I’m sitting at a marble-accented cafe in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Hip families—wives in Hasbeens, husbands with unwieldy double-wide strollers, kids decked in amber teething necklaces—jostle past me to snag cashew milk lattes from the bar. It’s 8:15 a.m.
I am tired. I’ve taken the last two days off work as a vacation of sorts with every intention of resting, resetting, and writing (including starting this article right here). I’ve failed to do any of those things.
And so, here I am, sitting across the table from Louise* sipping coffee as she talks about dropping acid.
Let me tell you that Louise doesn’t look tired even though, a few minutes later, she tells me that she was up until 4 a.m. in the morning working on a project for graduate school. Let me also tell you that in the expanse of our 30-minute conversation, she extrapolates on countless topics from the politics of grief to her interest in cultural voids to what it means to love someone whose very existence is threatened by racism in America.
Louise is a straight-A student with two simultaneous careers and a sense of self that is so powerful it makes me think of those aura photographs people post on Instagram, it’s thatvisible. She’s here to tell me, someone who’s never tried hard drugs beyond some ill-fated MDMA, why she microdoses LSD every six months. And about how it changes everything.
Is microdosing the new productivity hack?
Louise is not alone, microdosing is having a moment. This is abundantly clear considering the term has been hash tagged on Instagram more than 18k times, microdosingmemeshave circled the internet, and a spike in magazine features on the topic have includedVanity Fair’srecent excerpt ofBrotopiaby Emily Chang(think polyamory, tripping, party drug-laced machismo) as well as the recent Los Angeles magazinefeatureon the rise of microdosing in L.A.
On the simplest level, microdosing is exactly what it sounds like. You take a mild dose of LSD or psilocybin (science-speak for mushrooms) in the name of self-improvement. Not enough to trip, but enough to feel something. Micro. Dose.
Whatyou’re supposed to feel shifts depending on who you’re speaking to, especially because 1) none of this is legal, even in weed-normalized California and 2) there are only a few published studies on microdosing so far, most of them too small to officially “count.”
Small or not, the results are largely positive.A study from Leiden University in the Netherlands found that microdosing on mushrooms “allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem.” Another study, by researchers from Australia’s Macquarie University, cited that both “naive” and experienced microdosers found that it may lead to “improvements in mental stability, the capacity to sustain attention, and increased ability to engage in intense imaginative experience[s].” Then there are the two large U.S. studies from 2015that found no direct link between psychedelic drugs and mental illness.
It’s important to note, though, that the lack of long-term research means that the negative side effects of microdosing may not have surfaced yet. Erica Basso, MA, AMFTpractices individual and couples psychotherapy in Los Angeles and warns there’s still more research to be done on microdosing. “There’s just not the double-blind study that we need yet to make any claims,” Basso says. “We always want to look at the risks versus benefits of a substance.”
That caveat hasn’t prevented microdosing from trending.
Is the productive microdosing man a myth?
The story you’ve likely heard about microdosing is one from productivity-obsessed Silicon Valley, where small doses of LSD have become a replacement for other uppers, mostly thanks to the apparent lack of side effects.
A Google search will lead you straight to stories aboutbiohacking for intellectual endurance, mushrooms for focus, and LSD droppers for pushing through a difficult deadline. You’ll read claims that microdosing is the golden childsubstitute for Adderall, a drug that’s abused throughout the Valley. You’ll find another article abouta 26-year-old microdosing “coach”who helps clients maximize their experiences via Skype.
The premise is simple enough: Take part of an acid tablet or pop a mushroom pill. Focus more, work harder, work longer. Build the next Uber, Airbnb, Soylent.
But here’s another caveat: this is the story of microdosing as told bymen.
The fact that men overwhelm the conversation isn’t all that surprising considering its popularity in Silicon Valley where tech remains a male-dominated industry. Then there’s the fact that to admit to using illegal drugs regularly, and sometimes at work, means having enough privilege to know you’ll escape the consequences.
In 2017, after attending a biohacking event in Silicon Valley where he met other microdosers, writer Josh Dean dropped (a smidge of) acid at work. Those experiences—including more guinea-pigging with the drug—became an article on microdosing forGQwith the clickbait-worthy subtitle, “The Drug Habit Your Boss is Going to Love.”
