Mark Matousek

Ethical Wisdom

Micro-Dose Anyone? The Journeying Craze Takes Off

Ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, ketamine ....and sassafras? Why is everybody "journeying"?

Posted Jun 04, 2018

My friend was having a mid-life crisis. A clinical psychologist with a trestle of Ivy League degrees on her wall, she was feeling the slump of 57 and the ennui of asking is that all there is

“I need to think outside the box. My practice has sucked the life out of me. I have to get my life back!”

I suggested she take three weeks off.  Walk the Sahara. Take up yoga. Go sky diving. 

“Something different," she said, looking frazzled, grumpy, and rotten.  

I tried to comfort her but the words fell flat. I promised her that she would feel better. The crisis would pass, the sun would come out, she would stop resenting her life. 

The crisis did pass; my friend, did feel better.  In the months that followed, S, as I will call her, seemed better than I had ever seen her, in fact. Not just better, different.  Less like her tortured self and more like the free spirit she must have been once upon a time, before she got so damned serious.  

Suddenly, S began making changes she'd wanted to make for years. The romance that never quite came through. The mother situation that held her captive. The mental and physical health challenges that had kept her in pain a good deal of the time. S seemed lighter and quicker on her feet; funnier, more creative, too, as she dreamed up what to do when she grew up.  Sixty was right around the corner. 

When I asked her how she was managing this – what thing she’d found to help her shake off the torpor -- her answer came as a genuine shock. Apparently, for the past three months, S had been micro-dosing LSD under the care of a “psychedelic therapist.” I was stunned not because I’m anti-drugs but because you couldn’t tell she was tripping. At all. She seemed more awake, more present, more chipper, but aside from the brightness in her eyes, there was no discernible difference in her.

S explained that dosing was everything.  “At first, I saw auras of light around people, so the doctor lowered my dosage, she told me. The LSD had re-stimulated her imagination, calmed her hyper-active nervous system, and helped her see clear, simple solutions to obstacles that had paralyzed her. She planned to keep micro-dosing until the drug no longer served its purpose. S assured me that it was a teacher, nothing more; once the student had learned what she needed to know, she'd move on, S said with confidence, claiming she felt no dependency. 

I sincerely hoped that this would be true. I knew too many burnouts and latter day freaks who never got the memo that the 60's had ended. They were moving into their sunset years, stoned out of their brains and decked out in beadwork. 

Before long, I was hearing from other friends and colleagues, people I respect, about life-changing journeys on hallucinogens. I knew about ayahuasca already, the plant-based brew used by traditional shamans for vision quests in jungle locations. But now everyone seemed to be doing it, not in Ecuador or Peru, but in basements in Brooklyn and at posh spas like Rhythmia in Costa Rica, which offers a six day premium package that includes not only massage, nutritional therapy, colonics, and water sports, but also four ayahuasca journeys supervised by a certified expert.

A friend who’d suffered from longterm depression was finding relief from weekly infusions of ketamine by an M.D. in the Bay Area. He swears that he has never felt better. 

A friend who is violently anti-drugs is now journeying on a regular basis under the tutelage of a shaman-herbalist, who guides her through transcendent experiences using tea made from the sassafras plant, and another powerful substance called Ma. 

A Silicon Valley whiz of my acquaintance, who once dreamed of being a Jesuit priest, has ditched his tech job to train to be a "psychedelic minister." Instead of watching football and drinking too much on weekends, he now test drives psilocybin mushrooms and DMT (made from the dessicated brain of Bufo alvarius, a toad that lives in Mexico's the Sonoran desert), to be used later with his parishioners.

A colleague who has suffered from PTSD after severe childhood had a life-changing experience with MDMA that seems to have done more good for her healing than decades of talk therapy, she told me. 

These reports made me think of Aldous Huxley -- who requested LSD on his deathbed -- and an interview he'd given to The Paris Review. He said: 

A process [of raised consciousness] which may take six years of psychoanalysis happens in an hour -- and considerably cheaper! [LSD] shows that the world one habitually lives in is merely a creation of [the] conventional [self] and that there are quite other kinds of worlds outside. It's a very salutary thing to realize that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is. I think it's healthy that people should have this experience.”

So what about me? I long ago foreswore hallucinogens after a bad acid trip in college, but now I'm having second thoughts, hearing these fantastic stories.  Will I end up journeying, myself? That remains to be seen. My micro dosing friend continues to amaze me, with her unpredictable, positive life shifts. Instead of taking her son on the cruise she'd been dreading, they now have tickets for Burning Man. My first impulse was to ask her to be careful.  Instead, I told her to have a ball. 

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