PORTLAND, Maine — To combat a life-altering mood disorder, Ayelet Waldman, a writer and part-time resident of Maine, found an unusual remedy.
For a month, she took small doses of LSD by herself at home. The hallucinogenic that many people use to get through Grateful Dead shows became how Waldman got through her weeks.
The former lawyer said she was never giddy or frantic or zoned out with bliss while taking the drug.
“I feel no transcendent sense of oneness with the universe or with the divine. On the contrary. I felt normal,” she wrote in her latest book, “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life.”
Waldman resides in the Down East village of Brooklin with her husband, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Michael Chabon, during the summers.
The topic of her book is unusual, given Waldman is a former federal public defender who also taught courses on the legal implications of the war on drugs. However, when reached on the phone in Portland, Oregon, she shared a little secret: Taking tiny hits of acid to combat mental illness is more common than one might think.
There’s anecdotal evidence to support this contention. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has cited LSD as a creative booster, Rolling Stone has chronicled the workplace trend and even Forbes has called microdosing the new job enhancer of Silicon Valley.
“So many people are microdosing and are out loud and talk about it with pride,” Waldman said. “But when they talk about mental illness, they get quiet. What does it mean that we live in a society where suffering from a disease but not using illegal drugs is something to be ashamed and embarrassed about? My heart breaks.”
In her humorous and instructive memoir about mental illness, drug chemistry and policy, Waldman, 52, wrote that she feared her husband was going to leave her. She would pick fights constantly with him, which would cause her to spiral further into depression.
“But he tells me he wasn’t going anywhere,” she said on the phone. “I might have punished myself. LSD saved more than my marriage, it saved my life.”
Waldman also was suffering from frozen shoulder — a painful stiffening of the joints — on top of depression and a severe form of PMS. She tried yoga, Prozac, Zoloft, traditional therapy, cannabis and a host of other remedies. But she remained in constant mental and physical pain.
“I started to Google the effects of maternal suicide on children,” she said with a sigh. “It was pretty bad.”
Her eventual remedy and the subject of her book came via word-of-mouth.
Living in California’s Bay Area, she was connected to an elderly University of California Berkeley professor who took small amounts of LSD for years. As he neared the end of his life, he no longer had use for the drug.
So one day, she wrote, a cobalt blue bottle of acid arrived in her mailbox with instructions and a poem that said: “Our lives may be no more than dewdrops on a summer morning. But surely, it is better that we sparkle while we are here.” It was signed Lewis Carroll, alluding to the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Waldman believes the “mythical professor” delivered the package. She took miniscule doses every few days for a month. She started to chronicle the shift.
“A series of annoyances did nothing more than make me shrug,” she wrote on a microdose day. When her dog knocked her arm, causing tea to spill on the book she was reading, she just scratched his ear.
While Waldman is a devotee, LSD microdosing is not a widely accepted practice. And indeed, possession of the drug is illegal in the U.S.
Plus, a Time magazine article last spring cites studies that looked into the drug’s effect on depression and anxiety. The conclusion: More research is needed before neuroscientists can recommend therapeutic LSD microdoses.
Because there are just a few places in the world where academic research on LSD has been conducted, such as London, Waldman’s book opens a rare window on this new world. Each chapter, like a medical diary, lays out her mood and side effects during the month she took the drug and wrote the book.
She goes into great detail in “A Really Good Day” on how the pendulum has swung from the Sears, Roebuck & Co. selling heroin in its early catalogues to medical marijuana to the invention of LSD by a Swiss chemist in 1938.
Waldman, who was open with her children about her exploits with LSD, is more worried about the opioid epidemic than the hallucinogen that eased her mind. Her children understood her reasons for microdosing and were happy it helped.
“I educate my kids about drugs and what they do. We used this as a learning opportunity,” Waldman said. “I am more concerned about their safety during this opioid crisis the country is in and want to make sure they don’t die of a heroin overdose.”