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Not your Marvel Hero

By Gabriella Ackerman


Magic Mushrooms’ revival from the fringes. How microdosing is gaining a foothold in dominant culture.

Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch in Marvel Studios Doctor Strange

We have all tied that cape, drawn that sword and prepared for battle against our fictive villain from the comfort of our bedroom. Whether you were a Batman fan or channeled a Marvel hero, this kind of ‘play’ permeated most childhoods, mine included. In all origin stories, from Captain Marvel to Spiderman, when the moment of intent is unmistakably clear we become ‘better, faster, stronger’ – normal guys become somehow more capable. Today, my battleground is different and my ‘villain’ more lethal than ever.

Falling into a psilocybin Hero journey is like positioning oneself at the front line of every battle one’s body and soul has ever witnessed or engaged in. Every memory, subconscious thought, iteration of pain, surfaces in an almost purging manner. The notion of intent, visible in all superheroes, is as important on a Hero’s journey.

Through intention – making it explicitly clear beforehand what one hopes to learn, experience, understand and, ultimately, resolve - we enable the best version of oneself to be delicately unwrapped. Through the meticulous microdosing of psilocybin magic mushrooms I have become the superhero I once fantasised about. I am better, faster, stronger. My villainous stressors have been wacked firmly to the side-line with the feeling of ‘capable’ gaining a whole new meaning.

This moment in history feels somewhat novel. As a society, we are witnessing the convergence of major crises and a serious affront to our way of life. Global warming coupled with a pandemic, collapsing markets, ramped up tensions between Russia and China, the threat of proxy wars and an invasion of Ukraine, societal meltdown and the unprecedented decline of mental health. In the centre of all this turbulence and uncertainty, stands us – the young adults in limbo, in new jobs, in new tailored suits, in new countries. Change, in every sense of the word, engulfed our lives overnight. It is therefore no surprise that a ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’ has been met with wide open arms. The scientific dossier in mind-opening compounds has been reopened with a vengeance – clinical trials, Podcasts, Netflix series like Goop or Fantastic Fungi and parents implementing self-management treatments have attempted to swat away embedded stigma and fear attached to magic mushrooms. Early studies, reviews and anecdotal reports on psychedelics have long focused on the compound’s strong therapeutic potential to address hard-to-treat mental health conditions, like PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, anxiety and addiction. For most people, opening this door within the self and achieving, even for a fleeting moment, this visionary understanding and unassailable clarity psilocybin grants holds incalculable value. Even though psychedelics will not offer salvation, they do, as Ben Sessa – a new generation psychedelic clinical researcher put it; provide an innovative angle from which to help us approach afresh age-old questions.

However, today it is not the earth-shattering Hero trips that are being hyped. It’s microdosing. The burgeoning practice of microdosing has returned from the fringes and assimilated into the mainstream. Even though the exact parameters of what constitutes ‘microdosing’ still seems to be somewhat blurred, generally speaking it refers to the ingestion of very low (one tenth of a dose) psychedelic compounds, usually – LSD or Psilocybin on an intermittent basis without the intention of experiencing the hallucinogenic effects. The purported benefits are numerous with its popularity first gaining momentum amongst the Silicon Valley elite who deemed it a ‘productivity hack’. However, the growing interest from both clinical labs and the media is now focusing on its strong hold within the fast growing wellness arena and its stored potential in treating depression and anxiety. The chemical compounds of psilocybin are incredibly similar to that of serotonin – a chemical messenger that plays an important part in mood regulation. When one experiences ‘psychedelic’ effects, even on a micro level with no hallucinations, this is a direct result of the serotonin receptors being stimulated. This is important, when looking at the potential of microdosing in curbing depression and anxiety and improving one’s overall wellbeing as antidepressants are designed to function within this serotonergic system. Simply put, psilocybin compounds have the ability to restore the balance of serotonin in one’s body, which ultimately leads to positive changes in mood and well, a happy you.

