Like a lot of Portlanders, Chris makes himself a smoothie before he starts work. He throws berries, cider, bananas and kale into a blender full of ice to make a nutritious shake full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
But for the past six months, the 29-year-old tech industry freelancer has been throwing in something extra: a couple of button-sized caps' worth of psilocybin mushrooms, the same shrooms you maybe ate in college before going to the graveyard to freak yourself out.
The dose Chris is taking won't make the walls bleed. The quarter-to-half-gram he puts in a smoothie isn't even enough to make most people feel funny. And yet, it's become an essential part of his life.
"The results have been pretty substantial," Chris writes. "Improved mood, increased energy, passion for creative arts and an overall sense of well-being that definitely wasn't there before."
The afterglow lasts for a few days after a Monday dose, he says, but by Thursday it's time for another smoothie.
Some estimate a few thousand Portlanders are doing what Chris is doing—microdosing, using small doses of LSD or shrooms that leave the user totally functional but feeling…better. (I'm on shrooms right now.)
If you ask around town, you'll find people who say we're entering a new golden age of psychedelics. In nutritionists' offices, community centers and co-op grocery stores, Portlanders are gathering to compare notes on psychedelic drugs.
Portlanders aren't unique in the trend of consuming tiny, sub-psychedelic amounts of acid, shrooms, Ecstasy or mescaline to enhance their everyday lives. Magazines from Forbes to Wired report microdosing has become a trend among Silicon Valley programmers looking for an edge. Author Ayelet Waldman took small amounts of LSD for a month to cure menopausal depression, and, in January, published a best-selling book about it. Food activist Michael Pollan is also on board, having penned a microdosing piece for The New Yorker.
But Portland has gone in deep. More than 2,000 people in the metro area have joined meet-up groups devoted to psychedelic substances, more than in any other U.S. city except New York and San Francisco.
"Portland is the psychedelic underbelly of America. It's underground, but it's everywhere," says Esteban DeCorazon, a 31-year-old marketer and organizer of psychedelic meet-up groups who says he and his wife moved here from New Jersey in part because of experiences with psilocybin mushrooms. "In New York, they want to trip balls. California is more burner culture—hearts and flowers. Portland is different. People want to incorporate psychedelic experiences into their daily lives."
Next week, one of the most prominent microdosing advocates in the world will be in Portland to give a talk, alongside people sharing their own results with psychedelics. And as LSD and shrooms move past dorm-room curiosity, our city may also set the stage for the next great legalization fight. A group called the Oregon Psilocybin Society has announced plans to get a measure on the Oregon ballot in 2020 to legalize and regulate psilocybin mushrooms.
There are no scientific studies to support microdosing—and, indeed, some critics say any effect is a placebo. But across the country people believe they have found that small servings of psychedelics are a conduit for spirituality, a treatment for depression or a way to get ahead at work. The interest and enthusiasm around psychedelics is higher now than at any time since Ken Kesey was mixing acid into Kool-Aid on an old school bus, and Timothy Leary was dosing Harvard undergrads.
As this issue prints, about 2,800 scientists, doctors, researchers and others are gathering in Oakland, Calif., for a six-day conference on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. Put on by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, Calif., the conference's $250 tickets sold out weeks ago. The biggest news at the conference is likely to be that the Food and Drug Administration in November gave permission for a large-scale clinical study that could allow doctors to treat PTSD-suffering veterans with hits of Ecstasy.
Nationwide, there may be as many as 100,000 people who have tried microdosing, says James Fadiman, a Harvard- and Stanford-educated psychologist and author of The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide. He's studied more than 1,000 people who have microdosed since he introduced the broader world to the idea in 2011, when he presented a preliminary study on the subject.
"It's not exciting. It's not colorful. It's not tripping," he tells WW. "The way you know you're dosed correctly is, there are no psychedelic effects."
"Most I know who are into microdosing are business professionals," says Jeremy Plumb, owner of Portland's Farma dispensary and one of the organizers of the upcoming Cultivation Classic organic cannabis competition. He's talking about psychedelics, but Plumb has been an outspoken advocate of microdosing cannabis for therapeutic benefit without impairment.
