Why One Mom Started Microdosing LSD—And How It Saved Her Life

Do you remember the last time you had a really good day?

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

Do you remember the last time you had a really good day?

Well, Ayelet Waldman couldn’t a few months ago. That is, before she started microdosing LSD. 

As a lawyer, mother of four and someone terrified of drugs, Waldman is not your typical “übersmart twentysomething” working in tech—the stereotype of who microdosing usually attracts. The trend, which has recently gained popularity among professionals trying to increase their productivity, consists of taking a low dose of a hallucinogen (typically LSD or psilocybin), much lower than what would be needed to experience a trip.

For Waldman, however, enhanced productivity wasn’t her goal. Sure, it would be a nice side effect, but the novelist sought out this “illicit, chemical form of yoga” as an alternative to antidepressants in an effort to save her marriage — and her life. “When I went in to the experiment, I had really one goal,” Waldman told LinkedIn. “I just wanted to stop feeling so bad. I was profoundly depressed.”

Waldman has suffered from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a severe form of premenstrual syndrome), frozen shoulder, irritability, mood swings and insomnia. She has tried dozens of medications and substances in an attempt to treat her symptoms—from Prozac and Zoloft to Ambien and marijuana. The list fills an entire half-page in her new book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. She’s also talked to psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and social workers. Yet, she still hadn’t found a treatment that works for her, and she was desperate for a solution.

“I am the mother of four children. I am, to my children’s gibe, ‘totally basic.’ I wear yoga pants all day, I post photos of particularly indulgent desserts on Instagram. I am the mom surreptitiously checking her phone at Back to School Night, the woman standing behind you in Starbucks ordering the skinny vanilla latte, the one getting a mammogram in the room next to yours, the one digging through her too-full purse looking for her keys while you wait impatiently for her parking spot. I am a former attorney and law professor, a law-abiding citizen. A nerd. If a cashier hands me incorrect change, I return the excess. I don’t cheat on my taxes, don’t jump the turnstile in the subway, don’t park in handicap spots. I write and lecture on the criminal justice system; I don’t regularly commit crimes. But I was suffering.”

When she realized that she was picking fights not only with her husband but also her dry cleaner, she decided to embark upon a 30-day experiment self-administering LSD in micro doses.

Waldman said she didn’t set out to write a drug memoir. She wanted to use her book to send a message on both mental health treatment and the decriminalization of drugs (which is different than legalization or de-regulation).

“I’ve been doing drug policy reform for a long time, and I have been talking about the legal and social ramifications of the war on drugs for a long time,” Waldman told us. “I saw this book as an opportunity to do that kind of advocacy — to both talk about my experience, my personal experience, but also talk about the larger issues.”

As she points out in her book, at least 20 million Americans have used LSD, and yet there have been no definitive documented human deaths from an LSD overdose. (The same is true of marijuana, though these stats are overdose-related only. They don't take into account injuries or deaths that can happen when someone loses inhibitions.) In comparison, more than 300 people die in the U.S. every year from taking acetaminophen, and 44,000 end up in the emergency room, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A similar reality is true of opioids. They are addictive and dangerous—also fatal at high doses—and yet physicians prescribe them regularly. Furthermore, one neuroscientist she talked to said that microdosing psychedelics is absolutely as safe as, or even safer, than conventional antidepressants.

Waldman also points out an important truth: There have always been drugs and there will always be drugs. Yet, stigmas abound and the research isn’t adequate. Instead of prescribing medications that are known to compromise patients’ abilities while criminalizing drugs that could help them, she urges the medical and legal communities to further research these substances and reform current policies.

“I can’t say with authority that what I experienced was not a placebo effect because we haven’t had the research,” Ayelet said. “My argument is not I want to take LSD because it made me feel better. My argument is I want LSD to be studied because I think this is the drug that worked best for me.”

When it comes to people microdosing as a productivity hack, Waldman has mixed feelings. Although she didn’t go into her experiment looking for increased productivity, she does acknowledge that she felt more in “flow” while writing and was able to make more connections among the topics she was writing about. 

"It's no accident that I wrote the first draft of this book in that month,” she told us. “This book is, it's a memoir of mental illness, it's a story of a marriage, it's the history of psychedelic drugs, the neuroscience behind microdosing, the neurochemistry behind psychedelics. It's about mass incarceration and de-criminalization. All those things don't necessarily seem like they would work well together, but I think they really do. The unusual creative parallels that the psychedelic allowed my brain to experience are reflected in the book."

However, she hopes the people following this trend as an alternative to Adderall don't overshadow the benefits that she, like others, have found through microdosing: finding relief from debilitating depression.

“[A]s someone who came to this experience from a place of suffering, who has sought and failed to get help using established treatment models, and who, moreover, has little interest in the recreational use of drugs or even their performance-enhancing qualities,” wrote Waldman. “I hope that the therapeutic value of microdosing doesn't get muffled beneath the braying of tech dudes trying to work better, stronger, faster.” 

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn