Western culture has entered a new era of wellness, with a little psychoactive help.
Earlier this year, author Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day hit bookstores across America (HT Aug. ’17). Waldman’s remarkable memoir of her experiences microdosing with LSD was well-received, but it didn’t cause a perceptible stir. Seemingly, the story of a well-to-do, highly educated professional and middle-aged mom choosing to treat her persistent mood disorders with lysergic acid diethylamide wasn’t shocking enough to attract the attention of the pearl-clutchers who are normally all atwitter about how shameful and dangerous drug use is.
Far from the hysterical message of those “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” after-school PSAs of the 1980s, many of today’s news stories report on treating depression with psilocybin, the microdosing trend taking over Silicon Valley, and the push to hold clinical trials for MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The online journal Scientific Reports recently published findings that a single dose of ayahuasca rapidly reduced the symptoms of depression in treatment-resistant patients. Researchers also discovered compounds in the psychedelic Amazonian brew that actually stimulate the birth of new neurons—new brain cells. No wonder Ariel Levy, writing in the New Yorker, dubbed ayahuasca “the drug of choice for the age of kale.”
We live in an era “characterized by wellness cravings, when many Americans are eager for things like mindfulness, detoxification, and organic produce, and we are willing to suffer for our soulfulness,” Levy wrote. New Age lifestyle choices like hot yoga, jade eggs, and a never-ending parade of detoxes and cleanses espoused by slender celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow are all the rage. No more Atkins Diet beach bodies and The Secret–style affirmations—we want enlightenment, not self-help, and we want it now.
Who can blame us? The constant news cycle of never-ending disasters both at home and abroad is intolerable. Social media have sucked the soul from a generation suffering from “tech neck”—a hunch (and wrinkles) developed from constantly looking down at a smartphone. Desperate for a reset button, people are seeking out greater meaning and healing through ancient plant-medicine wisdom. Others just want to enjoy life to the fullest through a change in perspective—read about the Amsterdam chefs cooking with psychedelic ingredients on page 62.