Twenty years ago, my husband’s depres­sion and anx­i­ety showed up for the first time, rag­ing into a brain – and our lives – that to that point had been pret­ty calm and even-keeled. I start­ed research­ing every treat­ment I could, includ­ing micro­dos­ing, where tiny amounts of hal­lu­cino­genic drugs are tak­en over weeks or years. Doses are gen­er­al­ly about one-tenth the “trip” dose of a drug. I  learned that Silicon Valley “psy­cho­nauts” have long ingest­ed small amounts of psilo­cy­bin in mush­room tea to improve their per­for­mance and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and swore by its cre­ative value.

David and I decid­ed to take meth­yl­ene­dioxy metham­phet­a­mine, or ecsta­sy, because we had friends in the med­ical world that could pro­cure pure MDMA (I would have pre­ferred psilo­cy­bin, but couldn’t find any). Ecstasy opens the flood­gates of dopamine, sero­tonin, and oxy­tocin in the brain, giv­ing its user a rush of feel-good hor­mones. The user feels joy­ful, con­nect­ed, and empath­ic. On MDMA, your brain is more flex­i­ble and cre­ative than nor­mal because it allows neu­ronal con­nec­tions that are usu­al­ly dor­mant to fire. This so-called uncon­strained con­scious­ness makes it eas­i­er to come to real­iza­tions we nor­mal­ly wouldn’t see and eas­i­ly brings to mind new ways of think­ing about our existence.

Since we were in search of a spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing, we decid­ed we would ingest less than a raver, but a lit­tle more than a micro­dose. We came home one Friday night, changed into sweat­pants, swal­lowed a quar­ter pill of MDMA, and watched the sun set as we wait­ed for it to kick in. 

I start­ed pet­ting my cat Merlin, who purred and looked over her shoul­der at me. I stared into her eyes, my con­scious­ness slid­ing side­ways. I felt an intense love for her and could feel her return­ing this love. Her fur was incred­i­bly soft, as if I had nev­er tru­ly pet­ted a cat before. I smiled up at my hus­band and felt an even more intense rush of com­pas­sion and mar­row-deep under­stand­ing. My sense of con­nec­tion was incred­i­bly pro­found; I won­dered how much of my life I had wast­ed not telling peo­ple what they meant to me. My fre­quen­cy felt ele­vat­ed; I could feel each indi­vid­ual atom danc­ing under my skin, as if my phys­i­cal form was no longer con­strained by the lim­its of space or time.

My aware­ness was elas­tic, my per­spec­tive broad­er than at any point in my life. Neuroscience teach­es that our minds are only tru­ly present around 47% of the time. On MDMA, I was euphor­ic but com­plete­ly present. It wasn’t like being drunk or high, where thoughts feel altered; I was com­plete­ly in con­trol and men­tal­ly sharp. It felt like dis­cov­er­ing new areas of my mind, and I couldn’t have rumi­nat­ed or wor­ried if I tried. Every sec­ond seemed like a divine gift that I couldn’t miss. 

David talked about his recent pan­ic attacks and sui­ci­dal ideation, but with­out sad­ness or fear.  MDMA has long been researched as a ther­a­py for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The release of the bond­ing chem­i­cal oxy­tocin helps the user feel safe in the moment, so that they are not over­whelmed by mem­o­ries of a time when they did not feel safe. David could dis­cuss the trau­ma of hav­ing a pan­ic attack in front of his cowork­ers with­out being trig­gered back into one. 

We danced to R.E.M., noticed how we could hear every instru­ment indi­vid­u­al­ly. We talked fear­less­ly about death. We ran out­side and wig­gled our toes in the cool grass; we could feel each blade unique­ly and intense­ly. We talked about our great­est fears and deep­est pains with incred­i­ble ease, diver­gent think­ing flow­ing eas­i­ly. Everything felt right, per­fect. All of our neu­rot­ic needs and stu­pid striv­ings fell away. 

I curled my legs into a lotus shape, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and, with no men­tal agen­da for the first time in my life, real­ized with deep clar­i­ty that I was sit­ting in the palm of the uni­verse. That I had always been sit­ting there. All my bull­shit strug­gling seemed so point­less. I had spent a life­time run­ning toward some­thing that had been inside me the whole time. 

I exhaled, remem­ber­ing that the word sigh stands for sit­ting in God’s hands.

I could see the nec­es­sary good of work­ing and pay­ing bills and get­ting the tires rotat­ed and pay­ing into a 401K. But I simul­ta­ne­ous­ly real­ized these things were in sup­port of the greater truth. Our search for mean­ing, our high­er pur­pose, our deep desire for joy, peace, and love? It’s com­plete­ly with­in our con­trol and not reliant on any out­side force. Contentment is there for the tak­ing. Our garbage thoughts are just paper tigers.

The next morn­ing, I was tired but calm. My mind was a bit more open to qui­et­ing down as if the expe­ri­ence of the night before was already train­ing it to let the past and future slide more eas­i­ly off my aware­ness. The expe­ri­ence gave us every­thing we had longed for and we’ve nev­er felt the desire to take MDMA since. I am, by nature, a fair­ly philo­soph­i­cal human. Too much navel-gaz­ing won’t serve me well. 

But I am excit­ed by the fed­er­al dol­lars being set aside for more research into micro­dos­ing for the treat­ment of anx­i­ety, depres­sion, addic­tion, and Alzheimer’s. While these drugs are still ille­gal in every state, many states have decrim­i­nal­ized their use though, infu­ri­at­ing­ly, many states are hes­i­tant to decrim­i­nal­ize these drugs because they are wor­ried it’ll low­er alco­hol sales).

I live with the exact sort of peo­ple these drugs may help and am excit­ed to see where this all leads.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.