A case for microdosing Psychoactive drugs
In Episode four, Season One, of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia (my new favorite obsession) host Hamilton Morris travels to Mexico in search of “magic mushrooms.”
In each episode, Hamilton goes on an Alice-In-Wonderland-like journey in search of the history of a particular psychotropic drug. In his hunt for psilocybin-containing mushrooms and their role in Mexican culture, he talks with mycologist Laura Guzman at the University of Guadalajara Fungarium. Laura’s father, Gaston Guzman, is a famed Mexican mycologist and expert in the genus Psilocybe.
Gaston found depictions of mushrooms on the walls of a cave in Spain and discovered that the particular strain of mushrooms painted on the caves was a hallucinogenic species. Laura talks of a church in France, where mushrooms can be seen painted on the walls, and the belief that Adam and Eve were not dining on apples in the Garden of Eden, but were instead ingesting mushrooms — the hallucinogenic kind. This could explain the spiritual visions that they experienced, and according to Laura “the rise of religion.” So Adam and Eve were tripping. I think the editor of the Bible should have left this piece of information in, it seems a tad important.
In another episode Hamilton finds himself again in the mountains of Mexico, this time in the state of Oaxaca, searching for the leaves of the sacred plant, salvia Divinorum. Salvia is used by shamans of the Mazatec people to produce spiritual visions. Due to its psychoactive properties, it is sought out by those wishing to experience its mind-altering effects.
In this episode, Hamilton expresses his profound interest and appreciation for salvia Divinorum, and manages to find a local who takes him to harvest leaves of the salvia plant and a shaman to perform the spiritual ceremony. He ingests the leaves under the direction of the shaman and enters into a world of hallucinogenic bliss. Laughing and describing being encompassed by warm light, he appears to be in an extremely euphoric state. His experience was rare, having been welcomed by locals into their secret world of plant medicine and ritual. I found myself longing for such an experience.
Yet Salvia isn’t without its controversy. Legal in some states in the United States, and prohibited in many others, salvia caught a bad reputation when users uploaded YouTube videos of themselves after smoking it. Many were behaving erratically and suffering from intense delusions. As with almost anything, there are those who abuse or misuse a substance, and there are those who respect what it has to offer.
Hamilton Morris isn’t alone in his fascination with psychotropic drugs. Many people seek out experiences with entheogens like Ayahuasca or Peyote. Most are looking for enlightenment, peace, or relief from things like crippling anxiety or PTSD. Of course, these are all scheduled substances, and finding them isn’t exactly easy, or legal.
However, the legal status of many psychoactive drugs may be changing. Many researchers and medical scientists have been studying the use of psychoactive drugs in micro doses for the treatment of mental illness. According to Rolling Stone, as of last year, the FDA flagged MDMA and psilocybin for “breakthrough therapy status,” moving these base components of Ecstasy and magic mushrooms to the path to legality. Also last year Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin mushrooms.
Living with crippling anxiety, depression, and PTSD since I was a teen, and trying dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals to treat mental illness, I am a strong proponent of medicinal uses for psychoactive drugs. I am also of the camp that drugs should be decriminalized, but that is a topic for further discussion. My experience with prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication was less than idyllic. I do believe that they are useful and many benefit from them, but it shouldn’t be the only option for medicinal treatment. I truly believe that those, like myself, that did not benefit from pharmaceutical drugs could instead benefit from microdosing of psychoactive drugs.
For the last few years, scientists have been running trials of LSD microdosing in patients suffering from mild forms of depression. According to BrainFacts.org, patients use very small doses, about 5–10 percent of a standard psychedelic dose. This prevents the typical hallucinations and negative side effects, but allows for the study of dosing at a therapeutic threshold. Users reported varied benefits, but the overall takeaway was that microdosing psilocybin resulted in an elevated mood. I think we could all benefit from a little more happiness!
What if we approached psychoactive drugs from the perspective of the indigenous Mexicans, who see the salvia plant or mushrooms, as a sacred medicine? What if we treated these medicines respectfully, and everyone was allowed to try the medicine for themselves?
As more progress is made to legalize psychoactive drugs, we should be respectful and grateful for those cultures whose use of entheogens paved the way for medicinal use. People like Maria Sabina, a shaman who is credited for popularizing the use of psilocybin mushrooms, and the many Mazatec shamans who mastered the use of the sacred salvia plant.
It’s hard to see these drugs as “evil” or “bad” like we have been conditioned to do. There is of course a dark side that seems inevitable when something is made illegal. I am not denying the often seedy underbelly of drug cultivation and use. I am asking, what if we reframed how we see psychotropic drugs? What if these sacred plants could heal us, just as they healed the indigenous Mazatec people? I mean, if Adam and Eve munched on mushrooms in the Garden of Eden, I think we should give it a shot.