A Weekend at Joshua Tree, With a Case of Psychedelic Water

Test-driving a brand new, entirely legal take on tripping in the desert

By Courtney Kocak

When I first heard about Psychedelic Water, I was skeptical — yet intrigued. I’d been eager to trip shrooms again since before we even knew about COVID, but lockdowns and the natural tightening of my social circle had foiled my plans. But whenever I’m reminded that psychedelics exist, I’m like, Ah, I gotta do that soon! So when the subject line “First Ever Psychedelic Water Selling Out Nationwide” landed in my inbox, it immediately caught my eye.

The timing was serendipitous. I was planning a trip to Joshua Tree with my best friend and podcast co-host, Sofiya Alexandra — part work trip, part chance to reconnect. Pre-pandemic, we saw each other at least three times a week, bare minimum, but these days it’s tough to sync up at all, especially in-person. I’ve seen her only a handful of times all summer. There’s no beef; we love each other as much as ever. It’s just the simple physics of pandemic friendship drift. 

Just 128 miles from the city — a two to three and half hour jaunt, depending on traffic — Joshua Tree a perennial favorite as far as Angeleno road trips go. Named after the Troll doll-looking cacti that dot its landscape with their wild leaves, it might just be the tripping capital of California, amid a highly competitive field for that title.

There’s a mysticism associated with this particular plot of the Mojave Desert. U2 made a whole album about it. The landscape is arid, and the summer sun is punishing, but there are upsides, like a lack of light pollution. I always leave Joshua Tree feeling refreshed.

When my case of Psychedelic Water arrived in the mail, I tried to temper my expectations. Sure, the can looks fun, but my local grocery store has end caps lined with beautiful, eye-catching beverages that don’t get you high (and don’t even taste good, in my humble opinion!); they just make you have to pee a lot. I realize that a legal trip that you can actually feel from a $5.50 can is a tall order. I’m an optimist rising with a moon in reality — in other words, I’m hopeful, but I’m not an idiot. 

The can makes a big claim. Does it work?
Psychedelic Water

Before we took off on our desert adventure, I hopped on a call with founder Keith Stein and director of marketing Ben Rogul to get the scoop on Psychedelic Water and what sort of effects I could expect.

“Our star ingredients are kava and damiana blended with green tea,” Ben told me. I’ve never tried kava on its own, but apparently, it’s not good. As Ben delicately attempted to describe the taste, Keith jumped in matter-of-factly: “It tastes like shit.” 

To overcome the bitterness of kava, they spent over six months on the formation process, consulting with a food scientist from NYU and formulation experts. Instead of adding sugar, they wound up using monk fruit extract as a natural sweetener. And it worked! Plus, people are willing to forgive a lot of other deficits if something makes them feel good — or different, at least.

However, there was a bigger obstacle beyond just making it palatable: they wanted to make a product that’s legitimately psychedelic AND legal. But how do you spread the “psychedelic gospel” without psilocybin? This is why kava is a key ingredient — it’s considered psychedelic in that it’s psychoactive, but it’s not hallucinogenic. “So we figured out that was the way to thread the needle if we wanted to take this mainstream,” said Keith. And the result is the first legal psychedelic CPG product in the world, as far as they know.

“We couldn’t create a product that was going to melt people’s faces off,” Keith explained, “So we got the stars aligned here and figured out something that gives people the right type of — I don’t like to use the word ‘buzz,’ but there’s no better word really. Some people describe it as a body high; some people describe it as a cross between a joint and a glass of wine.”

Ben agreed: “The effects are this sort of calm, euphoric feeling, but you never lose that mental inhibition, so it’s a great alcohol replacement.”

Frankly, I was disappointed to hear this. I was craving a heavier trip. My mind has been so thoroughly blown by real life over the past couple of years that I’m ready to have it blown by drugs again — which now seems like a more controlled mindf*ck, ironically. 