A group called the Portland Entheogenic Exploration and Research Society will be among those sending representatives to the MAPS conference in Oakland. Its organizer, Helen, saw her group quickly balloon to 750 members after founding PEERS in 2014, and she hopes to build the group into a Portland version of MAPS, with a local psychedelic conference.
A few years ago, microdosing was portrayed by Rolling Stone and other publications as a techie-driven phenomenon involving all-night creativity binges for programmers or acid camps for billionaires. These days, interest in the benefits of low-dose psychedelics has spread to a demographic as broad as the shoppers in the organic fruit section at New Seasons Market.
"We've had dentists and doctors, professional musicians, students, of course, and everyday regular lower-wage [workers]," Helen says of PEERS. "Really, I don't see any kind of trend in terms of profession."
Fadiman says his inbox is full of inquiries from around the world about microdosing—writers from Marie Claire ("Why Power Women Are Microdosing at Work") and GQ ("LSD: My Life-Saving Drug"), but especially from private individuals who want to live better lives through psychedelics. The improvements Fadiman says microdosers have reported amount to a dreamy wish list for tired office workers.
"People report they form better sleeping habits, better eating, improved stress response," he says. "One man said he looked at a menu and said, 'By God, I wanted the salad!' They tend to drink less, smoke less—that's both tobacco and pot—and many report less coffee-drinking as well."
The microdosers Fadiman has surveyed report they've used psychedelics to treat everything from anxiety to stuttering. One woman, an art historian, told Fadiman that microdosing psychedelics had caused her menstrual periods to become more regular and less painful.
If Fadiman is the father of microdosing, Paul Austin is the guy who married it—an entrepreneur and activist who's been traveling the world trying to change how our culture thinks about low-dose psychedelic drugs, which he sees as a nonthreatening introduction to the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.
The founder of the Third Wave microdosing advocacy site—which Austin says gets 15,000 to 20,000 visits a month—has given symposia in Berlin and the Netherlands, as well as in Denver and Philadelphia. He'll be in Portland to give a talk on microdosing April 30 at an event held by PEERS at Bossanova Ballroom.
Austin's website often takes the evangelical, portentous tone of minority religion or midcentury cannabis activists. "Right now, you are a witness to the dawn of a new psychedelic age," reads a manifesto on the site. "It is called the Third Wave of Psychedelics. And it will change the perception of psychedelics by Western civilization."
The "first wave" of psychedelic users, Austin says, were indigenous peoples, while the second was the psychonauts of the 1960s.
"The second wave was often irresponsible consumption," Austin tells WW. "Microdosing is a new paradigm. I can do psychedelics and experience the benefits while still keeping it under control."
It's this notion that caused DeCorazon to move toward microdosing after long experimenting with larger doses—DeCorazon and his wife keep a "journey room" in their ground floor where they have gatherings in which others can take psilocybin and in some cases microdose MDMA. The laptop on the floor, next to San Pedro cacti that could be used to make mescaline, is loaded with a playlist marked "Magic Mushroom," while in another corner, a slightly agitated Sonoran Desert toad cowers next to a fake terrarium log—the amphibian, when squeezed hard enough, expels a powerful psychedelic from his venom sacs called 5-MeO-DMT.
Last year, DeCorazon became a father, and it changed the way he treats psychedelics.
"You can't just go on a 12-hour journey anymore," he says. "I have responsibilities."
While he still makes time for full mushroom trips when he can, DeCorazon microdoses small amounts of DMT and burnable tree bark in a mixture called changa, which he says gives him a very short meditative high before settling into a long afterglow that leaves him in control of his faculties.
An equal number of microdosers suffer from maladies they believe can be treated with psychedelics. Conversations at meet-up events—for example, in the parking lot outside a scheduled talk last week at People's Food Co-op in Southeast Portland—can sound like a cross between a recipe swap and a group therapy session.
At the upcoming Bossanova Ballroom event, Portlanders will talk about the healing they say they've experienced from using psychedelic drugs—in both macro and micro doses—to overcome everything from deep childhood trauma to a 20-year heroin addiction.
Wayne, a 45-year-old former commodities trader in Portland, arrived at his first meeting by accident.
"He thought he was showing up to a presentation about plant medicine," PEERS organizer Helen tells WW. "People started talking about journeys, and he thought everyone was a little bit nuts."
