She Said He Said: Microdosing and your relationship
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My long-term partner has recently started daily microdosing. In his 20s, he used alcohol to what I would consider excess and in his 30s switched primarily to marijuana. He says microdosing is great for his mental health, that it takes the edge off of his anxiety and self-consciousness while allowing him to be more present than pot does. I want to support him in being happy, but don’t like that he’s using daily. It’s hard for me not knowing when he is and isn’t sober and he says if I can’t tell then it shouldn’t matter. Is microdosing every day okay?
Signed, Psilocybin Skeptic
Lori and Jeff: It’s difficult to read anything about mental health these days and not see words like psilocybin, ketamine, MDMA and ayahuasca. Currently, there are many well-funded studies being conducted to determine the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies for mental health challenges, including PTSD and treatment resistant depression. While many findings are promising, the research is still ongoing. The trend of microdosing (on psilocybin and ketamine) is more of a social phenomenon, where users report an improved state of mind by using doses low enough to not experience any of the psychedelic effects, but high enough to have a perceived impact on their wellbeing.
Jeff: Your question of whether or not we think microdosing every day is OK is really not the issue. It’s whether or not you think there’s a benefit for you and your relationship. Do you think your partner is more present while he is on psilocybin, as he claims? If so, it might be more related to the absence of pot than to the addition of microdosing. But, again, all of that really doesn’t matter if he still isn’t present enough to meet your needs. Quite often, daily use of any substance has some degree of a coping effect, including caffeine and sugar. When it comes to more impactful substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, pot — and now things like psilocybin — the main question is whether or not the substance is being used to avoid dealing with painful feelings by numbing or creating an altered state of mind regardless of the degree to which the daily experience is being altered. If he is burying the real issues in his life and in your relationship under the guise of it being natural and/or spiritual practice and that everyone is doing it, then you have some difficult conversations ahead.
Another element to consider is whether or not his daily substance use, especially moving into more mind-altering ones, plays against your basic values. If you were just beginning a relationship with him and you made a list of your non-negotiables (a practice we encourage all daters and couples to do) would his substance use be a deal breaker for you?
Lori: Context is critical in answering your question. First, psychedelics have been used for spiritual rituals for centuries and I have immense respect for these cultural practices performed within or by the members of these communities. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Second, I’m specifically addressing daily use. I also need to set a disclaimer that for some individuals with an innate biochemical imbalance that contributes to mental health challenges, daily medication may be necessary. And for some of these individuals, exploring the option of microdosing as an alternative to traditional psychopharmacology is a decision to be made between them and their care team, and none of my (or anyone else’s) business.
Outside of those circumstances, I worry when someone feels a compulsion to use an emotion- altering substance daily or habitually, even just to take a little edge off. Your partner’s history of substance use indicates he has been self-medicating his internal discomfort for most of his adult life. Even if a substance is not physically addictive, that doesn’t mean it can’t create psychological dependence, meaning a person begins to lose confidence or ability to function or cope without it. Using any substance for regularly managing emotions robs you of the opportunity to develop deeper emotional intelligence and the necessary skills to regulate feelings and truly heal your relationship with self. Relationally, when someone struggles with loving themself and experiencing their feelings, they’re likely going to struggle with being fully available to love you and stay present with your feelings. Is he going to be available in a crisis or able to grieve shared losses together? Or, will you find yourself emotionally alone?
Lori and Jeff: Research on the therapeutic use of psychedelics and their benefits pairs these substances with a counseling process. The drug itself is not the catalyst for lasting change. Healing is the result of integrating positive aspects of the using experience into everyday sober life. Psychedelics and dissociative drugs, like Ketamine, can provide a more inspiring or optimistic perspective of what a person’s relationship is to themselves and to the world around them. An analogy we like to use is trying to learn how to play an instrument. If you’ve never heard the song you’re trying to play, getting to the end result can be tricky. Microdosing is like having the song played for you. You can feel the tempo, experience the rhythm, and have a clear sense of where you’re heading. But the goal is to play the song on your own and that only happens with a commitment to effort and practice.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationship.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.