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Can Microdosing Make Your Life a Little Better?

A Personal Perspective: Why magic mushrooms are having a moment.

Key points

  • Ongoing research shows potential for using psychedelics to treat conditions like addiction, PTSD, and end-of-life anxiety.
  • Microdosing psilocybin is increasingly popular as an aid to mental alertness, creativity. and motivation.
  • Big Pharma is underwriting research on psychedelics, both natural and synthetic, in laboratories across the country.

From the dank underground where more than 180 of their species flourish in the woods, psilocybin mushrooms are having a moment in the national spotlight—not just in the cultural consciousness but in the legislatures of several states seeking to legalize or decriminalize them. Corporations are seeking to cash in on their growing popularity. And scientists are investigating their use for the treatment of many persistent psychiatric conditions.

The National Institutes of Health granted $4 million to Johns Hopkins University to study whether psilocybin could cure tobacco addiction, but private funding is still the foundation of most current research. Because the future for the medical use of psychedelics is so promising, the pharmaceutical industry is opening its wallets to the many private drug development companies now raising millions of dollars to take various psychedelic compounds through the FDA approval process and get them to market. Other companies seeking to get in on the plant-based gold rush are investing in everything from “wellness” retreats—spas for the mind as well as the body—to entheogen-based or -infused products.

Psychedelics are known to act on an area of the cortex considered to be the source of the ego, the sense of self that is the basic organizing principle of the mind. That may be why they not only heighten the senses but stimulate visual and auditory hallucinations and also mystical, spiritual transcendent, and sometimes transformational experiences. My first experience of psilocybin made me feel connected to a unitary consciousness, something ineffable but memorable—not awe, exactly, but a heightened sense of it. That event, plus a great deal of research and experimentation, has led me to my present relationship with psilocybin: the 150 ml. of it I take in a capsule every other morning.

Microdosing isn't tripping; it's taking a fractional dose of psilocybn on a regular schedule. It's akin to a homeopathic amount and is subperceptual in that it has none of the mind-altering effects of a high dose, which is 3 to 4 grams. Unlike other psychedelic studies going on now in many universities and private laboratories, microdosing has been researched only in England, where a National Health study indicated it showed promise in mitigating dementia in older people. A close friend whose wife suffers from that condition reports that microdosing seems to have reversed some of her memory loss and improved her mood as well as her cognitive functioning. It's also naturally anti-inflammatory, which makes it as helpful for aging bodies as it does for some aging minds.

Because microdosing has subtle effects, it doesn't "change my mind," as psychedelic substances from MDMA to ayahuasca do, says popularizer Michael Pollan. But subtly, it lightens my mood without the numbing sequelae typical of antidepressants or the manic effects of stimulants like coffee. It has definitely enhanced my creativity and motivation and seems to have erased burdens I wasn’t even aware I had until they were gone. The best analogy to my experience with microdosing is this: It’s like having your hair in a pony tail for a long time, taking the rubber band out, and realizing you’ve had a low-grade headache you weren’t even aware of.

Most of the evidence about microdosing is anecdotal, hardly good enough to prove its benefits to a wary scientific community. Psychedelics are not addictive and use is not criminalized in some states and cities. They're easy to grow, and plenty of books advise how to do it as well as various scheduling regimens. My own mushroom maven, who's been growing them for years, advises: Listen to your body. I have, and mine is reminding me that tomorrow is my day to microdose again

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