Microdosing Pays Off
Ayelet Waldman finds head space with a little LSD.
Ayelet Waldman says her "interest in drugs has always been therapeutic."
Photo by Pat Mazzera
How does a Harvard-trained lawyer, a former federal public defender and law professor, a nice Jewish girl, who rarely drinks, who has a supportive husband and four kids, age 13 to 22, decide to take LSD—an illegal drug—for a month?
“I was desperate. I felt like I had no other choice,” said author Ayelet Waldman, as she sipped tea in her Berkeley Craftsman. Waldman had been dealt a triple whammy: excruciating pain from a frozen shoulder (stiffness in the tissues around the joint), hormonal depression (a mood disorder), and chronic sleeplessness (caused by the pain, which exacerbated the depression). “Traditional medications weren’t working. I was destroying my marriage and I had persistent and debilitating suicidal thoughts,” she added. Faced with the choice between breaking the law and killing herself, Waldman said, “I wouldn’t have considered LSD if I hadn’t reached this breaking point.”
Waldman chronicled her LSD trial in her recently released book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. The microdose, two drops of the psychedelic under her tongue every third day, was one-tenth of the typical recreational dose of LSD—too little to trip but enough, theoretically, for a measurable cellular response—maybe enough for her to feel better. She monitored her response day by day, tracking her feelings, her sleep, her productivity, her pain, and whether she picked a fight with her husband.
The book served as a frame for Waldman to explore her relationships with her mother, whose similarities she fears, and her father, with whom she shares a history of mental illness—he has bipolar disorder—plus her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, who has ridden the waves of Waldman’s mood swings throughout their 23-year marriage. Add to that the extensive research Waldman did on the history, mystery, and latest studies surrounding LSD, and her experience working in the criminal justice system, the book is also, in parts, a polemic on drug policy in the United States today.
“My interest in [illegal] drugs has always been therapeutic,” said the author. (In the book Waldman also described her use of medicinal marijuana for pain and MDMA as a tool in couples therapy.) She connected with Marin-based psychedelic researcher and LSD guru, James Fadiman, for guidance before embarking on her journey. She wanted to function better. She was seeking equanimity. Waldman is not alone in her exploration of the potentially beneficial effects of mini-doses of LSD. The practice has gained popularity among Silicon Valley startup types looking for a boost in productivity.
While she had mixed emotions about using an illegal drug, her reflections on regulating drug use were less ambivalent. “I do believe that there is a human impulse to alter consciousness that has existed since humans have existed and to regulate that is foolish,” she said. “Why don’t we have the right to do what we want with our consciousness provided that we don’t harm others?”
For all the seriousness and controversy in the subject matter she covers, Waldman was remarkably light in conversation. Wearing jeans, a black shirt, booties, and no discernible makeup, the petite, 52-year-old was warm, talkative, and funny, like the neighbor you would want to hang out with. She fussed over the family dog, a 7-month-old Labradoodle, Agnes. “We like old lady names for our pets,” she said. “And old Jewish names for our children,” she added with her bold laugh. And she’s funny on the page, too.
Did she expect any pushback on the book? “The book does not advocate the illegal use of LSD,” she was quick to point out. But Waldman, who has penned a New York Times best-seller (Bad Mother), a novel adapted for the big screen (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits), a series of seven mystery novels (the Mommy Track Mysteries), plus four other novels and a slew of articles and essays, often battles with a crisis in self-confidence. “I always care too much about what people think,” she said. “It’s a personality flaw.”
Still, she believes that any negative feedback is more likely to come with her next book, which she co-edited with Chabon, essays about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza from writers around the world. Chabon nodded in agreement as he padded through the rooms shoeless in sweats. Kingdom of Olives and Ash is due out in May.
While taking LSD, Waldman found space. She had time think before she acted. “Feeling, thought, impulse, action. These things have always been pushed together for me, it all happens at once. The LSD allowed a little room,” she said. Now that she has stopped the LSD, what’s next? Waldman wasn’t sure. She’s trying dialectic behavioral therapy with a therapist. “And I’m really trying to meditate,” then under her breadth, “but I hate it.”
Published online on March 24, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.