Your life in color

Don’t know what micro-dosing is? Let Ayelet Waldman explain

Forget everything you knew about LSD

Ayelet Waldman is candor personified, and is known to write and speak unapologetically about things often left unsaid. An eclectic author, essayist and screenwriter, she is no stranger to controversy. She is infamous for her controversial essay that stated she loved her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, more than her kids. That led to an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show to defend herself. Her latest book once again opens up an important but contentious discourse: psychedelic drug use and mental health.

When Waldman found herself more depressed than ever by a mood disorder, she took a bold step by experimenting with what she has called a misunderstood drug, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, better known as LSD. The result is her tellingly titled book, “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life.” This memoir captures her 20-day micro-dosing experiment and a forthright discussion of her struggle against bipolar disorder.

The mention of psychedelic drugs traditionally conjures up an image of altered mind-states, of counterculture and the hipsters and hippies, of hallucinations and the dangers. However, a contrarian trend is emerging among working professionals going about their day: the ingestion of miniscule doses of psychedelic substances such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. “Micro-dosing” is an understudied but rising phenomenon that involves doses that are too small to induce perceptual changes and visuals, but instead enhance senses, aid daily work and ease anxiety. Preliminary research now indicates it has possible benefits for dealing with mental disorders.

Waldman’s book is a candid account of microdosing research by psychologist James Fadiman, and her decision to procure a vial of the magic liquid. She then began her month-long journey down the rabbit hole in an attempt to relieve her suffering, and save her marriage and family. She deems it a preliminary success.

Here she speaks about the experience, the untapped potential of psychedelics and mental health, the war on drugs and her views about recreational psychedelics for her children.

To begin with, how did this endeavor start? What led you to micro-dose?

Well, it started really from a place of desperation. I have a mood disorder. It’s a mild mood disorder, but closely related to my menstrual cycle. When I became premenopausal, I couldn’t take the medicine regiment that I had been using effectively until that time. Nothing was working and I was getting more and more depressed, and eventually, I found myself sinking into a pretty intense depression, kind of the worst ever. My medications weren’t working.

I had been hearing a lot about [micro-dosing], the research on psychedelics and depression was really compelling. So I just decided to give it a shot one day. I said okay, well, I can’t feel worse, but maybe I can feel better.

And you said in your book that you weren’t really into recreational drugs and certainly not counterculture…

I’ve used lots of drugs, but not recreationally. I’ve used marijuana, but medicinally. I used it a little bit in high school and college, but nothing like a lot of people I knew. I’ve used MDMA [also known as ecstasy] as a therapeutic tool with my husband, but recreational drug use is not my thing. I’m not interested in that. I don’t condemn people who do, but I just don’t find it interesting.

The dosing [here] is therapeutic. There’s no sensory results so there would be no recreational element to it; purely therapeutic. That was the only thing I really cared about.

Mental health is the big concern here. You mention in the book that medication really takes a toll on people, and there’s trial and error and adverse side effects. Would you say psychedelics have medical potential vis a vis current medication?

I think that they have tremendous potential. I don’t that they are going to be ultimately profound. I think that the initial research seems to show that they are quite different in terms of side effects and profiles from SSRIs, but I don’t think that we’re really going to know that till we actual have some real research out there, which I am confident we are going to have soon.

I found it better than the medications that I have used. For me personally, it was better than the medication I used… I think it elevates mood, I don’t think it’s a stabilizer. There were definitely days when I felt more irritable than normal, but nothing like the anti-depressants that I had been prescribed, which [had] made me really irritable.

And were you apprehensive about possibly dangerous side effects?

I wasn’t, because there aren’t any really. Initially I was quite [apprehensive] actually, because I had sort of bought this mythology about the dangers of psychedelic drugs. But if you actually do the research LSD is among the safest.

Having been a Federal Public Defender and taught a course at UC Berkeley about the legal and social implications of the war on drugs, you are quite familiar with legal aspects of drug use. Were you worried about any legal consequences with your experiment?

Well, I was very worried as soon as Donald Trump became president, that’s for sure. I think Jeff Sessions is one of the most retrograde attorney general we’ve had in a really long time. Everyone else in the world has reached the conclusion that the war on drugs is ineffective, that it causes much more harm than it prevents, that it in fact enhances the chances of people using drugs, that it is responsible for the opioid epidemic, that the only people enriched by it are drug dealers. But Jeff Sessions, he’s never met a drug he didn’t want to criminalize. That made me very anxious, for sure.

What are your views on decriminalization for mental health benefits and the war on drugs?

Well, my view is that all drugs should be decriminalized. I think that criminalizing drugs does nothing but make the problem of drugs worse. In terms of [mental health] specifically, I absolutely think that there is no doubt that we need to decriminalize psychedelic drugs and to begin a process of evaluation of their potential therapeutic effects. All of that research is complicated by the fact that it’s criminal.

Micro-dosing seems to be a rising trend, notably among working people at places like Silicon Valley for enhanced efficiency. Why do you think that might be?

It’s purely anecdotal, but I feel it makes it easier for you to focus and also makes you a little more creative. I’m a writer. My best days as a writer are creative days and this allows me to access by best days more frequently. It didn’t make me better than I am, but it made it easier for me to be the best that I can be.

I think [the rising trend] has to do with everybody looking for a way to be better, stronger, faster. So if your issue isn’t depression but your issue is looking for a way to enhance productivity and creativity, it can be really subjective. I’m just not very interested in it personally. I mean sure, I think it’s great that my productivity and my creativity is enhanced, but really I just want to stay alive.


A lot of our audience is young university students, and that’s an age people tend to be curious about recreational drugs. What would you say of drug experimentation at this age and time?

I have four kids, my oldest is 23 and my youngest is 14. My attitude towards drugs is probably different from the attitude of most parents, even though in my family there are cases of drug abuse. I think that different drugs do different things, and there are drugs that are safer than other drugs. So when I’m talking to my kids about using drugs safely, I try to be very honest with them about what drugs are safer than others, how important it is to test your drugs so that you know that you’re actually taking what you think you’re taking, what you have to do if you are taking a certain drug to maximize your safety. We’re not a cloistered Amish family, my kids are growing up in Berkeley, California, in a community where there is plenty of drugs available. I know they’re going to smoke pot. So my agreement with them is that they’ll defer as long as possible.

The danger comes from hypocrisy, right? I feel like I’m more likely to keep my kids from developing a dangerous drug addiction by keeping the lines of communication open and giving them the kind of information that they can hopefully use to make good choices. I think that prohibition, just as its destructive to the country, is destructive to the family.

Shreya is a Graduate student in a dual degree program at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and the London School of Economics. She has previously worked as multi-media producer and writer for news publications in India. She spends her free time seeking out live music and binge watching shows she has watched too many times before.