Shifting Sands of Psychedelia
The Right Dose of Psychedelics?
By Eric Osborne
For dare I say it, twenty years I have been a psychedelic enthusiast and particularly a psilocybin explorer, a psychonaut to say the least. I have had an intimate relationship with more psychoactive mushrooms than most people are even aware exist. I’ve nibbled and I’ve gobbled them down in varying degrees occasionally claiming that ‘Psilocybin is my superpower’. With infinite respect towards these ancient plants, I have disciplined myself to become skilled in the identification, dosing, cultivation and especially exploration of further and further reaches of the ‘psychosphere’.
Through these decades the sands of psychedelic mainstream have continued to shift. When I first began ‘tripping’ it was the ultimate taboo. These were the days of blatant homophobia here in Kentucky. Then and still, the likelihood of being ostracized for speaking lovingly about psychedelics shadowed other social ‘no nos’. From my vantage point, the belly that the bible belt encompasses, I have witnessed a gradual shift in public perception towards Cannabis, Psilocybin and other psychedelics.
In recent months however, psychedelics have been getting increasingly positive attention due to the conversation on microdosing. What is microdosing? Surely my readers know….taking around 1/100th of an active dose of psilocybin, LSD or any other psychoactive (including Cannabis). Why would any one do this? As I’m sure you are also aware, the current ‘buzz’ around psychedelics is not that they can take you to “where God lives” to quote Maria Sabina. Rather attention is shifting to microdosing to enhance creativity and productivity. While there has been little research around this proposed phenomenon it is widely reported anecdotally.
Forsaking our Psychedelic Forefathers (and Mothers)?
Now let me first say that as an educator and a father, I have always advised my students and my children to ‘be skeptical’ especially of anything widely distributed by the media. This is still a position that I maintain. And while the possibility of the masses exploring psychedelic states intrigues me, I am something of a microdosing skeptic. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it…for decades, but not as a therapy or as a ‘creative boost’. I did it as a grower wanting to be in communion with my sacrament, with the mushrooms that I was and am still so dedicated to. A nibble here and there, just to have some of the sacred flesh in my system. And honestly I never felt that it enhanced creativity or focus.
Please understand that if you are a microdosing advocate or you personally feel benefit from microdosing then by all means carry on! As will I. I do have concerns, as a double decade ‘psilocybin professional’ that the multitudes of microdosing advocates, particularly those who are most public, have rarely if ever experienced the full on impact of a life changing dose of psilocybin or LSD and certainly not repeatedly. I am also aware that this blog has the potential to rub some of my friends in the professional psychedelic community the wrong way. I hope that it is not seen as a criticism of practices but as an opportunity to further inhance the dialogue around dosing.
I occasionally feel like the courageous work done by the most adventurous psychonauts is being co-opted by individuals who haven’t had the courage or discipline to consistently work with the medicine in its full potential. The trend seems to glorify those who, to paraphrase Terrence McKenna, ‘take enough to say they’re in the club but have no real skin in the game’.
I mean think of it: 1/100th of an active dose? And an active dose is just the threshold to the ‘Doors of Perception’. An ‘active dose’ is a far cry from psychedelic ecstasy, a far cry from the limits of boundaries of consciousness.
I am certainly not attempting to discredit or undermine the work of James Fadiman or other leaders in the microdosing community, only to extend the conversation to consider the implications of such practices. Should we really be trying to make psychedelics not psychedelic? Coffee and tobacco at one time were not just stimulants but actual inebriates and they were culturally co-opted to the point that they became part of the daily or every other day routine. Is THIS where psilocybin and LSD are destined? Say it ain’t so!
New Methods Require New Terminology
Microdosing is not only potentially robbing the plants/chemicals of their historical and social value, it is robbing subjects the experience of strangeness, of temporary discomfort, of transitioning into and out of an observably altered state where real creativity, curiosity and growth dwell.
Perhaps our computer programmers and creative designers shouldn’t be working away on 1/100th of a dose, on one tenth of a gram every other day. But instead perhaps they should take .5-2 grams (depending on body weight, personality and tolerance) twice per month and have them peek behind the curtain, coaxing ideas and innovation from the limitless wellspring of creativity as they explore their passions and professions. One gram of mushrooms (P. cubensis) is NOT going to put, you to a corner weeping over not telling your grandmother goodbye before she passed or communicating with alien ancestors. But it will shake loose limiting beliefs and previous convictions of how reality must function. It will open up emotional pathways that can allow for greater empathy or bonding of professionals in a given discipline far better than happy hour at the local bar.
This practice I call mesodosing (middle/moderate). The concept has found little place in the professional psychedelic community and to my knowledge there has been no term for this type of application. Until now it has only been you are tripping or you’re not. Well friends, this is simply not the case. There are gradients in the spectrum of psychedelic experiences and with just a little planning and self knowledge a person can absolutely pinpoint a dose that will put them just out of their normal perceptual state and give them access to the riparian zones of the mind.
