Shrooms & Your Period
About a year ago, on the brink of turning 30, I stopped hiding when I got my period. Tampons tumble out of my bag? No more matrix-body bending to catch and hide. Someone tells me I look “tired?” Well, I’m losing a lot of blood today, so I’m a touch anemic. That’s what happens when you’re on your period.
Along with my complexion looking like it’d just spent a decade entombed in a cave, there was something else Orgasm couldn’t fix— my mood. It swung more than the GOP on the ACA (that’s a political joke, go vote). I knew my period was coming, not because I felt bloated or craved pickles sandwiched between kettle chips, but because suddenly I’d respond to triggers. I’d yell at people who pushed me on the subway, fight with trolls on the internet and start sobbing upon seeing a moderately cute dog on the street.
In most corporate environments being “emotional” is a career death sentence. Even though my fury was more often than not justified, I learned there were expectations on how women respond to conflict. As an overachiever, I expended a lot energy contorting myself to meet those beliefs, especially when I realized I was about to have my period. I meditated. I exercised. I explored anxiety medication. I popped OTC painkillers like candy even though I knew they can wreak havoc on your liver. When I felt my emotions flaring up in a setting that wasn’t around loved ones (sorry, loved ones, I know you’ll eventually forgive me) I learned to put on a placid face or call in sick. You can’t see eyerolls on a conference call.
I thought this was normal. Turns out, I was kind of right. 24 million women in the US suffer from symptoms severe enough from PMS that they can interfere with work, school, and relationships. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or, PMDD, yields symptoms so severe that those who suffer from it can be effectively disabled.
Novelist, essayist, and criminal defense lawyer Ayelet Waldman wrote a book last year called “A Really Good Day.” Having been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, she made the connection that her mood only significantly shifted around her menstrual cycle. While she didn’t suffer from the most extreme form of PMDD she did have mild PMDD. She was one of the 24 million women in American suffering.
Having tried the full spectrum of pharmacology, Waldman's book centers around her experience with microdosing LSD to see if it would help balance and elevate her mood. Spoiler alert: it did. She experienced what many describe microdosing on psychedelics, she had “a really good day.”
While Waldman used LSD, other psychedelics with similar effects include mescaline and psilocybin (shrooms). We spoke to doctors, culled research, and looked at every clinical trial on psychedelics with a focus on shrooms, here's what we found.
Note: if you suffer from PMDD, PMS, or mood disorders and/or are on medication, always talk to your doctor first before trying anything (that includes cannabis).
There is research that shows psychedelics could be helpful for those suffering depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mental illnesses. Psychedelics stimulate the 5-HT2A receptors in your brain which belong to the serotonin receptor family. Know how THC binds to your CB1 receptors? Psychedelics activate a different set that increases the interaction between serotonin, other neural receptors and networks ultimately increasing the brain’s activity. From a study published in The Lancet researchers found that psilocybin has a “novel pharmacology [application] in the context of currently available antidepressant medications.”
Depression costs the United States over 200 billion dollars every year, and many products produce severe side effects such as weight gain, hair loss, insomnia, and decreased libido. Psychedelics don’t have this laundry list. To be clear, the study published in The Lancet didn’t let a bunch of people grab magic mushrooms and trip. It was a controlled medical setting where they had psychological support before, during, and after. As The Lancet noted, when dosed in a controlled setting “The acute effects of psilocybin were well tolerated by all of the patients and no serious or unexpected adverse events occurred.” Patients didn’t report any severe side effects (unlike most widely available antidepressants) and they felt lasting results after their sessions. This is promising considering women have their periods for the most part of their lives.
Your setting really matters. Early studies of LSD and psychedelics found that the researcher administering the drug mattered. I.e. if the researcher was cold, a person would have a bad trip, if you the researcher was kind, the person would have a better trip.
There are side effects, but many of the stories we heard as kids were part of DARE propaganda. Remember the stories of people peeling their own skin off and jumping off roofs because they could fly? False. Per The Lancet finding amongst other medical trials—“psilocybin has a favourable toxicity profile and is not associated with compulsive drug-seeking behaviours in animals or human beings. The side-effects that we noted were minor, and expected in light of previous studies of psilocybin.” (One such study can be found here and here and here.)
No, we are not saying you should go shovel shrooms into your face. Preeminent researcher in psychedelics, Rick Strassman, lays out a straightforward solution; it should be a Schedule III drug, much like Vicodin, only professionals should be able to administer it as there is potential for harm when taking large doses outside of medical settings.
Dosing matters. While the medical community studying psychedelics is largely in agreement on large doses being taken in a medical setting with experts, experiments like Waldman’s amongst thousands of other anecdotal microdosing experiences indicate that small doses pose smaller risks with strong rewards. Psychiatrists, doctors, and chemists in the space admit that microdosing, when done in the correct dose, can be safe and is “old news.”
The benefits of microdosing to date are understood as improved mood, creativity, and cognition, all things that help when your uterus is contracting. More clinical studies are needed but these results are consistent with Waldman’s findings at the end of her book and online forums.
Psychedelics are illegal largely because of The War on Drugs. Not shocking but psychedelics got swooped up with cannabis under scheduling not because they were particularly dangerous, but because of who was using them.
While we need more research, experiences like Waldman’s are compelling. One thing’s for sure, we could all use a really good day, especially because those are not words I’ve ever used to describe the day before my period. Next week we’ll explain what a microdose is, thanks for being nice.