Isolation and psychedelics have something in common: they both spark introspection. Humanity was forced to hit the pause button due to the COVID-19 virus, which reared its ugly head March 2020. Death rates soared, frontline healthcare workers put themselves at risk everyday, and words like quarantine and isolation became part of our everyday vocabulary. Luckily, a skill that most humans are naturally capable of is adapting to new environments.
Out of the chaos of mask mandates and stay-at-home orders, what revealed itself after the dust settled changed public awareness in a meaningful way. For the first time in a while, it was noticeable how much humanity had softened. A lot of emotions were stirred up surrounding topics like mental health awareness, political injustice, and anything that challenges the status quo. People were looking to alternative solutions for psychological ailments, creating an environment suitable for the resurgence of interest in psychedelic use.
Prior to this new wave of psychedelic interest, however, research was already being pioneered studying the potential healing properties of psychedelics. A specific example being the past 35 years of research provided by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). MAPS was founded in 1986 by Rick Doblin, 14 years after he had a profound first experience with lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as LSD.
“MAPS is working with researchers around the world to facilitate studies of psychedelic-assisted therapy with refugees, transgender communities, first responders exhausted by Covid, people of color subjected to racial trauma and more. We envision a day when psychedelics will be more than a last-ditch treatment: they will be a catalyst for mass mental health,” expressed Rick Doblin in the caption of this post. MAPS is prioritizing proper education and transparent research that would allow people to experience the therapeutic benefits of these drugs in a way that minimizes risk.
Conventional treatments for mental illness have been around for decades, and since then society has grown accustomed to prescriptions. Prescriptions for anxiety, prescriptions for depression and prescriptions for focus fill up our medicine cabinets and become a habitual part of our daily routine. Society has normalized conventional prescription treatment for mental illness to the extent that alternative treatments seem unorthodox and hazardous even. The reality is that there is a lot to be learned about the role that psychedelic use should play into our healing.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced people to face their demons. Maybe you were forced to confront a destructive pattern of behavior caused by childhood trauma or maybe you developed severe social anxiety from many lonely months in lockdown. Whatever the case may be, these self-realizations are happening at a global scale. The heightened awareness of self that resulted from this prompted individuals to search out mental health solutions that promote stability and prosperity.
One potential treatment that gained some popularity during the pandemic was psychedelic microdosing. It refers to the act of administering extremely low doses of psychedelic drugs for the purpose of experiencing the therapeutic potential of mind-altering drugs without enduring the more intense side effects. Whether an individual decides to microdose or macrodose (normally just called a dose) depends on their ability to handle challenging thoughts that tend to surface while on higher doses.
Psychedelic drugs used for both microdosing and dosing include psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca where the active ingredient is N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). MDMA has properties of both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, and the synthetic drug is mostly grouped into the category of psychedelics.
“The media attention on psychedelics is generally pretty positive. It’s pretty favorable, in part because they’re so biologically safe and non-addictive,” said Thomas Anderson, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and co-founder of the Psychedelic Studies Research Program and Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Science.
One aspect of isolated living that played a huge role in the psychedelic reemergence was ample time to process thoughts and behaviors. Isolation breeds self-reflection, and that introspection can be simultaneously enlightening and deeply challenging.
Leading up to March of 2021, Francisco Alatriste was suffering from what he thought was severe anxiety. Desperate for a solution that would better his emotional state, Alatriste turned to microdosing psychedelics. After hearing that microdosing had the potential to significantly minimize anxiety levels, he promptly explored research on the impacts and safety information of psychedelic use.
In March of 2021, Alatriste decided to take the first step in his healing journey. That same summer, however, life threw him a curveball when he was diagnosed with ADHD. At the time of the interview, Alatriste had been microdosing for around 9 months. Even in a short amount of time, he noted significant improvements in all areas of his life. One benefit that Alatriste conveyed was an enhancement in his short term memory. After years of experiencing the limitations of his short term memory due to ADHD, microdosing has allowed Alatriste to strengthen his capabilities.
“It helped me make sense of my COVID experience,” expressed Alatriste. Before COVID-19, Alatriste led a rather fast-paced lifestyle. It was when he was forced to slow down and take note of his emotional state that he realized he needed to prioritize his mental health. It’s important to note that Alatriste also experienced challenging moments during his microdosing journey, sometimes concerning the remembrance of past or forgotten trauma. Despite that, he notes that the heightened level of self-awareness he gained as a result made the challenging moments worth it.
Perhaps the most meaningful impact that this healing journey had on Alatriste’s life was concerning his relationship with his family.
