… By 2019, when I opened the cannabis church, it wasn't just a joke anymore; people took it seriously, and that's when I realized I needed to as well.”

The longtime cannabis activist had been running the weed church for six months when Oakland city council effectively decriminalized mushrooms. Hodges took it as a prophetic sign. He began consuming a series of progressively stronger doses of mushrooms at home (up to 30g), and started offering shrooms at the church. He found, he tells me, “a greater sense of meaning than he could have ever imagined.”

Open hands holding an amount of dried magic mushrooms.

Photo: Church of Ambrosia

Around 5,000 people are said to regularly access shrooms thanks to the organization, bringing in the majority of its $5m annual turnover. (It says most of that is spent straightaway on security, rent and overheads). Hodges, who was recently immortalized as “The Prophet Of Shroom” by Forbes, has had run-ins with the law. In 2020, the church was raided by police and $200,000 worth of cash and plant medicines were confiscated over allegations it was operating as an illegal dispensary. In 2022, Hodges retaliated by launching a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the cops for purportedly discriminating against the church’s religious beliefs.


Before the pandemic, members would congregate at the church – which is registered as such with the authorities – to smoke joints, hang out and listen to impromptu sermons. The teachings of Hodges’ church advance ethnobotanist Terrance McKenna’s ‘stoned ape’ theory, which claims that the transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens that occurred around 200,000 years ago – and the cognitive revolution that came with it – was triggered by the consumption of psilocybin mushrooms. The church handout claims that human communication and the concept of religion itself was born when monkeys tripped and tried “to explain spirits and God to each other.” Hodges says that a church member had this “confirmed” during a visionary mushroom trip.

Small groups of members meet periodically at a house in the Oakland hills to take humongous doses of shrooms as part of “The Godsitters Project”. Hodges remembers trip-sitting for one member who was meant to consume 15g of mushrooms (which she had provided) but accidentally took a dose equivalent to 45g, as tests of the unexpectedly strong fungi later revealed. “It was the most difficult trip that I've ever sat for,” Hodges says of the overdose. “We had to call her brother in to calm her down and she was convinced I was a cult leader who had poisoned her.” Thankfully, the church now routinely tests mushrooms for psilocybin potency. In the process, Hodges has emerged as a pioneer in calculating dosages.

He says mushrooms have helped him with his own mental health struggles, and that many people have come off pharmaceutical drugs thanks to the church’s sacraments. “At different points in my life, I've dealt with suicidal thoughts,” he says. “Even after doing this work, I've been in some really low places where the old version of me might have actually done something.” But the mushrooms have helped him to see the light. “I was traveling through different dimensions of a circle of gods staring at me as I floated up through them and I could somehow hear a voice saying, ‘Just remember to breathe’,” he recalls. “Our soul is something that exists outside of space and time.”