How Microdosing Cured My Anxiety, Solved My Depression and Changed My Outlook on Life, or so I Thought

My fascination with fungi began after my short-lived stay behind Northern California’s Redwood Curtain in Humboldt County. With no plans after high school graduation, I scrounged together what little money I had and packed up my four-door Chevy Aveo to head north to be with my girlfriend who had recently been admitted to Humboldt State University. Not before long we were shacked up together in a dingy one-bedroom apartment in the quaint college town of Arcata, California, but unbeknownst to either of us at the time, the apartment was infested with toxic mold.

What began as an escape from the confusion of life back home, quickly turned into a sharp decline in my over-all mental health and well-being. My partner and I would oft en kid to ourselves about how it was more than likely not normal to be experiencing such an unusually high amount of mildew and mold buildup in our living areas, yet we were reassured by our property man-ager that “everyone in Humboldt deals with a little bit of mold at some point,” and so we continued to scrub and spray away in the hopes that we would stay on top of the growth of mold in the apartment.

Our concerns suddenly hit a little too close to home on the day we were set to move back to Los Angeles and discovered blotches of mold layered on the underside of the mattress that we slept on night aft er night. I decided to take some time off from school now that I was back home in Los Angeles. With plenty of spare time on my hands I let my morbid curiosities get the best of me and embarked on a month’s long journey looking into the effects of toxic mold exposure on the human body while contrasting my findings to my experiences up north, and with how I continued to feel. Some-where along the way I discovered the fl ip side of fungi and stumbled across research linking psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and improvements in an individual’s mental health and cognition and soon enough the lightbulb switched on in my mind.

Th e effects of mold exposure are well established yet it is oft en misunderstood and underdiagnosed. Published research on the subject finds that mold toxicity can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways. It’s believed that these reactions are caused by the body’s autoimmune response in the brain
to certain metabolites found in fungi known as mycotoxins. In addition to common symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and difficulty breathing, exposure to toxic mold can result in brain fog, depression, anxiety, difficulties concentrating and a host of other psychiatric issues.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since at least my early teens, but I’ve never struggled as hard as I did in the years following my arrival back home. In addition to the emotional turmoil that I was experiencing, moments of decreased mental acuity occasionally emerged, sometimes worsening to the extent that there would be times where my partner and I would be arguing and in the middle of the argument I’d inexplicably forget what it was that we were fighting about in the first place.

Frustrated and concerned for myself, I sought out help in the form of talk therapy. I finally settled on a therapist aft er spending a great deal of time navigating the confusing web of medical insurance networks and co-payments. Our sessions were stiff and awkward, and I found her suggestions generally to be your typical feel-good, self-love, positive-affirmation-messaging one could find scrolling Pinterest. Th is carried on for several months, occasionally gaining insight here and there until one afternoon, during one of our regularly scheduled sessions, I was attempting to describe a mental disturbance I had experienced during my time up north, and she entirely dismissed my concerns telling me instead that some unknown assailant must have slipped me a cigarette dipped in LSD, and that must have been what triggered my episode. I fought back on her hypothesis explain-ing to her this scenario was highly un-likely due to the fact that I didn’t know anyone who smoked cigarettes, nor did I know anyone at all for that matter. Without much of an answer for me, she threw up her hands and gave me an impatient smile. Th e topic of medication shortly followed.

This interaction left me with an un-pleasant feeling in the pit of my soul. I ultimately made the decision to end our weekly sessions altogether by simply not showing up one day. In hindsight, I understand how that wasn’t the best way to go about dealing with things, but her lack of a phone call or email to check in on me somehow validated me ghosting. I bounced around several different therapists in the years that followed, taking in bits of insight here and there but never quite finding the level understanding that I was seeking, and the specter of medication and its many side effects lingered in the thoughts and conversations that I was having.

