My Experience using Magic Mushrooms for Mental Health
Microdosing mushrooms for Mental Health
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece based on the Author's personal experience and is not offering nor meant to replace any medical advice from your doctor or medical professional.
The Stigma Around Mental Health
Mental health is not a subject I've talked too much about in the past. Even typing this is difficult - it comes slowly, having to force the words and thoughts out as though working against a strong current. This struggle to speak freely about mental health seems to be a big part of the problem. I sometimes wake up and feel very sad; my mind feels slow and foggy; positive thoughts become slippery and impossible to hold on to. It can last for a few hours or a few days and seems unpredictable in when it appears. Is this common amongst people? Is it normal to feel this way, or not? I have nothing to benchmark this against as it’s so rarely talked about.
I've never been diagnosed with depression, and it's never something that I've wanted to mention to my doctor. I will never agree to taking conventional antidepressants as I believe that in general, the risks outweigh any benefits. Furthermore, these do not work by treating the root issue; they mask the symptoms leaving the root cause untreated and at risk of worsening.
I am however curious as to the severity of my symptoms and if they would be classed as depression, perhaps one day I will talk about it with my Doctor. Thinking about this spurred me to check on the specific symptoms associated with clinical depression, which, according to the NHS include a raft of psychological, physical and social symptoms including but not limited to:
continuous low mood or sadness
feeling hopeless and helpless
having low self-esteem
feeling irritable and intolerant of others
having no motivation or interest in things
finding it difficult to make decisions
not getting any enjoyment out of life
feeling anxious or worried
having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
The NHS recommends seeing your GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks. While I feel many of the symptoms listed, I don't think I have ever experienced them for two weeks consecutively. My symptoms are instead more sporadic. I have a bad day now and then, but never a solid two weeks of feeling down. In a way, this is comforting, as I’m grateful my symptoms aren’t worse. But from a different perspective, these milder, sporadic episodes could be dangerous in a more insidious way. When it’s not deemed to be an official condition (according to the NHS I don’t have depression, just low mood sometimes), this makes it much harder to talk about. Are all that commit suicide classed as ‘clinically depressed’? I would doubt it. If nothing else, this should encourage anyone with any mental health problems to talk about them, even if your perception is that it’s not severe enough or not worth talking about. I found that mushrooms, in combination with a little therapy and meditation, had a very positive impact on my perspective and mental health. Here’s how.
Magic Mushrooms: First Steps
It was over a year ago that I decided to buy a mushroom kit and grow a batch of Psilocybe Cubensis to experiment with microdosing. I’d heard several positive experiences of the mood and creativity-boosting qualities obtained from microdosing magic mushrooms and wanted to give it a go.
The term ‘Magic mushrooms’ could refer to any species of mushroom that contain hallucinogenic properties such as Psilocin and Psilocybin. Magic mushrooms grow naturally all over the world and there are many different species of mushroom that can be considered ‘magic’.
Whilst magic mushrooms remain illegal across large swathes of the developed world, preliminary research suggests that psilocybin may have some efficacy as an alternative agent to manage mental health conditions. John Hopkins University recently announced $17 million in funding to create the Center for Psychedelic Research, a promising step forward in the resurgence of psychedelic medicines.
Despite the legality of magic mushrooms in many jurisdictions, acquiring magic mushroom grow kits and spores online is easy - and legal - in most countries. Growing from a grow kit is easy if you can successfully follow a small number of basic instructions. The process itself took a few weeks and was extremely satisfying and cathartic watching the mushrooms pop up and mature in just a matter of days. Towards the end of the growth cycle, I monitored the mushrooms closely, and just as the veil started to separate from the cap on most of the mushrooms, I harvested them by hand.
Having thoroughly dried the mushrooms, they were ground into a fine powder in a pestle and mortar, ready to be made into capsules. When it comes to dosing, it’s not as though you can turn to your friendly local government healthcare website for guidance. A good rule of thumb is to follow the advice oft mentioned when it comes to cannabis: start low and slow. A low starting dose may be more than 40mg, working your way up in small increments as needed until your desired effect is reached. This also means thinking about and writing down your desired outcome before you start the process. Recording dosages/times and subsequent feelings and affects is also a beneficial way to optimize your most efficient dosage. I started by taking one microdose every three days and found this to be a good balance. We build up a tolerance to psilocybin very quickly, so the days in between helped to ensure that tolerance wasn’t building up too fast.
The first few microdoses were lovely. A boost to creativity, mood and a general feeling of euphoria without any feelings of intoxication. At most, there was a slightly noticeable feeling at times that can only be described as somewhat ‘floaty’ - this is down to the decidedly large starting “micro” dose of 200mg. This is the dose I stuck with in the end too. I was personally comfortable at this level; however, it would probably make some uncomfortable and certainly wouldn’t be recommended for anyone new to using psilocybin.
The good experiences continued in this vein for the next few months, it was an excellent time until one day I woke feeling a little blue. I took a microdose thinking I would nip it in the bud, but it didn’t help. I have noticed that sometimes the smallest, seemingly innocuous events can trigger an episode. Especially in the morning, it seems that the proclivity for these events to happen is higher. So it was one of those days where things weren’t seeming to go right, and my mind was making a big deal out of small things. Instead of abating, these feelings grew as the day progressed to the extent that I had to remove myself from a social situation and find solace in a walk on my own. I felt immense sadness and confusion at my onset of grief. It didn’t take long for the tears to start rolling down my cheeks. A flurry of thoughts penetrated my foggy, sluggish mind. “The mushrooms didn’t work? Was it just a placebo? Why am I feeling so sad when I thought they were doing their job?”. These thoughts stayed with me for a while, and I don’t think it was until months later that I had an actual answer for them.
Things Often Get Worse Before They Get Better
Over a year on from that confusing moment and I truly believe I understand it. It wasn’t the only time that happened, either. Since I started microdosing, I have been crying a lot more, often for no discernible reason. Hardly the sales pitch you were expecting, right? But I see this as a good thing and a healthy, regular activity. There’s still a definite stigma attached to men and crying, but why? Studies have shown that young boys and girls don’t differ in how much they cry. However, when puberty hits females are encouraged to talk extensively about their feelings, while boys are not. As males, we are subconsciously taught to suppress these feelings, to “man up” as it were. I believe this a significant factor contributing to the shocking ratio of Male:Female suicide rates of 1:8.
Microdosing opened up a vulnerable side to me, that was always there but was being suppressed. I became much more in tune with my emotions. When I feel sad now, I let the tears come, and with them, the emotion surfaces and passes through. The difference is huge. Instead of holding on to all the negative emotions, they can pass through without leaving a trace. Before, each negative thought and experience would pile up, one by one, where the only possible outcome would be for the pile to grow to an unsustainable size and come crashing down.
Microdosing has given me a self-awareness over my feelings and habits that allow me to make better decisions and actions that ultimately lead to happier, more sustainable outcomes. They didn’t give me the answer; however, they did give me a blueprint. After several months of consistent microdosing, I started to wind down their use; feeling that I no longer needed them. I don’t know of many other medicines that nudge the user once they have done their job like that.
It’s now at least several months since I’ve done any micro (or macro) dose. I will undoubtedly keep mushrooms around me, to be used as needed, like any useful tool. I've found that a larger infrequent dose alongside more frequent smaller doses has a positive impact on my mental health, creativity and overall wellbeing.