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The Magic Of My Mushrooms: A Depressive’s Journey To Microdosing

flickr / Bernard Spragg. 

When it comes to health care in the U.S., you are diagnosed, placed in a box, and given the ‘right pills.’ But what if the pills don’t work?

I bought a psychedelic mushroom grow kit. You know, the funny mushrooms that take you on a trip. I heard they could make my mind right.

Since 1978, psilocybin—the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms—has been illegal in the United States. According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice archive:

“Psilocybin is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, which include heroin and LSD, have a high potential for abuse and serve no legitimate medical purpose in the United States.”

Today, the State is actively withholding psilocybin treatment that could fundamentally change the lives of those suffering with depression , a treatment that has already helped droves of people — like me — who never thought they’d shake their psychological shadows.

David Nutt, the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London, is a pioneering researcher who studies the use of psychedelics to treat mental illness.

Nutt summarized the findings of one of his studies around chronic depression:

“We treated people who’d been suffering for 30 years, and they’re getting better with a single dose. So that tells us this drug is doing something profound.”

Robin Carhart-Harris, a research fellow at the same London institute, echoes the staggering impact of psilocybin on the patients’ psyches. After one week, all 12 participants reported an improvement in their depression and two-thirds of the people were depression-free. By three months, about 58% showed improvement — five were in remission while five relapsed. “The efficacy of the treatment is impressive,” says Carhard-Harris.

Additional studies at NYU and Johns Hopkins that centered around depression and cancer — which involved 80 patients collectively — found that a single dose of the medication can lead to an immediate reduction in depression and anxiety and that the lingering positive effect can last up to eight months. Dr. Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, called this depression treatment “unprecedented,” insisting that “we don’t have anything like it.”

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Although these revolutionary medical studies provide convincing evidence that psilocybin can be an effective treatment for depression, NYU and Johns Hopkins researchers emphasized the “danger” and illegality of psychedelic mushrooms, cautioning, “…the drug was given in tightly controlled conditions in the presence of two clinically trained monitors… [The researchers] do not recommend use of the compound outside of such a research or patient care setting.”

Also, both studies stressed that their research was for terminally ill cancer patients, not average sad people, like me.

About 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with depression. Science, family, friends, and television commercials for pharmaceuticals agreed: Depression resulted from a chemical imbalance. As a depressed person, I understood my condition was physical, and not something I could sleep away. (Although I tried.) So, after sharing my detailed descriptions of worry and grief with a soft-spoken and apparently concerned doctor, I received the permission I needed for my only option to heal—a prescription for Prozac.

When it comes to health care in the U.S., we’re not given many opportunities to think outside the box. For physical and emotional pain alike, prescribed drugs are widely accepted as a primary solution for people who seek relief. You are diagnosed, placed in a box, and given the “right pills.”

At the time, I was in law school in Philadelphia. Not only did I hate school and my accidental career path, my father was recently diagnosed with colon cancer, and I felt every part of life slipping from my control. Therapy helped, and the drugs numbed the symptoms of depression.

When it comes to health care in the U.S., you are diagnosed, placed in a box, and given the ‘right pills.’ Click To Tweet

But after law school, having rejected the law and earning most of my income under the table as a private teacher for children in the M.OV.E. Organization, I was uninsured for more than a year. Even after I found more stable jobs, I never quite found my bearings in one city, bouncing from coast to coast, and confronting periodic reminders that my depression was still very much untreated.

Although I was coping and getting along okay, I occasionally searched online for something like, “local mental health service providers,” trying to find a therapist — or any kind of solution to this overbearing pain that haunted me on my worst days. Honestly, sometimes even the research itself was too much to bear. So in truth, I didn’t try too often.

And even finding a therapist was no guarantee for treatment. After one decent session with a doctor I liked, my insurance company refused to pay for treatment. More than a year later, after a tolerable session with a doctor who was both arrogant and racist, she refused to treat me because “we wouldn’t be a fit.”

I began coping with symptoms of depression and rejection.

