Author (and soccer mom) Ayelet Waldman documents the progress and positivity of her “really good days” while microdosing on acid
By Emily Olson
Ayelet Waldman is a self-identified Jewish mama.
She carpools, sips tea and binges Netflix. She wears yoga pants regularly. She attends Pilates classes begrudgingly. A writer, she stays home most days with her labradoodle, which she admits is both a blessing and a curse. She is wife to author Michael Chabon. She suffers from frozen shoulder. She’s smart and funny, and by all measures, successful.
And she also does LSD.
Well, she did do LSD. But only once every three days for a month, and only in microdoses — 10 microgram portions, so small that they elicit no adverse side effects.
Waldman began microdosing after finding the work of psychologist James Fadiman, who studied psychedelics at Stanford University back when it was legal. His research then and his unofficial research since suggests the therapeutic potential of lysergic acid diethyl amide (LSD). Waldman, a long-time sufferer of depression, premenstrual exacerbation and sleeplessness, was too desperate for relief to not try Fadiman’s methods. The results were staggering.
Her latest book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, is a candid and dazzling account of how her mood, productivity and chronic pain improved daily, plus the research into U.S. drug history that she conducted along the way.
When we heard about Waldman’s book, our mind conjured up those old familiar tales of Silicon Valley’s youth: Steve Jobs slipping tabs on his tongue as a means to genius; Ken Kesey throwing legendary acid parties in the woods of La Honda. Rumor has it that the stuff is fuel for innovation.
But our interview with the Berkeley-based author keyed us in to the drug’s more immediate, intimate potential. Maybe microdosing is just what we need to maximize our happiness, creativity and sense of self-awareness — to have more really good days.
Let’s start with the title. How do you define “A Really Good Day”? What were you looking for when you started microdosing?
What I wanted was to feel like I was in control of my emotions. Meaning I wasn’t depressed, I had pleasant interactions with my family and my friends, I got my work done, and I enjoyed the things that are enjoyable in life.
Were you surprised by the results?
Hell yeah I was surprised. I mean, I was depressed one day and then I wasn’t the next. Nothing works that fast, but it did.
It’s possible, of course, that what I experienced was a placebo effect. Without research, we won’t know. But if it was one, it was a really, really good one.
You write about how your work became more productive, and we know there’s a trend of using LSD as a job enhancer here in Silicon Valley. How tangible was the increase in productivity?
Well I wrote a book in a month. That’s pretty tangible.
Have you noticed a drop in productivity since going off it?
Oh yes. There’s no doubt in my mind that if it weren’t illegal I’d be doing it now. It’s much harder to make myself work. I’m lucky in that I control my own schedule, but I’m also unlucky in that I control my own schedule. Like today, I could spend the whole day crying over the internet, reading the stories of 17 people who were killed in Florida. [Note: We spoke on Feb. 15.] Or I could do a little of that and get my work done. I’ll leave you to guess what I did.
What impact did LSD have on your level of creativity?
I think the book A Really Good Day is a book that microdosing wrote. I didn’t even intend to write it when I first got started. One of the things that LSD does is allow different parts of your brain to communicate with one another in unusual and interesting ways.
The book is a great example of this. I think it’s pretty well-synthesized. I don’t know if I could have written that book if I wasn’t microdosing.
How is it different from your other works?
Normally I write fiction, so there’s that. When I wrote Bad Mother, which is essays, they were very personal, and they had a certain overt feminist agenda, but they didn’t have the kind of historical and science elements that this book has. It covers so much.
I started researching a little before I started the experiment, but then I started researching much more while I was doing it. I got into it, just writing and researching every day.
Do you still feel you’re approaching your work with that vigorous pursuit of new ideas?
No. The thing about the microdosing is that it has an effect that lasts only while you’re doing it. It doesn’t change your brain chemistry forever, unfortunately. I wish that it did.
But it’s not like I was a useless degenerate before. I got my work done. I’ve written a lot of books. I’ve written a lot of screenplays. I get my work done; I just miss that ease with which I was able to enter into a flow.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Wormwood, and I’m wondering why, as a society, we buy more into LSD’s darker consequences than its beneficial potential?
We’re forced to. The government wants us to.
This is simply a situation in which a decision was made to demonize a substance in order to achieve a political agenda. I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but that’s what our nation’s drug policy has always been about. [Note: This is probably a good place to mention that Waldman graduated from Harvard Law, worked as a federal public defender and currently teaches drug policy at UC Berkeley.]
It starts with the first drug laws, which were around the criminalization of opium use in Chinese opium dens. At that time, the typical opium addict was a white southern woman who could not manage her day without regularly tippling from her laudanum bottle. But that’s not who these laws attacked. They were designed to attack Chinese immigrants because there was fear of increased Chinese immigration.
