Microdosing 101

Microdosing for Grief and Trauma

If you feel microdosing for trauma can help you, but are new to the practice or psychedelic medicine in general, read on.

Min read
Kiki Dy
May 3, 2023

Microdosing for Grief and Trauma 

One of the hardest seasons of life to weather is a time of grief after losing a loved one, or experiencing a traumatic event. Anyone who has ever worked through grief knows that it can be earth-shattering, its effects rippling across your life and mental health. 

Life is different now, and so are you. Perhaps you’re looking for an unconventional way to cope with this cacophony of emotions, and you’ve heard microdosing for grief is becoming a popular way to treat depression and anxiety symptoms. If you feel microdosing for trauma can help you, but are new to the practice or psychedelic medicine in general, read on. 

Psychedelic Medicine and Attitudes about Death 

One of the reasons grief can be so devastating to the psyche is its mystery. Even if you have held lifelong faith in a particular religion, it’s hard to lose a loved one or be the victim of trauma and not confront existential distress. People have been using psychedelic medicine to cope with these anxieties for thousands of years. 

Notable cultural figures like Prince Harry who have gone through trauma publicly are starting to speak on the positive effects of therapeutic practices like microdosing psilocybin for grief. In his recent memoir Spare, Harry described experimenting with psilocybin and ayahuasca recreationally – and later therapeutically –  to process his feelings about his mother Princess Diana’s tragic death and the traumatic pressure of the British royal family.  

Harry reported that psychedelic medicines “didn’t simply allow me to escape reality for a while, they let me redefine reality.” 

Concerns about death and internal healing have been linked with psychedelic medicine since its early recognition by Western science. Seminal researcher Timothy Leary co-wrote the popular 1964 book “The Psychedelic Experience,” subtitled “A Manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.” The book recontextualizes Buddhist ideas about the universe, our interconnectivity, and what death teaches us.

The Science 

Over the next few decades, researchers found that people who ingested psychedelic medicine both inside and outside of clinical settings tended to have a healthier and more accepting attitude toward death. One recent study at Johns Hopkins surveyed over 3,000 participants who had either a non-drug related near-death experience or a psychedelic experience. Of the participants, researchers noted significant similarities in how survey respondents thought about their experiences and contextualized them in their lives. 90% of participants in both groups reported a decrease in fear of death after the event.  

A wide-ranging literature review of clinical studies published in international journal Psychopharmacology led a team of researchers to conclude that treating acute trauma and grief in terminally ill patients with psychedelic medicine would likely have “positive effects on existential and spiritual well-being, quality of life, acceptance, and reduction of anxiety and depression with few adverse and no serious adverse effects.”

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How does Microdosing for Trauma Work? Do I Have to “Trip”? 

A caveat to these promising statistics is that most studies examine the effects of large doses of psychedelic medicine that produced full-on hallucinogenic “trips.” Microdosing is a newer therapeutic practice that not many clinical trials have replicated. As a result, there is not as much literature on the specific link between microdosing and trauma. In general, microdosing is used by people specifically looking to relieve mental health symptoms. In a survey published in Psychopharmacology in 2020, 44% of respondents said microdosing improved their mental health. 

Traditional psychedelic medicine therapy usually involves a large dose of a substance and an immersive, spiritual experience marked by hallucinations and feelings of enlightenment. A participant can then process these experiences and hold onto the lessons they learned during their drug-induced transcendence. While this journeying model has been shown to be effective in the long-term for treating mental health symptoms, the idea of a harrowing “trip” could sound intimidating to a newcomer who is processing severe trauma. Microdosing might be a more accessible way to treat the sudden onslaught of anxiety and depression symptoms that follow a traumatic event or loss. 

What is Microdosing?

The goal of microdosing is much like the goal of other mental health drugs: taking a substance that makes you feel like yourself, but hopefully with better regulated emotions and focus. To achieve this, users take an extremely small amount of their psychedelic medicine while still in the rhythm of their everyday life and activities. 

Microdosing is unlike pharmaceuticals in that is natural, non-addictive, and creates little to no side effects. 

Dosages vary by user, so it is important to be cautious and find the right dose for oneself when starting a microdosing regime. If microdosing psilocybin for grief, a rule of thumb for a microdose is about 0.1-0.3 grams of dried mushrooms. If using LSD, a microdose is about 10-20 micograms, or about one tenth of a standard tab of acid.  

Even though microdosing is meant for everyday life, the dose of psychedelic medicine is not meant to be taken every single day. Every person is different and might see benefits from slightly tweaking their schedule, but a basic microdosing schedule can look like:

  • Day 1: Take dose
  • Day 2: No dose, feel lingering effects
  • Day 3: No dose, few to no effects
  • Day 4: Take dose 

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Potential Microdosing Benefits 

A person who is microdosing for grief symptoms is likely feeling trapped in their own head, plagued by spirals of depressive or anxious thoughts. A grieving person lives in a small world, their neurons reacting to the trauma of a loss. Depression and anxiety thought patterns become rigid in the brain, easy to travel again and again, but not feel any differently. 

Philosopher Bertrand Russel wrote in his essay ‘How to Grow Old’ that “the best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.” 

