I've long held that drugs should be recreational or medical only. Something about using drugs for self-improvement stirs up uncomfortable shades of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World—a managed-society dystopia already evidenced in real life by the rampant overprescription of ADHD drugs designed to make lives easier for teachers, not students.
But ever since reports surfaced that Silicon Valley types were using microdoses of psychedelic drugs to juice creativity or make their lives seem meaningful, the mediascape has been inflamed with the notion that low-bore psychedelics could improve a life through chemistry.
I have no known anxiety or other clinical condition to treat, unlike many who use microdoses of these drugs. But for 10 days, I tried mini-hits of shrooms, cannabis, LSD and DMT to see if they offered enhancements to productivity or mood. Here's my microdosed week and a half—with commentary from my colleagues.
Wednesday-Friday, April 5-7
I acquired ground-up cubensis mushrooms through a friend dedicated to the chemical management of his own mental and digestive states—whether with kratom, activated carbon or a host of dietary supplements that combine to smell like a dentist's office. He'd originally bought the mushrooms for a personal microdosing experiment, which he quickly abandoned.
Psychedelics researcher and microdosing proponent James Fadiman recommends dosing once every three days. The idea is you'll still feel effects the second day, and can use the third day as a control to understand what the mushrooms are doing. I didn't have enough time for the long game, however, and took mushrooms three consecutive days, which I'm told temporarily increases tolerance.
My prior experience with shrooms had been the usual loopy, college-kid sort—a gram or two of cubensis and some time spent making the room's corners convex or concave using only my mind.
A usual microdose is anywhere between 0.15 and 0.5 grams depending on the type of mushroom, and so on the first day, I weighed out a conservative dose of 0.25 grams and ate them straight. I noticed approximately nothing all day—perhaps I was too hopped up on caffeine and deadlines—but people around me swore I was a nicer person. It got me worried, in an absent way: Maybe I am usually a terrible person.
The next day at about noon, I upped the dose to 0.4 grams and found myself in the penumbra of a high that never came—a psychic pressure system at the edges of my consciousness—before settling into a dippy and somewhat unproductive afternoon. The third day, I dropped the dose to 0.3 grams and banged out a 2,000-word article by noon: Science!
During these days, I was less likely to drink alcohol, and drank less coffee—although the anecdotal evidence that psilocybin helps you stop smoking cigarettes did not apply in my case. Was my newfound forbearance the result of the psilocybin itself, or the fact I'd become so newly attentive to my physical and mental state, like a narcissistic yoga-obsessive or auto-nutritionist? Hard to say.
"He seemed extra limber—of body, mind and spirit. Physically, that manifested as an extra-jaunty step, and a carefree bounce as he moved around the office. He dealt with stressful situations better, and reacted well to other people's ideas at times he sometimes snaps back."
Pleasantness rating: 7.2 out of 10
Productivity rating: 6.5
Saturday-Monday, April 8-10
I figured cannabis was more of a weekender, and boy was it. THC is my least-favorite drug of all drugs, which I've chosen to chalk up to personal chemistry rather than a moral failing in almost everyone I know. It makes me some version of tired or distracted, and after small doses—4 milligrams of edible THC from Grön, or a similar amount vaped from my favorite strain, Omega from Emerald Twist farms—I was also some combination of tired or distracted and easily frustrated. I spent 20 minutes Saturday yelling at my editor about a mild disagreement over formatting, and on Sunday, despite a decent night's sleep, I was drowsy and useless all day.
On Monday, refusing to sacrifice a day of work, I vaped a small amount late at night and slept like a baby.
"He was spinning his wheels and getting nowhere. He seemed to be working, but he never had anything to show for it. At one point he yelled at me for a half-hour about something he was definitely wrong about before coming up with his own workable solution."
"Surprisingly pleasant. Handed me a book about body-positive yoga, in a nice way."
Pleasantness rating: 6.5
Productivity rating: 3
Wednesday-Friday, April 12-14
My first personal acid experience involved dinner at Portland City Grill, where I firmly remember declaring that "while I know technically I'm the one eating, it feels like there are wolves in my mouth," plus a very devolved bout of the famed Stripparaoke at Devils Point strip club, where the dancer had to flag me as harmless to a bouncer deeply distressed I was belting Led Zeppelin with my arm around the dancer's shoulders.
Microdosed LSD is an entirely different experience. Much more so than with psilocybin, the low-dose LSD procured from the friend of a friend—I did what I believed to be a 10-microgram dose each day, about one-tenth of a standard hit—left me feeling brighter, sharper and more energized in a noticeable way, without the tooth-grinding speediness of uppers like caffeine or Adderall, which are also used in offices as productivity tools.
Psychedelics tend to operate on your serotonin centers, so this makes sense. And with LSD much more than psilocybin, I understood why Silicon Valley types might use it for an added edge. On the third day of taking LSD, however, I was stressed for external reasons—sleeplessness, competing deadlines—and was a general lout to everyone around me. And on Thursday night, I was a little loopy after a long day's work—more "creative," perhaps, but also noticeably weirder, as reported by co-workers. Which is to say, my moods seemed amplified, not assuaged by the drug, a confirmation of the old psychedelic saw that what you get out of LSD is, by and large, what you bring with you. I wouldn't repeat it on a bad day—but on a good day, I could see it as a productivity tool.
As to whether I personally love the idea of routinely using drugs for productivity purposes? It fills me with an interesting moral queasiness—a Gattaca dread—that is made immediately hypocritical by the cup of coffee next to my keyboard.
"He kind of seemed to be surfing his own wave. He didn't react strongly, in a positive or negative way, to anything going on around him."
"There was slightly less cross-talk in the office during this phase, generally indicating a higher level of productivity. But, on Friday, Korfhage had a small meltdown about the impending deadline for this project, so it may have all been a charade."
Pleasantness rating: 7.1
Productivity rating: 8.3
Saturday, April 15
DMT, in high doses, is reportedly as intense a psychedelic experience as anything on offer—the news that psychonaut Terence McKenna said he was waiting for, a reversion to a pre-language self. Reportedly, DMT uses also have a strange proclivity toward perceiving fractally regenerative elf creatures. The substance is found in the chacruna shrub often used with ayahuasca—ingested ceremonially by deeply spiritual and self-realized celebrities from Sting to Tori Amos—and in some barks and toads.
I got my DMT from an acquaintance in the form of changa, a mixture with smokable barks. The actual dosage is hard to gauge, but the effects were both mild and pleasant, euphoric without attendant spaciness, an open window on a slightly more beautiful and less threatening world. I felt, primarily, interest—a proactive curiosity that is the polar opposite of depressed apathy.
Honestly, it's my favorite drug of them all—although I couldn't imagine using it for work that isn't customer service. In time-compressed newspaper work, I've come to rely on adrenaline edge, something the DMT would quite frankly make less possible: In the words of Talking Heads, this burning keeps me alive.
"All I know is, he took this weird Instagram-type picture under a bridge and posted it to Facebook. This is very out of character."
"In a good mood, with a desire to explore."
Pleasantness rating: 8
Productivity rating: 8