Looking for a new way to regulate her moods, the writer Ayelet Waldman happened upon “microdosing”: the practice of taking tiny doses of psychedelic drugs (less than you’d need to make you hallucinate). In her new book, A Really Good Day, she describes her experiences — which began with the challenge of getting her hands on LSD.
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Today I took my first microdose. My senses are ever-so-slightly heightened, a feeling all but unappreciable, so perhaps it’s psychosomatic, though that word carries little meaning when anything that might be happening to me right now has inevitably to do with the interaction of mind and body. I feel a tiny bit more aware, as if my consciousness is hovering at a slight remove, watching me tap the keys on my keyboard, rub my ankles together, sip a mouthful of tea and swallow it. The trees look prettier than usual; the jasmine smells more fragrant.
It suddenly occurs to me that I feel mindful, a feeling I have tried to achieve through meditation, though I always come up with zip. I am finding it a little bit easier to notice both my thoughts and my body moving through space. Though, even as I write this, I fear the sensation has passed.
Even more thrillingly, for the first time in so long, I feel happy. Not giddy or out of control, just at ease with myself and the world. When I think about my husband and my children, I feel a gentle sense of love and security. I am not anxious for them or annoyed with them. When I think of my work, I feel optimistic, brimming with ideas, yet not spilling over. There’s nothing hypomanic about this mood. My mind is not racing. I feel calm and content. Surely, the results cannot be evident so quickly? This is, in all likelihood, nothing more than the placebo effect. But even if it is all in my mind, even if the mood passes, I am grateful for this respite.
When I woke up this morning, I crept out of my house to the place where I hid the little cobalt blue dropper bottle that contains my microdose of diluted LSD. Careful not to hold it up to the light (LSD degrades when exposed to ultraviolet light — ironic, considering all the black-light posters users have stared at while feeding their heads), I shook the bottle a few times, filled the dropper, and carefully deposited two drops under my tongue. This was certainly not the first time I had tried an illegal drug, though I have never been what you would call a regular drug user. I smoked marijuana a few times in high school, a dozen or so times in college, once or twice as an adult, and then not again until I was prescribed medical marijuana (I live in California), first to end my dependence on the sleeping pill Ambien and then to ease the pain of a frozen shoulder. I have used MDMA six or seven times. In college, I tried cocaine twice, and those mushrooms that purported to be magic once. All together? More than some people my age, less than Presidents Obama and Bush.
Nor am I an avid user of legal recreational drugs. I don’t like the taste of alcohol, and am too readily susceptible to its effects, so even when I’m not taking psychiatric drugs I rarely drink. Though I’ve certainly been mildly intoxicated, I remember being inebriated only twice: once in high school, when I threw red wine up on the shoes of a boy I liked (he drove me home, helped me up the stairs to my bedroom, muttered an awkward excuse to my mother, and disappeared from my life), and once in college, when I was convinced to try a beer funnel (I threw that up, too). Tea is my stimulant of choice, and on a workday I can go through a pot or two before noon, when I stop in order not to spend the night wide awake.
I have never purchased drugs from a drug dealer. Whatever illegal substances I’ve ingested have been passed to me at a party or given to me by friends. When I decided to try the protocol, despite living in Berkeley, a place I’d always assumed to be the psychedelic capital of the world, I had no idea how one would go about buying the drug. Should I wander down to People’s Park and hit up one of the dealers who ply their trade among the homeless teens? How would that go?
“Hey, lady, smoke, shake?”
“Why, yes! Do you happen to have lysergic acid diethylamide?
And do you take Visa?”
Having dismissed the possibility of a street hand-to-hand, I found myself in yoga class one morning, staring at the grubby-footed young woman on the mat next to mine. Her sweat-stained Interstate 420 T-shirt was a good sign, but then I noticed the Tibetan mandala tattoo on her ankle. How can you trust someone who inscribes permanently on her body something specifically designed to symbolize the transitory nature of the material world? I couldn’t buy drugs from an idiot, especially a dirty one. It then occurred to me that, like all middle-aged women in the Bay Area, I have a healthy supply of gay male friends, most (though by no means all) of whom are childless. Surely, they still knew how to party! Or at least maybe knew someone who knew someone who knew how to party. I started calling.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the gay men of my acquaintance no longer jet around from one circuit party to the next, but, instead, spend their weekends in the same domestic torpor as I do. Binge-watching episodes of Orange Is the New Black is the closest they get to criminality. My former-stoner friends were similarly useless. The guy who used to grow hydroponic weed in his dorm room closet? He’s the third-grade room parent, his only remaining allegiance to the counterculture the Darwin fish bumper sticker on his Prius.
I was at a loss, so though James Fadiman–author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide–stresses the importance of discretion, I began tentatively bringing up the subject of microdosing in conversation. If the response was familiarity or even curiosity (or really anything other than befuddlement or disgust), I’d mention that I was looking for a reputable (or at least not entirely disreputable) source. After some time, an acquaintance told me that he had heard a story about an elderly professor who had been microdosing with LSD for years. He didn’t know the professor’s name or anything about him, but he’d pass a message along to the person who had told him about the professor. Maybe that person would reach out to the professor on my behalf. The entire tale had the ring of the apocryphal, and I had little faith that anything would result from this attenuated game of telephone with someone who I wasn’t sure even existed. I continued my fruitless quest. I even momentarily considered trying to log on to the dark web, but since I am only marginally more technologically savvy than my mother, who has yet to figure out how to turn on her cell phone ringer, I realized that with my luck I’d probably end up soliciting drugs directly from the DEA homepage. I only ever got as far as Googling LSD and finding endlessly threaded message boards where eager seekers were told by more experienced keyboard shamans that when they were truly ready the drug would come to them. Obviously, these guys were high. I gave up.
About a week later, I received a message from my acquaintance. The possibly mythical professor was sympathetic to my predicament. Moreover, he was nearing the end of his life and no longer had use for his remaining LSD. He would send it to me. The story seemed preposterous, but two days later, I opened my mailbox to find a brown paper package covered in brightly colored stamps, many of them at least a decade old. The return address read “Lewis Carroll.” Inside the package, wrapped in tissue, was a tiny cobalt blue bottle. On a scrap of white paper, printed in sans-serif italics, was the following note:
Dear Fellow resident of Berkeley,
Because of a request from an old friend, you will find 50 drops of vintage quality in the small bottle. Take in two drops portions (5 mcg per drop).
Our lives may be no more
Than dewdrops on a summer morning,
It is better that we sparkle
While we are here.
Weird. Very, very weird. And yet also kind of adorable. And freaky. I was ready, and it had come to me.
After an hour of Web surfing (there seem to be an infinite number of Web sites offering information about psychedelic drugs, including how to test them), I made a decision to have faith that the contents of Lewis Carroll’s bottle would not make me grow either very big or very small. Or kill me.
I took the drug, and went on to have a really good day.
Copyright © 2017 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted from her memoir, A REALLY GOOD DAY: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, published in January, 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Reprinted by arrangement with Mary Evans Inc