The loss of ego that Russel suggests is one of the hallmark traits of psychedelic medicinal experiences. People who are interested in microdosing for trauma could find that microdosing unlocks a new curiosity within them, a spark to move forward with their life where before they only felt stuck in the moment of their trauma. And they are literally stuck in their trauma; grief and traumatic moments rewire the connections of the brain, certain neurons becoming devoted to firing in the new, trauma-addled pattern.  

The way psychedelics work, as scientists understand it, is to bypass old patterns of thinking by putting the brain in a more “plastic state” in which it is easier to make new connections. Thus, new ideas and emotions can be processed in a way they usually can’t in a brain paralyzed by depression or anxiety

In an anonymous essay for The Guardian, one writer shared their experience with microdosing after their wife gave birth to a stillborn daughter. In addition to cognitive behavioral theory, the writer also began to grow psilocybin mushrooms themselves, trying both microdosing and one larger dose for an afternoon of introspection. In the essay, the writer concludes that while their “anxiety continues to wax and wane” the psilocybin aided them in getting out of the major depression that followed the traumatic stillbirth. 

“This openness is what microdosing gently supports. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again to fight anxiety or depression,” they wrote. 

The Stamets Stack Microdosing for Trauma

Microdosing psilocybin for grief could be a good place to start for someone new to psychedelic medicine. Psilocybin is one of the better researched and understood psychedelic substances in the United States, and other fungi are thought to have rich health benefits of their own. The Stamets Stack supplement regime combines psilocybin with Lion’s Mane mushrooms. The two mushroom doses are taken with niacin (vitamin B3) in a regular schedule to enhance the effects of all three. 

Niacin is thought to enhance psilocybin by boosting blood flow to the brain. Some theorize that Lion’s Mane, which has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, promotes nerve growth factors. The proactive use of Lion’s Mane could counterattack negative effects of psilocybin on the brain. 

A basic Stamets Stack schedule calls for taking this combination of supplements for four days, taking a break for three days, and then repeating the cycle for four to six weeks. This can be repeated two to six weeks later. 

Grief and the aftermath of trauma are an intense period of time. The Stamets Stack is a popular holistic approach to microdosing that offers a good framework schedule for a beginner, while potentially making microdosing healthier by considering the supplements’ effects on each other. 

Microdosing and Sexual Trauma

Unfortunately, a major source of grief for many is unresolved sexual trauma. Sexual trauma is one of the hardest challenges to overcome because of the shame attached to it and the difficulty in discussing it with friends, loved ones, or even a counselor. Even if a sexual assault happened years or decades ago, sexual trauma sufferers may feel they’ve never truly opened up about how it has affected them. 

Somatic psychotherapist Laura Mae Northrup, who treats patients with ketamine therapy, believes that this particular kind of assault causes a complex trauma response in survivors. Northrup likens sexual assault to spirtual abuse because of its intimacy and extreme boundary crossing. Another layer of the trauma is the fact that sexual assault is largely condoned by society, and a survivor of sexual trauma has valid worries of no one believig them, taking them seriously, or even sympathizing with them. 

Over the past decade, researchers have turned to psychedelic medicine to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder. One 2012 study looked specifically at MDMA, finding that after three doses under a psychiatrist’s guidance, participants saw a 56% decrease in symptoms. At the end of the study, two-thirds of participants no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD. 

Which Psychedelic Medicine is Best for Healing Sexual Trauma? 

Psychedelic medicine works on both an emotional and spiritual level, so it makes sense that people have gravitated toward it for healing complex sexual trauma. With both clinical and anecdotal evidence, psilocybin and MDMA have emerged as the leading medicines for sexual trauma specifically. 

As psychologist and sexologist Dr. Denise Ryan told Psychedelic Spotlight, “MDMA can help an individual recollect a sexual assault without the PTSD symptoms of freeze, fight, or flight. MDMA can also allow for the survivor to have a sense of empathy for their self that went through the assault, thus alleviating some of the self-judgment that sometimes accompanies it.”

Why Microdosing?

Much like studies surrounding general depression and anxiety symptoms, many studies of sexual assault survivors look into larger, less frequent doses of psychedelic medicine in a clinical setting. That being said, microdosing and trauma do seem a good fit, especially for sexual assault survivors. 

Following sexual trauma, people may feel a heightened worry about their bodily security. It is natural that they would be wary of feeling out of control of their bodies or inebriated, making a full-on hallucinogenic trip intimidating, even in a seemingly safe clinical space. Microdosing offers an alternative (or supplement) to this experience. Of course, psychedelic medicine is still serious stuff, and people interested in microdosing and trauma must first do their research on risks and safety measures. 

What are the Risks of Microdosing for Grief?

One of the largest risks that comes with microdosing is that with the exception of psilocybin in specific areas, psychedelic medicine is illegal to possess and use outside of therapeutic contexts in the United States. Though microdosing might feel as innocuous as taking an antidepressant or vitamin, the government views it differently. The legal gray areas also mean that someone looking to microdose likely has to acquire their medicine from riskier channels. 

If you are new to psychedelic medicine, but intent on trying microdosing, begin to experiment on a day you will not be required to face intense situations. Record your dosages and experiences with the same curiosity that a clinical researcher would take. It is not recommended that people who are under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding, or who have a family history of psychosis try microdosing. 

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About the Author

Kiki Dy

Kiki Dy is writer, tea drinker, and dreamer living in Savannah, GA. Her work about psychedelics and women’s health can be found in Psychedelic Spotlight, Healthline, Blood + Milk, and more.

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