It was a little over a year ago that I first heard about microdosing, which has become popular with Silicon Valley types in recent years. The basic premise of microdosing is, instead of taking the traditional “hit” of LSD, you take a fraction of a hit (anywhere from one-fifth to 1/16 of a full dose) once every three days or so, which allows you to reap the supposed creative and social benefits.
I was in need of some creative problem-solving at the time, so I decided to do some more research.
I had been having trouble feeling good about myself, my decisions and my life in general since I’d moved to the isolating Colorado mountains with my husband in the previous year. My creativity and motivation had tanked as well. My troubles seemed to multiply when winter rolled around, so I suspected the depression might be seasonal, but it failed to fully evaporate when the snow melted. I took up running, healthier eating and supplemented with high doses of Vitamin D to attempt a natural mood boost. All that helped to a degree, but I was still feeling stuck at the end of most days.
I read about how microdosing can alleviate symptoms of depression, with effects that can last for months. LSD seems to have a significant effect on the a person’s default mode network (DMN), the part of the brain in charge of a person’s self-reflection, autobiographical memory collection and sense of self.
According to a study on patients with clinical depression, the DMN has been shown to be overactive in depressed people, possibly leading to rumination (being “stuck in the past”) and obsessive negative thoughts. Another study on people taking a moderate dose of LSD shows that people generally think less about the past, but equally about the present and future while they’re on the drug. It also suggests that using LSD can calm the DMN, so to speak.
These studies have small sample sizes, and the LSD study utilizes a full dose for the effects on the DMN, but it was enough evidence for me to think ingesting tiny bits of the stuff might help me.
I’ll preface this by saying LSD and I have a history. [Editor’s Note: The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies LSD as a Schedule I substance, defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”] I’ve taken full doses of the stuff in my rowdy younger days with no ill effects, but at the ripe old age of 32, I rarely find the 12 hours necessary to travel to the outer realms of consciousness and recalibrate my brain — and to be honest, I rarely have the desire. LSD is a powerful substance and can have radical effects on everything from latent psychiatric disorders to daily thought processes, so it should be treated with respect.
Thus, the primary focus of my experiment was proper dosing. As much fun as it sounds, I did not want to accidentally end up in a client meeting while peaking on even half a tab of LSD. To that end, I opted for an even smaller dose than the usual microdosing range: 1/20 of a hit. It’s worth mentioning here that hits of LSD are rarely created equal. According to Erowid, the average potency range for a single hit is 50 to 150 micrograms, and there’s no way to determine the strength of a hit of LSD other than word of mouth.
Without much more than anecdotal measuring methods to guide me, I got to it. The current literature on microdosing suggests using liquid LSD, but the less-than-ideal blotter form is much more commonly available, and due to the federal status of the drug, one can’t be too picky about what’s available. I got the blotter from someone I trust.
I waited for a day I didn’t have anywhere important to be, in case all my dosing research backfired. My method was one tab of the good stuff, drowned in 20 shots of distilled water in a glass bottle. I shook it up and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I ate a decent breakfast, shook it up again (shaking it is important!), poured a shot and drank it, and went about my day.
As a wedding photographer’s assistant, my average workday at that time involved going through thousands of wedding photos to pick the best ones, so you could say my average workday was pretty dull. Both my husband and I worked from home most of the time, but sometimes we didn’t interact for hours, so I was generally left to myself.
My first few hours on a microdose felt the same as every day before it. In fact, at some point, I forgot I had taken anything.
That’s because microdosing doesn’t make you feel like you’re on drugs. You don’t hallucinate at all, nor do you feel “off.” When I went to the grocery store later that first day, I was able to talk and respond to people just fine. I didn’t start touching random stuff, like I might on a full dose, but I did look at things I pass every day and wonder what they would feel like to the touch. I was just a little more curious about everything around me. I wanted to hear people talk; I wanted to listen.
At around 2 p.m. on my first dose day, I was sitting at my computer culling wedding photos. About halfway through a stranger’s father-daughter dance, a lump formed in my throat, and I teared up, thinking about my own father-daughter dance years ago. I’d been depressed for a year at that point, and I hadn’t had an emotional outpouring of that caliber in a long time.