The borderlines, in nature, is where new developmental phases of biology emerge, not in the reliable comfort zones where adaptation has slowed. Where the sea meets the shore, where the forest meets the field, this is where transition occurs, where new species emerge. Let us follow the model of the natural world and put ourselves into a state of developmental vulnerability. Here we will find the capacity for growth to challenge our norms of perceived reality while still maintaining contact with our individual identity.
Cost Versus Benefit
There will always be risks with experimentation, just as there are with all ventures of human exploration. Even microdosing is not without its risks. There has been some correlation to 5HT2-b agonists and cardiotoxicity. It is possible that long term, regular dosing of psychedelics could have adverse health effects. Without research we simply do not know. I certainly have known individuals who drove off from the house on what they thought was a ‘micro’ dose only to find that they needed to pull over at a park and take an hour walk rather than operate a vehicle or heavy machinery. Driving is an absolute NO NO on any amount of psychedelics.
Mesodosing may incur some unexpected emotional vulnerability. For instance, I once found myself, on .5 gram of psilocybin, fighting back tears in my wife’s birthing class. As the instructor related the need for newborns to be with their mothers, I recalled in detail my previous son being placed in an incubator for five days immediately after birth. This realization helped me understand that my prior son’s emotional and physical ‘neediness’ was due to the certain terror he felt at being pulled from the womb and put in a plastic box surrounded by blinking lights. To this day, years later, this experience affords me compassion to his occasional stress inducing emotional needs. I was not incapacitated. I related the experience to the class and it brought added benefit to all, driving home the importance of mother/infant contact. I certainly would not have learned or conveyed the lesson as profoundly without the aid of this half gram of Psilocybin.
Mesodosing may mean that you have to get up from your computer for a time if the screen becomes overwhelming, but I have found that this break from the technological vortex allows for a renewed perspective and creative insight that would and could not have been gained hammering away at a keyboard. It may also mean that you become so entranced with the work you are doing and exploring the alternative pathways of productivity that you stumble upon techniques yet unknown. This is a very real possibility.
Mesodosing certainly is not for chefs working a busy Friday night with knives flying and raw meat all around. It is not for landscapers or construction workers as they operate electric pruning sheers or nail guns. I would argue that microdosing is not for these instances either. But a landscape designer could have a great deal to gain from mesodosing and walking among the plants in the nursery or designing new landscape features. The carpenter as he contemplates problematic angles or structural needs may have much to learn from .5-1 gram of mushrooms. I can absolutely attest that when I previously managed my gourmet mushroom farm many insights were gained about my cultivars on anywhere from 1-2 grams. The memories of working alone with the mushrooms that fed my family and my community, singing and chanting to and with them, observing the cycle from petri dish to compost pile, still ushers forth a solemn and joyful mental state.
Some would say that I am advocating ‘on the clock intoxication’ and to a certain degree I am. Obviously, acceptable application of this methodology is a long way off, as with microdosing from becoming a social norm. I do know however that there are companies and self-employed individuals that allow space for this type of behavior as they have seen the minimal risks and the overall benefits to productivity, team building and general moral.
Giving Respect Where Respect is Due
To reiterate, it is not my intention to negate or push back against microdosing, nor to say it has no affect, though we should be clear that there is no quantifiable research to show the benefits. Matthew Johnson, psychedelic researcher at John’s Hopkins stated in a recent Marie Claire article on business women microdosing, “Microdosing is really ripe for the placebo affect.” It IS my intention to push the boundaries. It IS my intention to hold accountable the proponents of psychedelic medicines, that they know and experience the power of that which they advocate. Again and again I am seeing proponents of psychedelics who want to hop on the bandwagon, who want to lead the charge, but have minimal experience with even moderate dosing of psychedelics and the potential problems that can occur.
Though more typical of higher (macro) dosing, psychedelic crises are certainly a potential reality. Even in clinical settings with Federally approved research this has occurred. There are textbook precautions that can be taken to mitigate risks but undoubtedly as Einstein said, “There is no substitute for experience.” I have worked with individuals in the midst of these kinds of crisis state that they “needed a shaman”. And while I would never call myself a shaman, I was aware of their status and could identify by relating to powerful and frightening experiences of my own. These decades of experience allow me to pull from my ‘bag of tricks’ and assist with moving through the frightening landscape towards a resolution and release. With the right facilitator these experiences give way to enormous healing. With an incompetent ‘guide’ or sitter these kinds of experiences can lead to deepened anxiety and depression.
Within my proposal of mesodosing (and microdosing for that matter) it is my belief that partakers should occasionally ingest macrodoses of five to ten grams, again cubensis being the typical mushroom. This will assist in a better understanding of the potential within the experiences as well as breakthroughs that can further accelerate creativity, intuition and concepts of inter-connectivity.
Psychedelics are powerful tools simply because they are powerful. The rituals, the hoopla around psychedelics is nothing compared to the simple power of the chemical agent in and of itself. Again to paraphrase McKenna, they ‘Deliver on their promise.” This is in large part why they are feared and revered. Part of that respect is using them to their potential and not as a way to merely dip your toe in so that you can say you went swimming. Truly respecting the medicine, the plants, the importance and the impact is to authentically engage and apply them in a tangible manner. We owe them much more than that, for they have given us infinitely more.