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Thousands of moms are microdosing with mushrooms to ease the stress of parenting

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Thousands of mothers have turned to taking tiny amounts of psychedelic mushrooms to relieve stress. Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry reports.

ARIEL: Here in about 20 minutes.

ALLISON SHERRY, BYLINE: We're in a north Denver suburb, and it's really hot, just a few days before school starts. Ariel is home and cooking with her four children.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah, pretty much.

SHERRY: Baking powder.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Pretty much, yeah.

SHERRY: Does it pop up and just, like, puffs?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah. It almost touched the top.

SHERRY: Ariel went through a tough divorce in the middle of the pandemic and, like thousands of other mothers across the country, looked for something to quietly help her. But what she took may surprise you - a powdered psychedelic mushroom capsule. A therapist suggested she try natural therapies, so she turned to psychedelics and sought out a support group. Because psilocybin is still largely illegal across the country, most of the mothers wanted to use only their first names to protect their families and their professions.

ARIEL: I don't think that I would be nearly as present as I am right now had it not been for psychedelics and for the healing that I've gotten from it.

SHERRY: This burgeoning mommy microdosing movement has taken off nationally, psilocybin researchers and advocates say. There are support groups and social media followings. Moms are microdosing and doing yoga, watching Disney movies with their kids and going to parks. The mothers I spoke to said they sought out mushrooms because they're more natural than prescription antidepressant medications, and they leave no hangover like alcohol.

TRACEY TEE: My name is Tracey Tee. I live in Denver, Colo. I have one daughter. She's 11, and I am the steward of moms on mushrooms.

SHERRY: Tee was a critically acclaimed comedian who lost her business during the pandemic. She was also struggling with motherhood, watching her daughter at home all the time unhappily clocking in to online school. Tee took a course about microdosing, which she calls her medicine, and she says it changed her life. She now runs support groups for mothers specifically embarking on that experience. She says microdosing helps moms sit with their stress and problems, not run away from them.

TEE: And we've moved past, I think, wanting to guzzle five bottles of wine. We're craving something deeper, and we're definitely craving community.

SHERRY: Research is ongoing across the world on the benefits of psilocybin among people with treatment-resistant depression and PTSD. Numerous studies have found that it helps those problems. The FDA has actually granted it breakthrough therapy status. All that said, less is known about taking tinier doses of psychedelics.

JOSH WOOLLEY: People who are microdosing, what I would say is that they're basically experimenting on themselves.

SHERRY: Dr. Josh Woolley is a psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He is currently overseeing a psilocybin clinical trial among healthy adults. I asked him whether it's OK for people taking care of children to take a psychedelic, mind-altering drug.

WOOLLEY: It's not so dangerous that it would be so obvious, but really don't have good epidemiological studies. Are there any bad outcomes? Are there good outcomes? So there's still a lot of work to be done.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER")

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Kids are different today, I hear every mother say. Mother needs something today to calm her down.

SHERRY: But the notion that moms need some sort of outside substance for survival has been around for generations. From "Mother's Little Helper," a Rolling Stones song about Valium, to the two martini lunches to current tropes about mommy's sippy cups and mama needs wine T-shirts. Dr. Neill Epperson is chair of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical School.

NEILL EPPERSON: My generation was the chardonnay generation (laughter).

SHERRY: Dr. Epperson is known internationally for her work in studying women's mental health. She draws a pretty big distinction between motherhood distress and an actual diagnosed mental illness. She is sympathetic to motherhood, especially today, and she hopes everyone treads carefully on replacing psychedelics with known treatments for anxiety and depression.

EPPERSON: And I feel like we have to slow down, do the research before we just all of a sudden start opening up all these treatment centers and saying, we know what we're doing. Would you do that if it was cancer? I don't think so.

SHERRY: Microdosing mushrooms is different than taking a larger dose and then having a trip. Most of the moms take capsules in such small increments that they say it barely registers a buzz. But after taking those doses over a few days, they swear by how different they feel. Some have even gone off their antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications on the drugs. Ben Lightburn co-founded Filament Health, which is funding the first FDA-approved clinical trial of natural psilocybin.

BEN LIGHTBURN: In the scale of could this help or is this dangerous compared to what's already out there, I think it's fair to say that the risk of self-medicating with psilocybin is relatively low.

SHERRY: There is something deeper here. Researchers are looking at lack of structural support for women or maybe too much pressure on parents in today's times. Major depressive disorder is currently the leading cause of disease burden for women internationally. The moms making these decisions, though, say they aren't necessarily trying to escape but that psychedelics allow them to be better in the present.

For NPR News, I'm Allison Sherry in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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