A Really Good Day: How microdosing LSD helped Ayelet Waldman fight depression (ENCORE)
by Brent Bambury (@notrexmurphy)
"It was insane going around London," he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. "When we went to the club, we thought it was on fire and then we thought it was a premiere, and it was just an ordinary light outside."
"We were cackling in the streets, and people were shouting 'Let's break a window.' It was just insane."
"And then George's house seemed to be just like a big submarine. I was driving it. They all went to bed. I was carrying on in it. It seemed to float above his wall, which was 18 foot and I was driving it."
"The urge to transcend self-conscious selfhood is, as I have said, a principal appetite of the soul," Huxley wrote in his essay The Doors of Perception, and fifty years ago the counter-culture enthusiastically agreed.
What's old is new, only different
In the 1980s, cocaine flooded into the United States and Canada, and the use of psychedelics declined. But now, researchers say psychedelics are back, at least as popular as they were in the 1960s.
But the people using them aren't looking for trippy visions.
"I didn't want to trip," Ayelet Waldman tells me on Day 6, describing her month-long experiment taking LSD. "That seems to me to be a terrifying experience."
She wasn't trying to bend reality; she just wanted to cope with it.
Waldman is an author, a mother of four and a former public defender who developed a seminar about the War on Drugs. It wasn't a search for euphoria or transcendence that led Waldman to LSD. It was her depression.
"I was in this really dark place. I have a mood disorder and nothing was working. No medications were working, and I started to get more and more depressed and more and more angry and more and more irritable and then I became suicidal."
"And that's when I decided I had to do something drastic."
When conventional meds fail
Waldman was familiar with the work of James Fadiman, a psychologist, writer and academic who has long advocated the use of subtherapeutic doses of LSD. The dose is too small to enhance perception or produce hallucinations, but Fadiman says it may focus attention and enhance mood and creativity.
On his website, he instructs people on how to microdose safely.
"What it [a microdose of LSD] seems to do is re-balance people," he told The Huffington Post.
Other scientists are taking note. They're conducting studies on mind-bending contraband, and finding evidence they can help address anxiety, PTSD and depression.
I was in this really dark place. I have a mood disorder and nothing was working.- Ayelet Waldman
"There's no doubt that the scientific world is more interested," Waldman tells me. "Because depression is intractable. Our current treatment modalities are not as effective as we need them to be. Many, many people commit suicide every year and people are suffering and they need help. So the scientific community is very interested."
Much of the research is in preliminary stages. But one double-blind trial found that psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, had a "clinically significant" effect in treating terminally ill people suffering from anxiety.
"In a sense, what psilocybin seems to do — just one or two psilocybin trips, very carefully monitored — they seem to give people, for lack of a better phrase, a really good death," says Waldman. "They've been able to confront death without the same anxiety and fear."
"But now, there are great implications for people without fatal illnesses, who are nonetheless confronting terrible despair, depression [and] anxiety."
Forget the pharmacy
LSD has been a Schedule I drug in the U.S. since 1968, so Waldman had to find her own source. She reached out to her friends, but her contacts all came up empty.
"I mean, I live in Berkeley, California," she says. "I thought there were rivers of LSD flowing down my street. I thought I was just going to go out and just say, 'Hello, anybody have some, like, Orange Cross?'"
Then, one of her friends contacted an elderly professor who had been microdosing, and asked if he could share his supply. Waldman doubted there would be a response, until a parcel arrived in her mailbox.
"There's my Bed Bath and Beyond circular, and my utility bill, and a package with all these very brightly coloured, very old stamps, and the return address reads Lewis Carroll."
"And inside is a little cobalt blue bottle with instructions for use."
"I'm not Alice. I don't drink what comes in my mailbox. But I tested the LSD by ordering a testing kit. It was diluted LSD in distilled water. And I decided to give it a shot."
Waldman says it was the first time she had ever taken LSD.
"I was nervous, but I had done my research very, very thoroughly. And I knew that LSD was a safe drug. And I put two very small drops of diluted LSD, five micrograms each, under my tongue and I waited for, you know, the ceiling to burst into bloom and the wallpaper to come alive."
"And nothing happened."
"I mean, all that happened was, I sat down at my desk and I got to work. And the one thing I noticed — it was springtime, and I looked out my window and my dogwood tree had burst into bloom, and I thought to myself, 'Oh look, the dogwood is in bloom. It's so pretty.'"
"I'm not a 'stop and smell the roses' kind of gal," Waldman says. "I am a 'mow down the rosebush on the way to run your errand' kind of gal, and that I stopped and noticed the beautiful blossoms on my dogwood tree was unusual."
Waldman followed James Fadiman's advice in her course of microdosing, taking 10 micrograms of LSD every three days. She describes her mood on the first day as excited, nervous and delighted. She says she felt a sense of loving gentleness toward her children, where before there was anxiety.
Waldman says her four children did not know she was taking LSD, but that they did detect a change in her behavior.
"When I asked them to evaluate it, my oldest son said something that kind of broke my heart. He said, 'You know, Mommy, you are so different. You were fun to be around. Like, when I would come home from school, you were just playful.'"
"And that just made me so sad because it made me think, what I must have been like before that."
"You have to remember what a black and terrible place I was in when I started. It was dangerous. I was doing things like Googling the effects of maternal suicide on children."
Waldman admits her case is anecdotal, and that there is no conclusive evidence about the efficacy of microdosing LSD.
I asked her if it was possible her profound improvement was due to a placebo effect.
"I could have been experiencing the mother of all placebo effects," she says.
You have to remember what a black and terrible place I was in when I started. It was dangerous.- Ayelet Waldman on her experience microdosing LSD
"And the placebo effect is a really powerful thing. But you know what? I've been on a lot of medications. I've had many things prescribed to me. And I know when something works and when it doesn't."
And while I am also a conservative person and a science based person [and] I am adamant that it's possible that it was a placebo effect, in my heart I know that it wasn't."
The end of the experiment
On James Fadiman's recommendation, Waldman kept daily notes for the duration of her 30-day experiment. They form the basis of her new book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life.
She says she hasn't touched LSD since.
"I miss it terribly," she admits.
As a legal professional, breaking the law to procure and possess LSD presented an ethical and moral dilemma for Waldman. And now, a drug that she says has been effective as a medication is prohibited to her.
"I have always been a drug policy reform advocate," she says. "Now it's personal. Now there's a therapy that I know helps me that I can't get access to. And though I am battling the war on drugs in the same way that I did before, I have a personal stake in the outcome now."
I asked Waldman whether she would take LSD again if it were to become legal.
"Oh, absolutely," she says.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if microdosing were legal, I would be using it. And there is no doubt in my mind that if it becomes legal anywhere in the world, I will use it. I will move there."
"I was very stable when I was microdosing. And it has been much harder since."
"I am OK. I've not fallen into that terrible depression, I've not been suicidal. But, to know that there's a medication out there that would help me maintain equilibrium and that I can't use it is very hard."
"I'm not a different person [while microdosing LSD]," she concludes categorically. "I'm me, but without the bad parts. I mean, it's not like I lost my cynicism. My dark humour did not evaporate. I wasn't suddenly the glorious, happy and sunshine. I was myself. I just didn't lose control. And the loss of control is a frightening thing for your spouse and for your child."
"And for yourself."
This article was originally published in February 2017.
To hear the full interview with Ayelet Waldman, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.