In New York City, about five years after the initial diagnosis, I found a doctor who offered a “trial session,” which was a common routine. I’d pay out of pocket; he’d listen for an hour, then recommend a treatment over the course of some months. My insurance company would consider his opinion, then decide if the whole thing was appropriate. I’d remain somewhat of a bystander in the process.

Like my earlier attempts to heal within the system, I committed to it.

I spilled my guts and tears on his couch. I told him about being diagnosed with depression years earlier, my father’s death, growing anxiety, insecurity and loneliness — the works. He talked at a normal volume, in non-condescending tones. Although I didn’t think he could relate to my grief, I liked the way he listened.

“Finally, I’ll get this thing under control,” I thought. “He’ll help.”

We planned to start treatment in a week or two. He only needed to mail a confirmation, which arrived just a few days later. I wasn’t surprised until a check fell out — with my signature on it.

The doctor’s handwritten note explained that my insurance would only cover a small portion of my therapy. And since I was super messed up and not super rich, he knew it wouldn’t be possible for us to continue. He kindly returned my non-refundable fee for the trial session, explaining, “I feel terrible about this and can’t justify taking your money. I hope you find the help you need.”

I was sad, frustrated, helpless, and now pitied. I cried fiercely over that letter. He was the last therapist I would ever see.

Since then, I’ve forged my own path to recovery, involving temporary drug relief, plenty of self-discovery, and a fair share of scientific research. In the process, I’ve become aware of the box in which I’ve been trying to heal, one that was designed by cold-hearted, American insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies that make commercials with happy white women on beaches.

Now? I’m growing psychedelic mushrooms in my living room.

Since I migrated from the U.S. to The Netherlands several years ago, I can legally purchase a grow kit for magic mushrooms at a lovely, pro-woman and pro-healing herbal shop that’s a short walking distance from my apartment. I explained to the shop’s owner that I read about the benefits of taking magic mushrooms in microdoses to treat symptoms of depression, so I wanted to try them for the first time.

“Oh, yes, absolutely!” She exclaimed. “I know several people who use mushrooms this way. They can give you a spiritual experience in larger doses, and a healing experience in smaller doses.”

It’s what I hoped to confirm; my online research included piles of papers and personal accounts from people hailing from all parts of the world, all treating their depression with psychedelic mushrooms.

I took my first mushroom kit home and quietly hoped for relief — from depression and the limitations of American health care.

I started my homegrown treatment with a full trip, eating about 4 grams of mushrooms. That night, over the course of several hours, I recorded an emotional conversation with myself. I worked through some of the sore spots and identified a source of generational trauma, including a connection with my father and previous generations, all of whom dealt with a depression that reaches back to slavery and unfulfilled promises of freedom.

I questioned my self-doubt. I cried over unaddressed pain. And I laughed at the absurdity of the situation. By the next morning, I felt like I had been through months of therapy.

From there, I turned the mushrooms into pills, creating microdoses of 0.2 grams. I started by taking a microdose every 2–3 days. Now, after several months of consistent doses, I’m down to an average of one microdose per week.

I started my homegrown treatment with a full trip. By the next morning, I felt like I had been through months of therapy. Click To Tweet

In addition to increased focus and energy, the mushrooms have brought me levity and gratitude. Unlike Prozac, which felt like placing a blanket over my problems, the mushrooms have lifted away a burdening weight. Although I can’t say all problems are solved by swallowing a mushroom microdose, they provide me the needed perspective and clarity to perceive (internal) barriers and negative thoughts, and then address them.

At some point, I expect I’ll no longer need a dose every week or every month, or even at all. But for now, as long as I experience the benefits of the treatment, I’ll continue microdosing.

And, in the meantime, I’ll participate in the growing movement to legalize psychedelic mushrooms in the U.S., because other treatment-seekers deserve relief from their depression, a mental illness that affects 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older.

The magic of these mushrooms shouldn’t be kept under lock and key, but warm on a windowsill.