One Woman’s Desperate Attempt To Treat Her PMDD By Microdosing Acid
"I’m truly accessing drugs, not for recreational purposes, but to help me survive."
Beth* had never done recreational drugs when she first started microdosing acid in an attempt to treat her premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
“I come from an African background where taking [recreational] drugs was tantamount to Sin Number One…and I had so much fear about drugs,” Beth explains. “I don’t think I would have been open to [microdosing] unless my PMDD symptoms were as bad as they were…It’s a week of your life where you’re a different person…It’s like a demon that inhabits my body.”
The Extremity Of PMDD
PMDD symptoms can include anxiety, rage, extreme mood changes and depression in the two weeks before your period, and can also include suicidal ideation for some — including Beth. The moment you start menstruating, though, the symptoms evaporate, and you’re back to normal. Treatment needs to be full spectrum and unique to each person — from healthy eating, sleep and good iron levels, often paired with therapy, antidepressants, contraceptives, and at times, even a hysterectomy.
Dr Lee Mey Wong from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health stresses that PMDD is not a hormone imbalance. “We don’t have the full answer but…we think it’s actually caused by the brain being extremely sensitive to a hormone called progesterone,” which prepares the body for a potential pregnancy.
When it comes to the cause, Dr Wong says there is a link with a history of trauma. “We know if the woman experiences trauma in their life or in their early childhood, they seem to also be at a higher risk of PMMD.”
From Diagnosis to Microdosing
“For people with crippling PMDD, it’s [thinking], ‘Can I stay alive through this time?’,” Beth explains.
It took seven years for her to gain her PMDD diagnosis. When she was a teen, she thought the extreme dread was just PMS, until she discovered her friends had a very different experience. Moving into relationships, she suddenly had a second lens to notice the extremity of the symptoms and how it was tied intrinsically to her menstrual cycle.
At first, her doctor thought she was bipolar, and when she was finally diagnosed, she was offered antidepressants. “When I looked at the pros and cons of choosing [Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors], it just wasn’t going to be a solution that worked for me.”
She tried everything, from “all brands of the pill”, to the IUD, along with talk therapy. But as nothing worked for her and the symptoms went on, she realised it wasn’t possible to just grit her teeth through it for her entire reproductive life. A friend recommended the book A Really Good Day by Harvard-trained lawyer and writer Ayelet Waldman, who charted her microdosing experiment to treat her own PMDD-like symptoms.
“If you’re someone who suffered with ill mental health, the concepts of ‘hope’ or ‘having a really good day’ is so out there,” says Beth. “I’m definitely not a recreational drug user, [but] I was curious about making this work because… [I thought,] ‘The longer I’m alive, I don’t know how I can keep white-knuckling through this experience every month.'”
How Can Microdosing Change Your Brain?
Senior Research Fellow at Macquarie University’s Department of Cognitive Science, Vince Polito, says a microdose is about a tenth or even a 20th of a recreational dose of LSD or psilocybin. He is leading a study that uses brain mapping (magnetoencephalography) and biomarkers to study the psychopharmacological effects for productivity and creativity. Essentially, he’s checking if microdosing is legit or a placebo effect.
He explains psychedelics seem to reduce activity between a series of connections in the brain called the default mode network that are typically always active. Psychedelics seem to turn “all the background neural activity down. And that’s similar to what happens in something like meditation,” he explains.
“Science doesn’t move as quickly as we would like it to.”
When asked about the use of microdosing to address PMDD, Polito mentions that during one of his own studies, people reported reductions in levels of depression following six weeks of microdosing. “So, there certainly is data that indicates that there may be this kind of effect,” he says.
But there’s not enough data. And the drug, of course, is illegal.
“Science doesn’t move as quickly as we would like it to,” he say. “And considering there are so many people out there [trying microdosing], I think it’s critical that we understand more clearly how this works…what are the things that it has a worthwhile application for? How can people use it safely and effectively?”
The Fear Of The First Dose
When Beth first decided to try microdosing LSD, she turned to a friend to source the acid tabs. “I had a few false starts because, despite being very well researched and doing my reading, I was actually really scared. I was really scared I would get the dose wrong, I was really scared I would have an adverse experience.
“Because it’s an illegal substance and it’s not monitored, [getting the dose right is] risky.”
She steeped a tab of acid in purified water for a couple of days, then used a syringe to take 1.2 mils — measured on her body weight — every three days for the duration of her PMDD.
“I have never had a full dose of psilocybin or any hallucinogenic drug, so I don’t know what it’s like to be high, but I was anticipating some shift in my being and all it was, was a gradual feeling of lightness…It’s like a you’re in a loop between anxiety and depression, and it just allows you to get above the clouds…What’s really difficult is I can’t really tell any mental health or medical practitioners that I’m doing this because it’s illegal.”
Relying On Drug Dealers For Treatment
For Beth, access to a treatment that could arguably be lifesaving, remains challenging to obtain. “I’m truly accessing drugs, not for recreational purposes, but to help me survive,” she says.
She is currently preparing to move overseas, and has to face the prospect that she may not be able to source more LSD when she needs. “I don’t want to be going on the bloody dark web to get the shit. Like, I just want to be able to function month to month. And so it’s daunting.”
She says the experience has changed her perceptions around drug regulation. “I have so much compassion for anyone who has found a solution to work for them that doesn’t operate in the mainstream like with a CBD oil to help manage chronic anxiety…I’d love to live in a world where people with whatever condition they have, if mainstream treatment isn’t working for them…they’ve got options. And that’s just what you want to know if you’ve got a tricky condition — [that] you’ve got multiple options to test, to make life better for you.”
Edwina Storie is a multi-platform journalist with a focus on sex and gender issues. Follow her on Twitter.
*Name has been changed for privacy.