“I come from a Hispanic household, and they don’t really talk about feelings. It’s very male dominated and I had a lot of repressed emotions there. Microdosing has helped me have honest conversations with my family and come to an understanding with them. That was something I could never do before,” expressed Alatriste. Healing childhood trauma and fostering honest conversations with family members has greatly impacted his emotional wellbeing.
Last year herbalist Desiree Kaufman was working for a startup in the cannabis space handling the company’s marketing, among other tasks. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard in 2020, Kaufman’s world flipped upside down when she lost her job that same year.
“I lost my source of income, so I was just a stress case,” said Kaufman. Plagued with the state of uncertainty both in the world and in her own life, Kaufman found herself travelling down a new path in which she began to cultivate a meaningful relationship with psychedelic medicine.
As it turns out, Kaufman’s introduction to psychedelics came from her father. Since his 20’s, Kaufman’s father suffered from frequent cluster headaches. He tried a wide variety of medications and solutions to relieve the pain, even sticking his head in the freezer in moments of desperation. Nothing seemed to work, until Kaufman came home from college one summer to an interesting revelation.
“I came home one summer and they told me that my dad had started working with mushrooms and LSD for his headaches and that it was really, really, really helping,” said Kaufman. The decision was based on sound, scientific research that showed how psychedelics may be a last resort solution to chronic headaches. A 2017 study conducted in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that psilocybin mushrooms can be effective in the treatment of cluster headaches and migraines.
Being an herbalist, Kaufman already had previous experience working with medicinal mushrooms, such as Lion’s Mane and Reishi. Shortly after she began her microdosing journey, she decided to experiment with combining the plant medicine with other adaptogens and therapeutic mushrooms to maximize the healing effects.
“It really helped me clear stagnant energies from my body that weren’t serving me anymore,” explained Kaufman. This was a catalyst for Kaufman’s path to healing, as she started integrating mindfulness practices and intention into her microdosing approach. Integration is a large part of psychedelic treatment, as it works to reduce the stigma and inspires compassion amongst those practicing.
“20% of the work is the microdosing. 80% is integration”Desiree Kaufman
“Psychedelics work well in a tribal setting. The problem nowadays is that we don’t have proper tribal integration,” explained Kaufman. When Kaufman refers to the term “tribal space,” she is referring to the indigenous roots of psychedelic use. Due to the intense thoughts and emotions that can arise from taking a psychedelic, indigenous groups emphasized the importance of community and integration in guiding people on their healing or spiritual journey.
Social media allows communities of people to come together and share knowledge and wisdom about a variety of different topics. When it comes to psychedelics, people online can share helpful safety info and integration techniques that act as guidance for those starting their healing journeys.
“I do feel like social media can give us that tribal safe space,” said Kaufman. Social media allows communities of people to come together and share knowledge and wisdom about a variety of different topics. Microdosing psychedelics in a safe and responsible way is one of those topics.
Amanda Edell has been microdosing, on and off, for almost two years now. Edell was inspired by a podcast she heard which mentioned that people in Silicon Valley were microdosing. She figured people in Silicon Valley must know something the rest of us don’t.
“Right off the bat, what I noticed was an increase in energy. Before COVID, I was somebody who was waking up super early for work and for my clients, so 5:00 am wake-ups. I immediately felt the difference, within a month I would say, I noticed I had more sustained energy throughout the day,” explained Edell. Increased energy wasn’t the only benefit she experienced. She also used microdosing as a tool for conquering and coming to terms with her trauma in a constructive way.
“As somebody who has been a victim of verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse growing up, it’s been astronomical in helping me overcome these traumas and identify the root causes of why I am the way I am as an adult and why I still do the things I do,” said Edell. Mental and emotional benefits of microdosing aside, even Edell’s menstrual symptoms started to diminish after she began her microdosing journey.
“I was having really bad menstrual cramps at the time. After I took the medicine for a couple months, my period flow and the extreme pain I was having, it kind of dissipated,” explained Edell.
It’s no surprise that the concept of health is on the forefront of everyone’s mind during a deadly pandemic. We have been struggling to operate in a new world of isolation, fear and self-reflection for nearly two years now. An emphasis on the unconventional and a shift away from tradition has created an environment suitable for talking about psychedelic use in the treatment of mental illness. The appeal to the natural and the holistic also increased, with people realizing how necessary it is to prioritize your mental health during dark times. Consequently, the public started to steer away from conventional solutions to mental illness and towards new and potentially more effective treatments.