Afterward, I found myself totally invested in my task of picking the absolute best photos of this moment between these two people. One of my goals had been to find motivation, but I hadn’t expected it to come so quickly or with such force.
It was as if, after years of mindlessly doing this task every day, I suddenly understood why my job was important, and it was impossible to put aside. I was honored to be doing it, too—I was choosing the photos that would color these people’s memories for the rest of their lives. What could be more important than that?
Surely there are moments like this in most people’s lives, when things just click, without the influence of LSD. But it’s hard to imagine it happening for me without that extra push, at a time when my emotional landscape had all but dried up.
So I continued to microdose for a few months, once every three days, avoiding dosing on days when I had meetings scheduled. Once in a while, I would forget to dose, and I didn’t notice anything missing. I was still smiling. I was more patient and took on situations with a new openness. I thought of other people’s perspectives as much as I considered my own. It didn’t feel unnatural or psychedelic—I was aware of what was happening and was actively in control of it.
The experiment culminated on one chilly day when my jar of liquid had mostly frozen in the fridge. I took a shot of the thawed portion, and I accidentally tripped on what I estimate to be a quarter hit of LSD. (The stuff settles; that’s why shaking the full amount is important when using a blotter.)
Even though that queasy six hours I spent hanging out with my cat watching clouds go by was quite nice, I didn’t really feel like dosing after that. So I didn’t.
That was a year ago.
A few months ago, I found myself in a similar hole of depression, doldrums or a lengthy blue note. My marriage had encountered some trouble; we were both neglecting each other, and I was starting to feel isolated. I found my focus clogging up at work. Stuck on relationship woes and regrets from my past, every night I’d watch the clock hit 3 a.m. before I finally got to sleep. I decided to see a therapist, and shortly after that, I went for round two of microdosing to see if I could find some clarity.
This time around I would be focused on my interpersonal relationships, my marriage, my negative thought patterns, and my long-term satisfaction in life. It was becoming clear that those were recurring issues for me, and as long as I avoided looking at them, I would continue to be unhappy. I put off dosing for a week before I found the guts to do it.
On the first day, I found myself chattier than usual and happy about it. That morning, I sent messages to friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time, and genuinely enjoyed catching up. There wasn’t much to do at work, so I let myself take a break from my to-do list, and realized how hard it has been for me to do that. I went to a coffee shop 30 miles from my house and enjoyed a large iced coffee.
Sitting outside on the coffee shop patio, I refrained from burying myself in my laptop or my phone and committed to simply existing. The coffee was good. I overheard conversations between strangers and a chorus of birds in the trees. I felt like I was connected to the world and the people in it. I felt like I belonged there.
Once again, after months of negative thought loops, enjoying myself was almost overwhelming in a commonplace way, like a mild religious experience.
A month of dosing every third day, combined with daily journaling and weekly therapy sessions, helped me to see where I was getting stuck and illuminated the good things around me. I saw that I was stewing on small things for a disproportionate amount of time when I could be using that time to engage myself or create something I’m proud of. I saw that I wasn’t taking very good care of myself, especially mentally.
My husband and I had some big issues we needed to work on, and I found the drive to start some uncomfortable conversations. I was isolating myself, and I needed to reach out to friends and family more than I had been. And despite my general dissatisfaction with life, I was able to see that many parts of it had noticeably improved in the last few years, and I had a lot to be proud of.
And once again, I started to feel like what I do every day is important and meaningful, which makes all this work worth doing. It’s a lesson worth learning twice.
After two rounds of microdosing over two years, I consider it to be a kind of curtain opener. When the curtain is closed, you can’t see anything but your own darkness; but when it’s open, you can see everything else in the room. I don’t think it’s a singular way out of the hole of depression—and to think of it that way may be a dangerous path for some—but I do think it helped me find the ladder.
Unlike other drugs people use to self-medicate, LSD in a microdose doesn’t numb your feelings. It’s not a painkiller. The pain is still there but with just enough light shed onto it to lend a context to what’s hurting you.
And sometimes, all you need to gain some perspective is a little light.