Dean is quick to acknowledge the male slant, referring to the subjects of his article as both “young, overwhelmingly male technologists” and “rich and powerful tech-business barons.” These are dudes, and not in a charming,Big Lebowskiway. White, male, and excessively wealthy. A friend who owns an edibles company tells me he knows “The Guy” who sells mushroom pills to Silicon Valley, and that 40 or so will cost you about $450. (And, yes, there’s a waitlist).
All told, only one woman makes an appearance in Dean’s narrative—Molly Maloof, a physician who speaks at a microdosing event and rounds out the article by suggesting that while “everyone wants a short cut”, instead of tripping, we should all try to sleep more, eat well, and meditate.
But it’s not justGQ— the media’s coverage on microdosing, including stories in outlets like Voxand Rolling Stone, often leads to more men with too much money and purportedly not enough time on their hands (hence the obsession with productivity hacks). Which begs the question:where are my microdosing women at?
Microdosing: an alternative narrative
It turns out they’re a far cry from the tech scene in Silicon Valley, but they’ve got plenty of thoughts.
Silicon Valley may have capitalized on the “microdosing as productivity” model, but as I hear from several women who have embraced microdosing and read about others, an alternative narrative emerges. It’s one less about commodification and doing more, more about letting go of the pressure to do work that doesn’t matter.
In 2016, Ayalet Waldman, a writer, former federal public defender, and mother of four, went public about her experience with microdosing. Her memoir,A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, focuses less on career advancement and more on how microdosing helped combat bouts of depression and extreme mood swings.
Inan interviewwithThe New York Times, Waldman says, “I didn’t do this on a lark. I did this because I was afraid I was going to kill myself.” Her life improved from her moods to her marriage, which she attributes to the 10 milligrams of liquid LSD she ingested daily. “I could just see right away it was having this immediate, focusing sense of perspective.”
When I first made contact with Louise in Los Angeles she was similarly effusive about microdosing and used the word productivity only once—to tell me whatdidn’tinterest her about the process.
“I smoke weed and drink matcha to be productive,” Louise says. “I took LSD and mushrooms to see colors I don’t see, to puncture the walls that confine reality. And I think it’s been successful in that regard.”
Louise first tried microdosing after getting rejected from graduate school and pushing through a deadline at her job meant working from 5 in the morning until 10 at night for weeks. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she and her partner headed out on a camping trip where they microdosed together. Later, she took another dose and stayed up after he fell asleep.
“I sat there and tried to consider the end game of love. What did I want to get out of loving someone? And what have I been running after my whole life trying to love someone?” Louise says. “And laying there, with him asleep next to me, feeling healthy, I realized that that was it. That was the end game. Presence.”
Like Louise, Molly* microdosed for the first time with her partner present, also in the woods. Molly writes for national magazines and she’s done strategy work for favorite cult brands. Unsurprisingly, she caught wind of the microdose phenomenon early on. “I’m willing to try almost ANYTHING once, especially if it promises to stretch my creativity,” Molly* tells me via email (she’s in South America on a vacation sans cell reception).
The first time she tried it a trusted friend offered her a small amount of pre-diluted LSD. “We each took the same dose,” Molly shares. “It lightly elevated our moods, helped us focus, and made nature more intriguing. But it was very low-key. It’s not a physical sensation, like many drugs are—it doesn’t make you relaxed or energetic or loose. It’s a purely cerebral sensation.”
What strikes me most is this idea of microdosing as a way of focusing, yes, but not to work harder or to escape burnout. It’s not about money, either, earning or spending. (In fact, Molly tells me “microdosing shouldn’t cost you more than a couple of cups of coffee.”)
Instead—at least for the women I speak to—it’s about letting go of hangups and getting outside of their own heads. And doing it with no expectations.
Other women, like Waldman, have come to microdosing for the purported benefits of mental health, like reducing depression and anxiety, only to find that it also benefited their energy and focus.
“I found it inspired a state of calm hypomania,” Waldman toldMarie Claire in 2016. “It was a flow but without the Adderall irritability.”
Microdosing also seems to promise something that’s increasingly hard to tap into: a break from the digital noise and workload overload.
“When I’m my most burnt out, what I desire, truly, is a removal from culture,” Louise tells me. “Any takeon the concept of culture. I want to isolate myself and see what else there is to feel.”
But… during office hours?
The fact remains that microdosing isn’t legal, the board’s still out on research, and even the definition of “microdosing” is fluid. Mushrooms? LSD? How much? How little? And are people seriously doing itat the office?
Well, yes—just not at most companies.
