The Microdosing Edition
On psychedelics, mental health, and finding calm
Joseph Dana (JD) is a longstanding friend of WITI and a South Africa-based writer. He is the senior editor at Exponential View. He formerly edited the opinion pages at The National in Abu Dhabi and served as Monocle's Eastern Mediterranean correspondent and Istanbul bureau chief. Sign up for his newsletter: “Both/And.” - Colin (CJN)
Joseph here. Microdosing psychedelics such as magic mushrooms and LSD has been popular for some time. People have reported surprisingly positive results from increased clarity to reduced social anxiety. With psychedelics being legalized or decriminalized in cities and states across the country, microdosing is bound to take off in popularity in the coming months and years. The venture capital interest in psychedelics is extraordinary.
One remarkable aspect of the microdosing boom is how difficult it is to find clinical results demonstrating its effectiveness. Earlier this year, a study in the UK found that “the psychological benefits linked with taking regular, small doses of psychedelic drugs are likely the result of users’ expectations.” That’s not very encouraging.
My relationship with microdosing used to be ambivalent. In South Africa, microdosing is popular among the health food and yoga crowd, so I associated it with something you might do between activated charcoal juices and raw cacao smoothies. But it’s moved far beyond this crowd. I recently discovered that many friends and family have been microdosing for years with excellent results.
My path to microdosing came after I embarked on a so-called psilocybin journey. The experience entails consuming a “hero’s dose” of 5 grams of dried magic mushrooms alone or with a guide, in a quiet setting, usually wearing a blindfold. Such a journey provokes deep introspection and, in my case, deep emotional healing. Strangely enough, this journey was my only experience with psychedelics of any kind, and it was life-changing. I detailed the trip in a recent edition of my newsletter.
Having experienced a profound connection with the plant’s consciousness while on my journey, I began to think that microdosing could hold great value for me. I understand that it might sound crazy to say that I have connected with a plant, but it’s the only way to describe my journey. This connection made me think about microdosing differently. It’s as if the plant and I have gotten to know each other and can work together going forward.
Why is this interesting?
After the journey, I took the plunge into microdosing, and my results have been fantastic. I have been following the rough guideline of the Fadiman protocol, where I consume a small dose of mushrooms (I started with 80mg but ended up increasing the dosages to 150mg) every three days. Because it is a subthreshold dose, you aren’t meant to experience any visuals or hallucinations. Instead, I have experienced a heightened sense of calm and increased focus on the days I dose. On the other days, I have noticed an evident absence of anxiety. It probably helps that I have stopped drinking coffee, but that’s another story.
The challenge with microdosing is finding what dose and frequency work for you. I started with a small dose and gradually increased it until I found something that worked. This isn’t regular pharmaceutical medicine; there is no doctor who I can call to help with these variables. Thus, a certain amount of self-guidance is required, which might turn off a large number of potential microdosers.
That being said, I’m not totally on my own. The guide who assisted on my journey has helped me through the initial stages of microdosing. There are other mushroom guides focused specifically on microdosing and offer professional services, mostly on WhatsApp. As society opens itself up to the power of these medicines to transform mental health, we need to figure out a way to tap into the knowledge and experience of these guides.
This is easier said than done. By and large, guides operate in the shadows because the substances they work with are often still illicit. Finding a guide for my psilocybin journey was anything but easy. There is also an overrepresentation of charlatans parading as shamans with little to no understanding of what they are doing. From the Amazonian jungles of Peru to the wealthy suburbs of Cape Town, an entire cottage industry of guides has sprung up, eager to provide people with a spiritual awakening for the right price.
A reckoning of sorts is bound to occur as the industry formalizes and more medical professionals begin prescribing psychedelic treatments. Microdosing might not be for everyone, but it's a powerful treatment for depression and general malaise when used wisely. (JD)
Legalization of the day:
Johns Hopkins received the first federal research grant for research into psilocybin treatments in 50 years this week. Legalization advocates say that more federal funding for research will accelerate efforts to legalize psychedelics on a federal level. (JD)
Double Blind’s excellent introduction to microdosing. (JD)
Terence Mckenna is the philosopher king of psychedelics, and this film adaptation of his landmark book True Hallucinations is excellent for those that want to go deeper. (JD)
The wild story of the murder of Steven Pollock, a leading mycologist who was working on psychoactive mushrooms at the time of his death. (JD)
WITI x McKinsey:
An ongoing partnership where we highlight interesting McKinsey research, writing, and data.
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Joseph (JD)
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