In the background during this period of time magic mushrooms were having their cultural moment. Interesting news was emerging from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on the use of psilocybin in cognitive behavioral therapy as well as its benefits in treating anxiety and treatment resistant depression. Additionally, COMPASS Pathways, a life sciences company dedicated to advancing access to evidence-based innovations in mental health received a Breakthrough Therapy designation by the FDA for its work with psilocybin therapies, legitimizing psilocybin’s place in the cultural zeitgeist. People such as VICE journalist and pharmacological researcher Hamilton Morris, and mycologist Paul Stamets sparked further interest in impressionable 20-some-thing-year-olds such as myself. “20 years ago, if you wanted to talk about psychedelics, you’re mostly talking to people that were either dismissing it or marginalizing it, or didn’t know about the history, which includes me,” said CSUN biology professor and president of the Mycological Society of Los Angeles, David Bermudes. “And now, it’s respectable to talk about it, we get to talk about it openly, we get to talk about it scientifically, and we get to talk about it without being as judgmental, as it certainly was, in the past stigmatized.”

As I poured over all the information that I came across on the subject, I came to recognize that this was something I could only experience myself. Without access to magic mushrooms, I decidedly committed myself to figuring out how I could cultivate the mushrooms on my own.

I won’t divulge the specifics of how, where, or when I acquired the necessary materials to embark on this experiment, but I will say however that the entire process going from spore to mush-room provided me with a deep level of self-satisfaction. The level of dedication and attention to detail required to take on an endeavor such as this did wonders for my mental health in ways I’m unsure I would have achieved through talk therapy and psychiatric medicine alone.

As time progressed, I was able to dial in my dosage and frequency of use after scaling up and down as necessary. I found the microdoses had more of a profound effect on my overall sense of well-being in the days following dosage, but it became apparent to me that the microdoses had many of the same positive emotional effects without any of the more visual effects that psilocybin can bring about, so I settled on a regiment of 0.5g of psilocybin, three days on, three days off . While I can’t point to a single moment where things suddenly began to click for me in the weeks that followed, for the first time in a long time I felt on top of my mental and emotional health, which had taken a sharp decline in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdowns. It was almost as if a large weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. “I know well, of anxiety and depression for students,” said professor Bermudes, “And we’ve seen a lot more of it since COVID. It’s one of the things that we don’t know how to treat. And the same with the other psychiatric or mental disorders, there’s at least four or more conditions that we don’t have much ability to treat, and these drugs seem to treat them.”

Around a month and a half into regularly microdosing myself, my body had grown accustomed to ingesting psilocybin on a regular basis. But despite this, I still felt an enormous improvement in my cognitive functions and emotional wellbeing. I wondered to myself whether or not the months-long experiment on myself actually had helped me work through my issues or if it helped solely because I set out with the intentions of having it work for me.

As it turns out, the answer could be both. The research surrounding the therapeutic benefits of microdosing psychedelics has proven to be rather inconclusive and researchers have just begun scratching the surface. While the benefits of macrodoses of psilocybin are well established, findings suggest that the reported benefits of microdosing are more anecdotal and can vary from person to person. Dr. Wesley Ryan M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and psychotherapist specializing in psychedelic psychiatry and ketamine assisted psychotherapy argues that the verdict is out on microdosing. “There’s been a bunch of studies that have been done on microdosing. The more rigorous ones would be placebo controlled, and double blinded. And all of those more rigorous studies have basically shown that there’s not much of an effect that it’s likely to be a placebo,” said Dr. Ryan. “The rigorous methodology kind of doesn’t yield much. And, the less rigorous one showed there is an effect. So, in my conclusion from that is that it’s probably a placebo effect and expectancy thing.”

While it’s understood that what works for one person won’t always work for the next, talk therapy and psychiatric medicine certainly have their place in society – there is no doubt about that. But as the floodgates of psychedelic assisted therapies continue to swing open there is no doubt in my mind that there will soon be a day where we consider the full spectrum of options that are available to us when seeking therapy and rehabilitation.

Whether or not the perceived benefits I got from my microdosing regimen were solely in my head ultimately didn’t matter. I finally felt in control of myself and my emotions. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I felt “better” in the sense that one feels better after recovering from a cold, but day to day life simply felt easier. I still felt like myself, and my problems, whether they be emotional or physical, were still present, too, and yet it all felt so very manageable. The fact that I didn’t experience any side effects that are comparable to side effects that are associated with pharmaceutical drugs also felt encouraging. Soon after, fungi found its permanent place in my life. My fascination with fungi, both as a species and as medicine, continues to grow with each passing day, yet with so many different resources at my disposal I feel as though my work has only just begun.