“I coach mostly women, and a few evolved men, and could not see any of them openly microdosing at work. Even the most open-minded and creative. If they did, they would probably not openly share because there’s still a stigma associated with it,” says Natalie Underdown, a self-described conscious organizational psychologist who consults with various companies and clients on work-related issues. “Just like when agencies started rolling around the bar cart at 4 pm, some are saying that microdosing is that next step. But we’re not there yet, at least from what I’m seeing.”
This echoes what I hear from almost everyone I interview, even the microdosers themselves.
Molly, who tells me she’s conservative about substances (“I never drink more than a glass of alcohol, if that, when I go out”), suggests that, “If you’re going to experiment with any substance, it’s best to do so with a person you trust—someone who makes you feel safe and is eager to go on the same little journey as you.” So…notaround the coworker who sends you passive aggressive emails.
Then there are the bosses. Thanks to the increasing number of states legalizing marijuana and CBD, several companies (especially in tech) are grappling with the “too far” conundrum.
Ola Wlodarczyk is an HR Specialist at Zety, a resume builder startup, who tells me if her team found out someone microdosed, “we wouldn’t just rip up their stellar resume and kick them out the door. But don’t let it affect your behavior at work. If someone came into an interview and was tripping, then obviously, we wouldn’t hire them.”
Matthew Ross, the founder of a mattress review site,The Slumber Yard(you know, to help you decide whether to go Leesa or Casper), is a CEO who initially considered being open to microdosing on the job. Two employees approached Ross to ask if they could microdose at work in order to “spur creativity and maintain focus.” Their argument was that microdosing would help them tackle tasks that were “a little too mundane.”
“My business partner and I are young, progressive thinkers, so we didn’t shoot it down right away,” says Ross. “After mulling it over, we decided to deny the request. It definitely has slippery slope written all over it.”
Ross tells me that it had less to do with whether they believed that microdosing would increase productivity and more to do with human inconsistency.
“Once employees get used to microdosing, they might try to slowly up the dosage, which potentially could have harmful effects on their health… Let’s say an employee gets addicted to drugs and makes a couple of bad decisions that ultimately hurt other people. The liability could potentially be shifted back to us for promoting and encouraging drug use.”
And it’s true. None of this is above board, which means companies have to consider legality and responsibility. “After all,” says Ross, “LSD and mushrooms are illegal for a reason, right?”
Final thoughts from the creative edge
So, the consensus seems to be: Leave microdosing at work to the tech dudes. But microdosing on your own time—although not yet legal—could potentially benefit you, according to a body of growing research.
“I do think the larger idea and concept behind microdosing at work has gained popularity because we’re at a really unique moment in time where we know that creativity and innovation drive profits,” says Underdown. “We see the power of plant medicine and the power of alternative wellness modalities with CBD and legalized cannabis—so we’re wondering could one help me with the other? What else can I take or do to help me get that creative edge?”
That creative edge looks different to everybody. There’s Louise’s sense of presence, there’s Molly’s sense of “stretching” creativity, and Waldman’s message of improved mental health. And, unlike the Silicon Valley narratives, none of these women mention competition or financial success.
Amanda Schendel, the leader of Women in Psychedelics and founder and CEO ofThe Buena Vida Psychedelic Retreats, which provides safe, legal psilocybin healing retreats in Mexico shares that microdosing is not a “magic pill” that will make individuals smarter or more creative but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have benefits. “A very common effect of microdosing, or psychedelics in general, is that people understand how nature teaches us to ‘just be’. …This is very counter to our overly capitalistic view that seems to state: the more you produce, the more you’re worth,” says Schendel. “We’ve learned that we have to earn love by somehow being worthy. Psychedelics teach us that wearelove and can create it from within.”
A couple of days after meeting Louise, I’m staring at a blank Google doc, having spent the afternoon avoiding my writer’s block by drinking margaritas with a Bumble date. I try to think about the end game, what it all means, the idea of tryinganythingonce in the name of stretching creativity. But I’m still tired, still spiraling—and still reaching for my phone distractedly.
I tap out a text to a friend who’s offered to get me a mushroom chocolate bar as Louise’s interview plays in my headphones.
“It’s just enough to tap into the reality that’s sitting upon us at all times,” Louise’s voice says, “When you just can’t break through that membrane. Suddenly, you puncture it.”
Then I mark a date in my calendar to head for the woods.
*To protect anonymity, names have been changed.