Twenty years ago, my husband’s depression and anxiety showed up for the first time, raging into a brain – and our lives – that to that point had been pretty calm and even-keeled. I started researching every treatment I could, including microdosing, where tiny amounts of hallucinogenic drugs are taken over weeks or years. Doses are generally about one-tenth the “trip” dose of a drug. I learned that Silicon Valley “psychonauts” have long ingested small amounts of psilocybin in mushroom tea to improve their performance and productivity and swore by its creative value.
David and I decided to take methylenedioxy methamphetamine, or ecstasy, because we had friends in the medical world that could procure pure MDMA (I would have preferred psilocybin, but couldn’t find any). Ecstasy opens the floodgates of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in the brain, giving its user a rush of feel-good hormones. The user feels joyful, connected, and empathic. On MDMA, your brain is more flexible and creative than normal because it allows neuronal connections that are usually dormant to fire. This so-called unconstrained consciousness makes it easier to come to realizations we normally wouldn’t see and easily brings to mind new ways of thinking about our existence.
Since we were in search of a spiritual awakening, we decided we would ingest less than a raver, but a little more than a microdose. We came home one Friday night, changed into sweatpants, swallowed a quarter pill of MDMA, and watched the sun set as we waited for it to kick in.
I started petting my cat Merlin, who purred and looked over her shoulder at me. I stared into her eyes, my consciousness sliding sideways. I felt an intense love for her and could feel her returning this love. Her fur was incredibly soft, as if I had never truly petted a cat before. I smiled up at my husband and felt an even more intense rush of compassion and marrow-deep understanding. My sense of connection was incredibly profound; I wondered how much of my life I had wasted not telling people what they meant to me. My frequency felt elevated; I could feel each individual atom dancing under my skin, as if my physical form was no longer constrained by the limits of space or time.
My awareness was elastic, my perspective broader than at any point in my life. Neuroscience teaches that our minds are only truly present around 47% of the time. On MDMA, I was euphoric but completely present. It wasn’t like being drunk or high, where thoughts feel altered; I was completely in control and mentally sharp. It felt like discovering new areas of my mind, and I couldn’t have ruminated or worried if I tried. Every second seemed like a divine gift that I couldn’t miss.
David talked about his recent panic attacks and suicidal ideation, but without sadness or fear. MDMA has long been researched as a therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The release of the bonding chemical oxytocin helps the user feel safe in the moment, so that they are not overwhelmed by memories of a time when they did not feel safe. David could discuss the trauma of having a panic attack in front of his coworkers without being triggered back into one.
We danced to R.E.M., noticed how we could hear every instrument individually. We talked fearlessly about death. We ran outside and wiggled our toes in the cool grass; we could feel each blade uniquely and intensely. We talked about our greatest fears and deepest pains with incredible ease, divergent thinking flowing easily. Everything felt right, perfect. All of our neurotic needs and stupid strivings fell away.
I curled my legs into a lotus shape, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and, with no mental agenda for the first time in my life, realized with deep clarity that I was sitting in the palm of the universe. That I had always been sitting there. All my bullshit struggling seemed so pointless. I had spent a lifetime running toward something that had been inside me the whole time.
I exhaled, remembering that the word sigh stands for sitting in God’s hands.
I could see the necessary good of working and paying bills and getting the tires rotated and paying into a 401K. But I simultaneously realized these things were in support of the greater truth. Our search for meaning, our higher purpose, our deep desire for joy, peace, and love? It’s completely within our control and not reliant on any outside force. Contentment is there for the taking. Our garbage thoughts are just paper tigers.
The next morning, I was tired but calm. My mind was a bit more open to quieting down, as if the experience of the night before was already training it to let the past and future slide more easily off my awareness. The experience gave us everything we had longed for and we’ve never felt the desire to take MDMA since. I am, by nature, a fairly philosophical human. Too much navel-gazing won’t serve me well.
But I am excited by the federal dollars being set aside for more research into microdosing for the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, and Alzheimer’s. While these drugs are still illegal in every state, many states have decriminalized their use (though, infuriatingly, many states are hesitant to decriminalize these drugs because they are worried it’ll lower alcohol sales).
I live with the exact sort of people these drugs may help and am excited to see where this all leads.