The thing is, Keith’s eager to fulfill that craving as soon as he can. In a month or two, Psychedelic Water is coming out with a new product that consists of a proprietary blend of mushrooms meant to replicate the microdosing experience. He has big plans down the road, too. “My thinking has been that if we can develop this great corporate ethos, this great brand, and team,” Keith said, “we can be at the forefront of the psychedelics space, play a leadership role, and try to advocate for decriminalization, ultimately legalization, and it will come.” 

From his lips to God’s ears, but in the meantime, I just hoped our Joshua Tree trip wasn’t going to be a bust. Unfortunately, Sofiya and I trekked out to the desert during mid-day traffic, and right before we turned on to 29 Palms Highway, my brakes started making this horrible screeching sound, so it started off that way.

Luckily, we made it to the Airbnb safely, and it was just as adorable as advertised. My nerves were shot, so I cracked open a can of Psychedelic Water for a bit of preview on the first night. However, before it had a chance to work its magic, I fell asleep. Hard. I conked out fully dressed with the lights on and didn’t wake up to brush my teeth until 3:30 am. Admittedly, I was exhausted from a hectic workweek — so far, the effects were inconclusive.

On the second day, we went to town to grab lunch and try to get my car fixed (shout-out to Brandon at Monument Motors for saving the day). Sofiya’s fortune from Panda Express read “Take a trip with a friend,” which seemed apropos. When we got back to the Airbnb that afternoon, we each drank a can as we were easing into our workday.

One of the main goals of the excursion was to do a bunch of brainstorming for our podcast, Private Parts Unknown. We do most of our logistical planning over the phone or email, but it’s not the best method for brainstorming. There’s too much pressure. There’s a certain level of relaxation required to come up with creative new ideas, which makes in-person hangtime much more conducive to mind-meld.

While riffing on potential Patreon levels, we came up with the brilliant idea for a “$5K Titties Out Dinner,” so mission accomplished. Still, I’m not prepared to give Psychedelic Water full credit. We’ve been writing comedy and podcasting together for a decade now, and we strike our fair share of gold, even when we’re stone-cold sober. Though I will admit, we were having a good time. We went to dinner at Pappy and Harriet’s, the beloved Pioneer Town honky-tonk dive bar, barbeque restaurant, and music venue. Usually, I’m all about margaritas, but I didn’t feel like drinking much this night. I was content with just people watching.

At this point, I wasn’t completely sold on Psychedelic Water. It was fun, but I wasn’t sure I’d felt the buzz yet — kind of like sex without the orgasm. I’d been hoping for more of an explicit high.

The next day, which was our last, we had to check out by 11 a.m., so we got up early for a morning work sesh. There were a couple of cans of Psychedelic Water left and not much else, so we decided to each have one for breakfast while we strategized. We quickly got into a great flow and planned our whole New York City live show (alas, now canceled, thanks to the Delta variant), and we both felt solid about how much work and reconnection we’d accomplished on our little getaway. We then packed our stuff and took some pics around the property before loading into the car for the drive back to L.A.

Sof and the author with Psychedelic Water on their last day.
Courtney Kocak

When we turned out on Old Woman Springs Road (seriously, that’s the name), the bronzy, muted desert yellows, pinks, and greens jumped out at me instantly. It was way more striking than I’d remembered from the days prior. Driving was a whole new experience. It didn’t feel dangerous (in fact, I felt more focused), but it did feel different. Was I high, or was this in my head? 

We stopped for a famous date shake at Hadley’s in Cabazon. When we got back on the road, I felt super focused, yet more whimsical than my usual self. I giggled and asked Sofiya if she felt anything. “Kinda…” she giggled back. “Like a mild buzz.” We love to laugh, but we’re generally not gigglers. Maybe they should have a warning label: Don’t drive within hours of drinking Psychedelic Water, if you find yourself uncharacteristically giggling. 

But we still had over an hour of drive time ahead of us. I was hyper-aware of everything — the sky, the other cars on the road, the sweat dripping off my date shake — more alert than usual but also more blissful. So I decided to stop questioning whether I was high or not — whatever the feeling was, I liked it. I was now an official convert to the Church of Psychedelic Water. Sofiya turned up the radio, and we both enjoyed the view.