Studies around LSD and psilocybin, with advocacy for its psychotherapeutic ability, are said to have first gained real momentum in the 1960s. However, this naïve timeline compromises psychedelic studies as the dominant Western narrative consistently fails to take into account the histories, traditions and ritualistic practices of indigenous people – whose contributions to science and innate expertise remain unacknowledged and unrewarded within the Western, mainstream discourse of wellness and medicine. Indigenous communities around the world have long acknowledged the importance of plant-based psychedelics for spiritual practices. Although specific rituals, practices and beliefs vary considerably across the African and American continent – the overarching view on psychedelics has remained consistent; they are a sacred vehicle used by healers to guide, connect with Gods, facilitate states of consciousness, cure and prophesize, find solutions to problems and reconnect communities to lost loved ones. The mighty Aztec empire was at the forefront of delicately weaving such compounds of the natural world into their habitual spiritual practices – opening portals to ‘the world beyond’ in search of answers and enlightenment. The use of psilocybin was not restricted to secretive or isolated use; rather, its ritualistic role in ceremonial proceedings was overtly established and embedded deeply within the very fibers, which bound Aztec society.

As psilocybin continues to integrate into the dominant culture, with references to a ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’ growing ever stronger, the need to acknowledge those that we are leaving behind – those that such a narrative continues to exclude, push to the margins, appropriate, or not account for becomes significantly more important. Not only has science long appropriated cultural indigenous practices, but major issues in equity of legality still exist within the mainstream field of psychedelic medicine. In reality, drugs like magic mushrooms are used freely by those privileged enough to enjoy the luxuries of White, Goop-style wellness retreats, private sessions with Shamanic healers or pre-packaged psilocybin capsules dispensed by health practitioners. Yet, across demographics and economic lines the same drugs continue to hold a highly illegal stigma and are responsible for perpetuating issues of mass incarceration – seen predominantly in the United States. Racial critiques of mass incarceration, such as those published by James Forman (2012) attest to the fact that people of colour, minorities and those that are economically disenfranchised are more likely to be pulled over, searched, arrested, receive harsher punishment and longer sentences than White individuals who use the aforementioned drug at roughly the same rate. For reasons like this, minority groups and those that fall outside of the White narrative continue to lack safe spaces and supportive structures where psychedelic healing can be facilitated as the fear and real threat of incarceration prevents any beneficial relationship with psilocybin from being established.

Microdosing users seem to exist within three groups, bonded by an overarching therapeutic or wellness-orientated intention. Firstly, its adaptogenic properties (those that decrease one’s sensitivity to internal and environmental stressors) are being used by the A-type. To take the edge off. To focus. To not succumb to everyday pressures. Secondly, it is being used by those that are treating diagnosed mental health issues. Lastly, by those trying to expand their mind and unleash that untapped creativity. I am an A-type - emotionally sensitive, acutely attuned to my environment with a tendency to be incredibly hard on myself and experience deep seated self-doubt. I have been ingesting meticulously measured gelatine capsules of dried and ground psilocybin mushrooms every morning for the last five months. It took no more than six days for effects to be felt in a huge way and for my ‘villains’ to retreat. I was calmer. My heart palpitations disappeared, the tight knot in my lower abdomen subsided, my mind was clear and focus centred. After one month, I was no longer buckling to stress. My mind felt like it knew exactly what to do and how to process new thoughts and ideas, which were now flowing. Direction in terms of a career path followed with my interpersonal relationships, and most importantly the relationship with myself improving twofold. I was less self-critical, more driven, more connected in all social interactions and felt lighter in every sense of the word. Microdosing has ultimately trained my brain to develop the necessary pathways to cope with and process my villainous stressors.

We all decide on a daily basis, on our own accord what we put into our bodies – knowing very well the effects it may cause on our mind, be it micrograms of a chemical, milligrams of a mushroom, ounces of an alcoholic drink of choice, a ‘post-match’ greasy burger or the inhaling of burning tobacco into our lungs. Currently, milligrams of psilocybin is my ‘drug’ of choice. I know my body better than anyone else, and I know mushrooms, in combination with an array of other self-help practices, treatments and tools has fundamentally helped bring out the part of me again that I love. Yet, I remain overtly aware of the cultural humility needed when making such a choice, not only within the psychedelic discourse, but in Western medicine more generally. Microdosing as a white female is a privilege. Access to reputable practitioners is a privilege. If psychedelic science is going to have any chance of survival we can no longer remain ignorant of our privileges nor can we let structures of power remain unquestioned. Whether or not I can see myself micro-dosing into the foreseeable future is a conversation for another time. But, as I currently find my feet in a new city, navigating the obvious stressors that accompany that, whilst learning to be a whole lot more gentle on myself I will happily continue ‘trying my cape’ (more literally being, swallowing my capsule) every morning because wow, I feel capable!

Disclaimer: - such treatment must by all means not be taken lightly as it requires a great deal of care and expertise in terms of dosage and quality. If you are considering any experimental healing, it is best to consult a functional medical practitioner.

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