The same thing happened with marijuana, a plant that grew everywhere. The decision was made to criminalize marijuana as a way to attack people of Hispanic descent. The Hearst newspapers were full of articles about marijuana-crazed Mexican rapists preying on white women.
The same thing happened with cocaine and African Americans. The same thing happened over and over again.
When Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey started spreading the gospel of LSD, it coincided perfectly with the hippie movement. All of these white, middle-class kids were ‘turning on, tuning out and dropping out.’ They began protesting the war, and then the civil rights movement converged with the war protests, and there was no way the government was going to tolerate that. Criminalizing LSD became a way to attack the anti-war movement, to attack the civil rights movement and to alleviate the anxiety of white, middle-class parents.
Some would say that not a lot has changed.
No, nothing has changed.
Again and again in American history, there’s been periods where we’ve adopted a more rational drug policy for a short time. Where we’ve had criminal justice reform. It’s like a little window cracks open, and we allow for reform and a science-based approach. And then that window slams shut.
When I was researching this book, I thought we were at the beginning. I thought the window was going to get opened wider and we were going to see criminal justice reform and an end to the mass incarceration of poor people. But it turns out that, in fact, all we’re seeing was the briefest moment of cracking open. The window has slammed shut. The opportunity is lost.
Just to be clear here: What slammed it shut?
Donald Trump slammed it shut. What slammed it shut? Fucking racist white people decided that the idea we had a black president was so repugnant to them that they had to elect the worst white man in America. And I mean that literally. They had to prove that any white man, no matter how incompetent and stupid, was preferable to the most intelligent, gracious, brilliant, pure-of-judgement black man. That’s what happened.
You end the book with the sentence, “If this ad-hoc thirty-day experiment has any message, it’s that more and better research is needed.” I’m guessing you still think that’s pretty far off?
Well, here’s the good news: When you elect a blithering idiot who runs on a platform of ‘America first’ and disengagement with the rest of the world, no one gives a shit about what America’s drug policy is.
So other countries were once constrained by American drug policy. But they don’t care anymore, in Canada, what our laws are. They’re moving forward with decriminalization and ending irrational policies. They don’t care anymore, in Europe, that treaties require them to conform to American fascist drug laws. They’re going forward with a saner approach to their problems.
There’s research on microdosing going on now in England, and we’ll continue to see research. We just won’t be able to do it here in America.
What kind of thoughts went through your head when making the decision to publish something on a topic so personal and, also, totally illegal?
What is your problem, Waldman? Why do you do this to yourself? You’re just going to get smacked in the head. You persist in making bad decisions. But yet, it’s so important what you have to say.
I was hunkered down, ready for the tsunami to come and it never came. Surprisingly, the feedback was incredibly positive.
No regrets on the experiment or publication?
None at all. Even my family… My mother was so upset, but she was upset because I stopped doing it. She had noticed the improvement and was crushed that I had to stop. [Spoiler: Despite living in Berkeley, Waldman had trouble finding a way to replenish her supply of LSD. After a questionable encounter with an internet stranger, she vowed not to buy illegal drugs again.]
You kept the whole thing a secret from your kids until you decided to publish the book. What did they think of you trying acid?
The older kids [aged 23 and 20] were surprised I had done it, but glad I was being proactive in my mental health. The 16-year-old was going off to high school and was super stoked; she thought it would make her cool. The youngest one, the 15-year-old, was like, “Oh, you’re embarrassing me!” He was in middle school and the ‘Just Say No’ stuff was still the message. He was afraid his friends would think I was a druggie. But he got over it soon; he’s in high school now and does not care at all.
If your parents are in the public eye at all, it’s unpleasant. And, you know, my experiences in the public eye have not been super pleasant…
And a lot of those have to do with your identity as a mother specifically…
They haven’t in a long time, really. But yeah, I’m very careful now. The places where I wrote about my kids in this book are of a different quality than Bad Mother. I don’t think I’d do that now. They’re too old and have their own agency. They’re writing their own memoirs…about me.
What is next for you?
I have a show on Netflix that begins shooting in a couple of months. It’s an adaptation of a project from This American Life, Pro-Publica and The Marshall Project. It’s a story they wrote and produced together called, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” This American Life called it “The Anatomy of Doubt.”
I read it early on, and I got very excited about it. I reached out to a producer I know and we managed to get the project adapted for an 8-episode limited series.
So I’ve been focusing a lot on TV because the novel I was working on is kicking my ass. If I’m ever going to finish it, it’ll probably take….[laughs] Well, I’ll probably have to move somewhere it’s legal to microdose.
Ayelet Waldman’s new book A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life is available from Knopf Publishing.