But Wayne had been suffering for years from cluster headaches so intense he was essentially housebound—the result of scarring on his brain after surgery to remove a tumor—and was open to anything that might help. "I don't know how much experience you have with pain," he says. "You get to a stage where you'll do almost anything."
After five years of unrelenting pain and a resulting oxycodone addiction, Wayne says, "microdosing pulled me out of the dark."
It wasn't that it relieved the pain, he says, but that the mushrooms made him feel life wasn't utterly futile. "What I got was a calmness," he says.
He now advises cancer sufferers and others interested in microdosing, but says only about 1 in 5 see positive results.
Mary, a middle-aged Portland mother and musician, tells a similar story. She suffered from anxiety and PTSD from childhood trauma that was so severe she could no longer perform, but taking low-dose mushrooms gave her the fortitude to get back onstage.
After a performance in which she took too much of the shrooms and felt impaired, she began growing her own mushrooms to ensure a consistent dose. "Dosing is a problem with the mushrooms," she says, "because they're so inconsistent."
Like Wayne, Mary religiously reads every accredited study on the benefits of psychedelics that she can get her hands on. "I come from a science family," she says.
Not everyone is so convinced of microdosing's benefits.
In an editorial in British newspaper the Daily Mail in February, a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge cautioned against experimental self-medication.
"As a society," they wrote, "we should consider the reasons as to why healthy people choose to use drugs in the first place." Those looking to enhance their productivity, they suggest, should first consider good nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep.
Even the strongest advocates for microdosing concede that its benefits remain unproven.
"There's skepticism both in the psychedelic space and outside it, in terms of the benefits of microdosing," Austin says. "There's no scientific research there yet."
In part, that's because it's very difficult to conduct such studies legally. Psilocybin and LSD are considered Schedule I drugs in the United States, dangerous substances with no medical benefits. But Fadiman says the anecdotal evidence is compelling enough to warrant research.
"When someone writes me and says, 'I've taken eight different antidepressants, electroshock and psychotherapy, and after two cycles of microdosing I feel more like myself than ever before, it doesn't feel like placebo," Fadiman says. "Microdosing will accelerate the path toward legalization—here is a dosage level that does not bother anybody. Lower doses inherently are safer. We're talking a 10th to a 20th of a hit."
In a few years, Oregon might become the first state to put legalization of psychedelics on the ballot. In 2016, Tom and Sheri Eckert founded the Oregon Psilocybin Society with the express purpose of putting forward a ballot measure to legalize shrooms.
The couple, both in their 40s, have a family counseling practice in Beaverton called Innerwork that specializes in domestic violence and emphasizes "Clarity. Consciousness. Connection." Both believe in the potential for psilocybin to be used in a therapeutic context.
In January, the Eckerts submitted a ballot initiative called the Oregon Psilocybin Therapy Act to Oregon's Office of Legislative Counsel for approval: The version of legalization they're advocating would permit the use of psilocybin mushrooms only in supervised "safe spaces." But while the text of the initiative is under review, the Eckerts have yet to file the paperwork that would allow OPS to receive contributions toward a political campaign.
Asked what they feel their prospects are, Sheri Eckert demurs. "One of the things we're raising money for is polling," she says.
"The attitude toward legalization is coming around," Fadiman says. "Since psychedelics have become illegal, 26 million Americans have taken LSD. Most of those have been in the higher 50 percent of education [level]. There's a generation of people who have found them either beneficial or not too exciting. They see legalization as being sensible."
The Eckerts nonetheless remain cautious on the subject.
"Psilocybin addresses huge issues such as depression and addiction," Tom Eckert says. "Psilocybin works for smoking cessation better than any other. This is a revolutionary thing. We have to be careful with it. We don't want to screw it up."
The Microdosing & Psychedelic Stories Tour is at Bossanova Ballroom, 722 E Burnside St., on Sunday, April 30. 4-10 pm. $10 advance, $15 at the door. 21+. After a brief sitar concert, Paul Austin of the Third Wave will speak about microdosing's popularity, risks and benefits; other participants will speak about their experiences with psychedelic drugs. Psychedelic-inspired art and vendors will be on hand. Tickets and more information at peers.space.