May I be grounded. May I be curious. This was my daily mantra last November through this February. Every morning I’d step outside in my bare feet, feel the earth under my toes, even in the snow, and repeat those words internally. Then I’d go inside and make myself a matcha, enjoying the sweet, earthy taste before swallowing a piece of the earth itself, in the form of 50 milligrams of psychedelic mushrooms.
I started this experiment about a year into feeling listless, exhausted, and ultimately depressed. I considered going on an antidepressant—otherwise known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)—but previous negative experiences with these common prescriptions deterred me. A few friends had told me about their success reclaiming their energy and joy while microdosing magic mushrooms, so I read a few studies on psilocybin’s (the active ingredient in these mushrooms) promising potential for easing symptoms of depression. I knew I wanted to give it a try.
The science behind psilocybin and depression
Psilocybin, along with other psychedelics like LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly referred to as acid) and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, commonly called Ecstasy or Molly), has been studied for its ability to rewire your brain for positive thinking.
Some of the latest research on mushrooms as a drug-assisted therapy was published in a November 2020 report in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, which found that large doses of psilocybin work better than pharmaceutical antidepressants in treating depression. But studies on microdosing psilocybin are less conclusive. “We don’t know how large-dose, drug-assisted therapy compares to micro-dosing for treating depression,” says Alan Davis, an assistant professor in social work at Ohio State University and at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the JAMA research team.
A meta-analysis published last July in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology supports the use of low-dose psilocybin for turning around negative thoughts. Researcher Kim Kuypers, an associate professor in psychology and neuroscience at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, found that magic mushrooms, when microdosed over the course of weeks, and sometimes months, can help people stay in the present moment, diminishing rumination, increasing self-compassion, and decreasing depressive symptoms. However, more research is needed to understand why this experimental approach works and who might benefit from it.
“Psychedelics are serotonin agonists, but we do not know whether small doses are potent enough to affect that receptor,” Kuypers told me. “When we understand the mechanism of action, we might use it more targetedly.”
Dialing in the dosage
Despite—or in some cases, because of—the science, the practice of microdosing mushrooms has spread and sprouted like a fungus. Before I started my ritual, I read protocols online (there are many) and found a coach (of sorts) who could advise on the what, when, and how. This was necessary because the information online and from friends was wildly divergent, with recommendations ranging from 50 mg to 150 mg of psilocybin on a schedule of two days at a time for months in a row.
My coach is a trained psychotherapist who runs a drug-assisted therapy business in Boulder, Colorado, and can legally give psilocybin advice (even if he can’t legally administer mushroom-assisted therapy). While other psychedelics, like MDMA, are in various stages of clinical trials as drug-assisted therapies, psilocybin is still being researched, and currently remains illegal in all capacities at the federal level. However, some cities, like Denver and Oakland, as well as the state of Oregon, have decriminalized possession and cultivation of magic mushrooms.
“Further research will undoubtedly provide the necessary data to know whether it is safe and effective,” Davis told me. “Until then, there is reason to hope that help is on the way. It is critical that we provide better treatments for people struggling with mental health problems and psychedelic therapy offers a possible new approach for this unmet need.”
I wanted to feel better, more like myself, without feeling like I was tripping. The first question I asked: How would I find the sweet spot between too much and not enough? My coach, who I consider an expert plant medicine practitioner, told me that if you are feeling psychedelic effects, you aren’t microdosing right.
After initial conversations about my health and previous experience, we decided I should start with a super small amount, but on a schedule of five days on, two days off, for three to four months. This was mild enough that I could always opt to up the dose if I wasn’t feeling better after a few weeks, but not strong enough to push me into the loopy zone.
See also: 9 Ways to Cheer Up Naturally
The importance of ritual
Then the process started. I bought a jeweler’s scale and empty capsules on Amazon, got lion’s mane mushrooms and niacin from a local pharmacy (per mushroom expert Paul Stamet’s “stack” protocol for how to enhance the effects of your experience), and was gifted a large Ziplock bag full of magical, dried, green-streaked fungi. They came from a friend of a friend who grew them for ceremonial purposes and refused to take cash in exchange.
I promptly got going on crushing, measuring, and carefully dividing the pulverized caps and stems into capsules. There was something both badass and sacred about this process. I was making my own medicine, which meant I got to do the work before reaping the reward. Plus, I was able to infuse my mushrooms with gratitude, sending quiet thank yous their way before seeing them spin in my coffee grinder.
I decided to make my daily dose a ceremony of sorts, making sure I was connected to nature and focused on grounding. This was also important to my coach, who emphasized the mystical power of plant medicine.
See also: How Yoga Can Help Ease Depression
The power of psilocybin
At first, I didn’t feel anything, except a slight bellyache. That went away in a couple days.
Then slowly, over the course of weeks, I noticed a mild untangling, like a knot was being loosened. Tendrils and roots unfolded, released, relaxed, and started to reach for connection to something other than themselves.
I was in the process of moving homes—something that would normally have me suffering from manic moments of packing and impatience with my partner, followed by stress hangovers full of regret for the way I’d behaved the day before. But this move felt different. I was able to throw things away that I’d been carrying with me for decades. I started packing early, to avoid the mad rush at the end, and while I was horribly sad to move, I was able to identify the grief and sadness and unrootedness I was feeling without letting it unconsciously control me (for the most part).
I can go go go and not realize I’m overwhelmed until it’s too late and the stress has done its number on me, when negativity and impatience leech out of me like corrosive toxic waste.
But under the spell of mushrooms, I noticed that I started to find that elusive space between incident and reaction. I started to fill that space with thoughts like “isn’t that curious?” or “look what’s happening here.”
I could start to see the energetic boundaries of myself and the things around me, and I became more aware of what I needed to do to preserve and prioritize my own energy.
For example, my partner likes to debate (and be right), which normally triggers me. I either fall immediately for the bait and try to win the argument, or just get entangled and incensed and let it color my whole day. But now my husband’s frustration during a heated conversation was his frustration, it wasn’t mine, nor was it about me. I could watch him spiral with less complication and, in fact, more compassion.
It was a new type of clarity for me, the kind that comes with compartmentalization. It was the sort of containment that’s only possible from an expansive place.
Beyond the liberation that comes with not taking everything personally or the need to ruminate on reaction, there also came a child-like giddiness. Even heavy subjects had elements of joy. There was a contentment that came with being a witness to all the feelings; a lightness that allowed me to navigate the dark and heavy with more intention. It’s not like the sadness went away, but it didn’t permeate and weigh down everything, filling my pores and negative spaces with dread.
Instead, I could name the depression when it came, helping to tame it.
See also: Meet Your Well-Being Nerve
Toward the end of my experiment, I did try a higher dose with no real noticeable differences. I was getting a little anxious about ending, since this had become an important ritual—one that I’d consistently maintained longer than most any other practice, diet, or discipline I’d tried (my next experiment will be related to ADHD).
I expressed concern to my coach over my somewhat obsessive behavior with my morning ritual and how I was scared to stop for fear of losing this new perspective I was falling in love with. He assured me I would carry the benefits of my experiment with me for a long time (and that my dose was so small I wouldn’t go through withdrawal).
The beauty of this process is that I can maintain my morning matcha and mindfulness ritual without the mushrooms. The psilocybin, or the routine, or the new awareness around entanglement, created a mycelium mat in my brain that feels deeply rooted, nourishing, and clearly connected. Every thought that grows from it feels succinct, sweeter, and in service of centering something bigger.
See also: How Yoga Can Improve Your Mental Health