Why Power Women Are Micro-Dosing LSD at Work.

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Why Power Women Are Micro-Dosing LSD at Work.

Karen Smith has a lot on her mind. The 32-year-old lives in Chicago, where, after working for tech startups abroad for 10 years, she moved last year with her husband to attend a graduate program in data science. On top of her academic studies, Smith works 10 to 30 hours a week as the data guru for a consulting firm. But late last year, what was really bringing her down was the bleak Midwest winters. That, and she’d recently cut out her daily habit of cigarettes and marijuana, frustrated that she’d become so dependent on pot to manage her mood. She needed something to take the edge off.

Smith—whose husband was also feeling low and looking for relief—had an idea, something she’d run across on Reddit. After some research, her husband bought psilocybin (psychedelic) mushrooms from a friend, ground them up with a Cuisinart spice grinder, and separated them into gel capsules ordered from Amazon. The dosage was precisely measured and precisely tiny: 10 micrograms for Smith’s husband and about half of that for her, which is just below the threshold of what would normally make a user “trip.” She took the homemade pill with a glass of water and waited. A few days later, she swallowed another one.

For the rest of the winter and into the spring, Smith (not her real name—she’s concerned that the illegality of her self-medication could compromise her career) and her husband continued to take tiny doses of magic mushrooms every few days while going about their daily lives. Smith didn’t see swirling wild colors or shifting shapes. She didn’t feel as if the trees and sky were sparkling magically at her. She didn’t imagine that she saw God. Instead—along with shaking off those winter blues—she became very, very efficient. “It gives you fresh eyes,” she says, “for programming or figuring out algorithmic stuff. It made me really productive in a motivated way. Whatever mental block that was stopping me from doing something would disappear.” Plus, during her four-month-long mushroom experiment, she got a lot of household chores done.

The term for what Smith and her husband were trying is “micro-dosing,” a growing trend in psychotropic experimentation. Unlike other trending hallucinogenic experiences, like, say, drinking ayahuasca (a psychedelic tea brewed from Amazonian plants, sipped under the supervision of a shaman), micro-dosing doesn’t deliver an earth-shattering, body-wrenching, mind-blowing journey through the other side of the Doors of Perception. The idea is to change, in an almost imperceptible way, your everyday neural functioning for the better.

While it’s impossible to gather hard data on micro-dosing, anecdotal evidence suggests that its use is on the rise: The popular podcast Reply All devoted a segment to it last fall; Rolling StoneVICE, and Forbes chronicled it as a trend shortly afterward; and one YouTube how-to tutorial has been streamed more than half a million times since it was posted in September 2015. Reddit, where Smith picked up the idea, has an entire subReddit devoted to the topic with more than 9,000 subscribers. Tech insiders in particular seem eager to try it out as an alternative to Adderall (the prescription stimulant, prescribed to treat ADD/ADHD, that helps users stay motivated and on task, but may cause irritability and anxiety)—one that helps not just with efficacy and focus, but also with creativity. The women who try micro-dosing aren’t burnouts; in fact, the ones we spoke to are high-achieving, and interested in becoming more so.


Women like New York Times best-selling author Ayelet Waldman. The writer and former drug-policy lawyer (and wife of author Michael Chabon) suffered for years from PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), a severe form of PMS that mimics depression, which she was treating with SSRIs (antidepressants) timed to the week before her period. But when the Berkeley, California-based Waldman, 52, hit perimenopause, her periods became far less predictable, and she began to hunt around for other options to manage her moods, which is how she began micro-dosing as a one-month experiment, despite her self-confessed aversion to drugs of that sort.

“I thought if there was one human being in the world destined to have a bad trip, it was Ayelet Waldman,” she says. “I mean, I could have a bad trip over breakfast. I don’t need a drug for that.” But she’d begun to realize that the legal drugs she’d been prescribed for years had plenty of drawbacks: “There was a study published about Ambien and Alzheimer’s long after I’d taken a thousand Ambien.”

Before trying her experiment, Waldman conducted extensive research into the myths and realities surrounding LSD. (Perhaps the most encouraging fact of all: “LSD is, as drugs go, safe. In terms of morbidity, it’s a lot more like marijuana than heroin,” according to her research.) She also corresponded with Menlo Park, California-based psychologist James Fadiman, Ph.D., whose chapter on micro-dosing in his 2011 underground classic, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, meant to be a practical guide to psychedelics, introduced the term to the mainstream of drug culture (if not yet the mainstream itself). Fadiman explained exactly how to microdose and how he developed his method. Waldman was thrilled with the results: She regulated her own moods better and worked through marital bumps more easily. Her children—whom she told only that she was trying a new medication—gave her experiment glowing reviews. “I didn’t fly off the handle as much,” she says. “I wrote a whole book called Bad Mother [which was published in May 2009]. If I had been micro-dosing back then, I probably would have written Remarkably Calm, Compassionate Mother.”

What really surprised Waldman was the way it affected her work. “I found it inspired a state of calm hypomania. It was a flow but without the Adderall irritability. You lose track of time because you’re so into the work, and you’re making all these exciting connections.” Most tellingly, says Waldman, is that, “I wrote a book in a month!” She turned her journal and research on micro-dosing into A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life (which will be published in January by Knopf ).

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