Can microdosing psychedelic drugs make you a better parent? Some people think so. Here’s why.

Online communities – from Mormons to veterans – are sprouting up around psychedelic microdosing, the practice of taking small amounts of magic mushrooms or LSD to boost mood and treat disorders like anxiety, depression and addiction.

One subgroup where shrooming for mental health is unexpectedly thriving: parents.

Microdosing psychedelics like psilocybin – the compound in “magic mushrooms” – or LSD have gained popularity among moms and dads, particularly in the few states and cities where they’re legal. Online communities like Colorado-based Moms on Mushrooms are growing with thousands of followers, while TikTok hashtags like #microdosetiktok have millions of views.

And while mothers self-medicating to cope with stress is a decades-long trope – from sedatives marketed to mid-century moms to millennial t-shirts emblazoned with “Mama needs wine” – parents are also a population with a documented need for effective mood disorder treatment.

As many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience postpartum depression, a much higher proportion than the approximately 5% of all adults who suffer from depression. And the pandemic was particularly hard on moms and dads: More than half of parents and caregivers reported symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic, according to the CDC, and were significantly more likely to have mental health concerns than other adults. And nearly half of all mothers with children at home say their mental health has worsened since before the pandemic, compared with about 3 in 10 adults who say the same, reports the American Psychological Association.

With the extra mental health burdens, some parents are seeking out therapeutic alternatives to conventional medication.

The scant available studies on microdosing look promising, but research hasn’t kept pace with an explosion of interest in recent years. Meanwhile, a growing number of advocates and researchers say psychedelics deserve serious consideration as more states and cities deliberate legalizing them.

Here’s what we know.

What’s a microdose?

Microdosing typically means taking about 5-10% of an ordinary recreational dose of a psychedelic like psilocybin – the most frequently used psychedelic in microdosing – or LSD. The goal for most microdosers is to take amounts that are small enough they don’t impact regular functioning but do offer benefits including improved mood or a reduction in symptoms of health issues like depression and anxiety.

Microdosing is often done on a regular schedule, such as a few times a week.

Some people with anxiety or depression may feel psilocybin is a more “natural” alternative a prescribed drug like Prozac, wrote Melissa Whippo, a therapist who specializes in the use of psychedelics for perinatal mental health, in a recent column for The Washington Post.

Is it legal?

Depends on where you live, but…probably not. Psychedelics are illegal to buy, sell or consume everywhere but Colorado and, as of Jan. 1, 2023, Oregon. And even use in those states comes with restrictions. A handful of cities have also decriminalized them, including Seattle and Washington, D.C.

But mothers face an increased risk of prosecution. In some states, using even small doses of illegal substances can have huge consequences for mothers and pregnant people. In Alabama, for example, the state’s “chemical endangerment” law – originally intended to prosecute parents operating meth labs in their homes – is used by law enforcement to levy harsher penalties on pregnant people.

It wasn’t always this way. Psychedelic substances like psilocybin have a long history of use, particularly in some indigenous cultures in the Americas.

Psychiatrists even studied their use in therapy through the mid-20th century. But after mushrooms and LSD became associated with counterculture movements of the 1960s and opposition to the Vietnam war, President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” led to legislation and policies that outlawed them – and quashed related research.

But there’s change on the horizon. In 2018 and 2019, the FDA designated psilocybin a breakthrough therapy for treating drug-resistant depression and major depressive disorder. That designation means the FDA officially recognizes psilocybin’s potential to be more effective than existing treatments and approves of fast-tracking their development.

Despite that, the federal government still classifies psilocybin and LSD as Schedule I substances, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use” and a high potential for abuse. (Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and marijuana.)

Is microdosing safe?

Microdosing psychedelics hasn’t been extensively studied, and its long-term impact on the brain is unknown.

Still, smaller studies in recent years have found psychedelics can improve mood and lessen symptoms of conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic pain and addiction.

Recent studies found that certain doses of psilocybin reduced depression in a group of people with treatment-resistant depression, and led to small and medium-sized improvements in mood and mental health regardless of gender, age or presence of mental health concerns. One clinical trial found two doses of psilocybin treated depression as well as six weeks of daily doses of the antidepressant escitalopram, the generic version of Lexapro.

But studies have also found participants who experience adverse effects ranging from nausea and insomnia to suicidal ideation and self-injury.

Last year, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah warned there aren’t currently enough national standards – like requirements for who can administer psychedelics and how – to ensure their safety.

Where can I find more information?

Fireside Project, a harm reduction site for people who use psychedelics, offers resources and guides including 10 Safety Practices for Psychedelic Experiences.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research studies psychedelics and their use in therapies for addiction, mood disorders, Alzheimer’s, obsessive-compulsive disorders and others.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a nonprofit that supports research and education on LSD, MDMA, marijuana and others.

Melissa Whippo, in her column for The Washington Post, recommends an evaluation with a trusted healthcare provider who can review your medical history and current medications that might interact with a psychedelic.

The Ancestor Project focuses on psychedelic use in BIPOC communities and offers classes as well as some free resources.

The Steve and Alex Cohen Foundation raises money to support research into psychedelic therapies for addiction, PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Anna Claire Vollers

Anna Claire Vollers |

I report mainly on reproductive and maternal health, working parents and family policy at Reckon News.

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