Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Psyches started to thaw at the news that the 2020 presidential election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Supporters gathered; they danced. They relaxed.
Then they froze up again as pundits talked concessions, cons and coups.
The anxiety of Trump’s tenure, specifically 2020 and, even more specifically, the last quarter of the year, has been a constant buzz of apprehension. There’s nothing exciting about it. It’s exhausting.
Election Day actually delivered on a way to alleviate it, apart from Biden’s win. Through Initiative 81 in Washington, D.C., which decriminalized the use of entheogenic plants and fungi (natural psychedelics) and Oregon’s Measure 109, which outrightly legalized them, relief is on the way for some.
Initiative 81 and Measure 109 were criminal justice ballot measures but they apply to people who’ve never been in trouble — and hopefully never will be.
Two years ago, I read a book by Ayelet Waldman, a former federal public defender and novelist, about microdosing with psychedelics. Waldman says the psychedelic simply made her more herself. Alas, Waldman’s ride with her true self came to end when she finished the small vial of LSD that she’d been gifted and couldn’t get any more. Purchasing it would have been a crime.
Having spent more than six years in prison I should have had a “connect” — someone who could supply me with drugs — but I didn’t. Even if I had found someone they likely wouldn’t have carried psychedelics; it’s not a product that drug-runners sling. But I wouldn’t get it because it’s illegal. Like Waldman, I’d have to break the law to try it. Suffering free is better than caged relief.
As long as psychedelics are illegal, I’ll live with anxiety. It’s a drag. I expect a disaster every day.
In that respect, 2020 with its pandemic and other disasters — Tropical Storm Isaias displaced my family, a misfortune that pales in comparison to what people living on the Gulf Coast have endured this year — has matched my expectations.
But anxiety was worse this year for almost everyone. Two-thirds of survey respondents in a study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association said their anxiety is worse this year than last.
It’s far worse for people of color. Within a week of George Floyd’s killing, anxiety and depression rates among African-Americans were worse than they were for other groups, with 41% reporting at least one symptom of these conditions, The Washington Post reported in June.
We have two choices to treat this: benzodiazepines, which can be addictive and make patients sleepy, or beta blockers, which I take but their efficacy varies. Both require a long term relationship with Big Pharma that many people aren’t ready for.
Psychiatrists recommend psychotherapy for anxiety, but that implies that anxiety is a condition someone can coax out of themselves. That’s not true, especially if it’s been around for a while. This is a disease. I — and so many others — need medical intervention.
We can find it in a single dose of psilocybin — the active ingredient in psychedelic plants and magic mushrooms. It reduces anxiety for as long as five years after its administration, according to a study this year from New York University‘s Grossman School of Medicine. Researchers found that psilocybin brought “immediate, substantial and sustained improvements” in reducing anxiety.
It does even better with depression. Two doses of psilocybin are four times more effective than traditional antidepressants in treating depression, according to a study released the day after Election Day in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Granted, the study wasn’t a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that is the “gold-standard” of clinical research, but it works for me — and I’m a basketcase.
This isn’t traditional “pill ‘em up, pass ‘em out” psychiatric practice. Microdosing with psilocybin doesn’t zombify people. A study of 2,120 people found that it made them more psychologically flexible during therapy and facilitated insight.
Arguments against decriminalizing or legalizing psychedelics remain unavailing. No one organized opposition to Initiative 81, but Congressman Andy Harris (D-Md.) who has no representative role with The District, worries that people could munch a mushroom and drive while impaired and harm or kill someone. With that attitude, it’s not clear to me that Rep. Harris has heard that alcohol, which is responsible for 14,000 annual arrests in the metropolitan D.C. area and 30% of traffic deaths, is legal.
Measure 109 generated some friction with the Oregon Psychiatric Association because shrinks won’t be needed to prescribe these treatments; they cast their worries as concerns about safety, but it’s not enough to outweigh the benefits that could flow to people surviving with clinical anxiety. Mushrooms are much safer than other drugs. Only 0.2% of 12,000 study participants needed emergency medical treatment after using them; they’re safer than MDMA (“molly”), LSD and cocaine, found Global Drug Survey 2017.
If anything, Washington, D.C.’s Initiative 81 doesn’t go far enough. The rule only deprioritizes enforcement of the law against possession; technically someone can still be arrested because psilocybin has been federally banned since 1968 when Congress amended the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Until it’s legalized as it is in Oregon, no store’s going to sell magic mushrooms in a way that typical consumers can access. In other words, I still won’t know how or where to get it when I travel to D.C.
But I can get it in Oregon once COVID-19 travel restrictions lift — and I will. One person’s long strange trip will become my typical day, feeling like myself again.
Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bozelko column: Criminal justice ballot measures offer antidote to anxiety
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.