by Gabriel Hatto
Ayelet Waldman is an unlikely candidate for a leading role in drug policy reform — the 52-year-old mother of four admitted at a Chicago Humanities Festival appearance that she “likes following rules,” and disdains recreational drug use. Yet the author and lawyer has been touring the country with her new memoir, “A Really Good Day,” which chronicles her LSD regimen.
Waldman’s work chronicles her struggle with a rare kind of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) that approximates bipolar II disorder, a condition formerly known to the medical world as manic depression. She spent seven years under the influence of a cocktail of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and mood drugs, attempting to fight the disorder, but that treatment’s effectiveness dropped sharply as she aged. Desperate for a solution to her worsening depression, and without a reliable method of improving her mood, she turned at last to LSD microdosing.
Microdosing is a method of taking acid that works on a sub perceptual level — there’s no trip, no visuals, no ego death. LSD is measured in micrograms — a “regular” tab generally contains anywhere from 100 to 150. A typical microdose is about 10. Microdosing has been the subject of several studies in the past few years, and has been shown to produce notable results in treatment of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, among others.
Waldman took her first dose on the first day of the month (which went unnamed — LSD is illegal, after all). She sat at home for 45 minutes with a friend, just in case anything were to happen. Nothing did. So she got in the car and drove to work. Waldman had been anhedonic for months — that is, she had been unable to derive pleasure from the things that she used to enjoy, be that hobbies, social interactions, or the world around her. But this day, while at work, she looked out the window and noticed that the cherry tree across from her office was in bloom. “How beautiful,” she thought to herself. Then she went back to work. Later in the day, reflecting, she thought back to that moment, and realized that her perceptions had been totally changed.
During the month-long exercise, she had really good days, good days, and okay days. She still had all the emotions that she had always had, and some of the issues. But, she said, the gift that LSD gave her was the ability to step back and reflect. She became more compassionate, less anhedonic, and more self-possessed. The effects of the drug faded, but the insights she gained were still there.
It was an effective treatment — more effective than any of the drugs she’d previously been prescribed. It didn’t dull her or inhibit her function; on the contrary, it made her more her. And yet, LSD is a Schedule 1 drug in the US; rated without any medical use and with a high potential for abuse. Waldman heavily disagrees with the drug policy that surrounds these classifications — she cites British RIOTT (Randomized Injectable Opiate Treatment Trial) studies that gave clean, safe heroin to the hopelessly addicted as non-prohibition-based drug policy experiments that garnered positive results. She argues that drug policy centering around prohibition is actively self-defeating, D.A.R.E. programs being the most high-profile failures of those. Waldman does advocate for legalization and regulation, especially in therapeutic circles, of scheduled substances, as the current policy is not only ineffective, but hypocritical. Referencing her struggles with mountains of prescribed drugs, many of them opioids, she presents numerous contradictions in treatment of substances like pharmaceuticals and alcohol.
Ayelet Waldman may not be the spokeswoman that psychedelics and legalization advocates have imagined, but with the press surrounding “A Really Good Day,” it seems she’s taken up the role on her own.