Updated: Jan 9
As research and development in the field of psychedelic medicines expand and we gain deeper insights into the effects of different psychedelic substances on a variety of mental health conditions, we are beginning to witness glimmers of hope for the treatment of one of the most complex, debilitating, and difficult to treat conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. In the public consciousness, PTSD is most commonly associated with shock trauma resulting from combat, accidents, disasters, physical and sexual assault, and witnessing death or injury. However, PTSD can also occur in childhood as a result of neglect, abuse, and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
PTSD symptoms vary from person to person but most commonly include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of any situation that surfaces memories of the event, heightened emotional reactivity, anxiety, depression, insomnia, extreme sensitivities to light and sound, and memory loss. While traditional PTSD treatments like Prolonged Exposure Therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and Cognitive Processing Therapy have been somewhat helpful in addressing the symptoms and in a small percentage of cases facilitating full recovery, PTSD has unfortunately remained a mostly misunderstood, underdiagnosed, and under-treated condition. The psychedelic renaissance is however shifting that narrative and offering a hopeful vision of the future.
Veterans who have experienced profound and sustainable relief from PTSD symptoms through psychedelics are one of the main drivers of the public push for drug policy reform. While much of the benefits reported in the past were anecdotal and facilitated through overseas psychedelic retreats and underground ceremonies in the US, the FDA sanction clinical studies of the past decade have not only validated these reports but also laid a strong foundation for utilizing psychedelics as a primary treatment option for PTSD.
Although emergent therapies like ketamine infusions and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy are proving highly effective and gaining strong momentum as viable treatment options for PTSD, research into the use of other psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca for PTSD is more complex. Psychedelics with strong hallucinogenic qualities present the risk of inducing challenging experiences or "bad trips" which can not only exacerbate PTSD symptoms but also present as traumatizing events on their own.
While large doses of psychedelics are likely not safe and viable for the treatment of PTSD, and research into the benefits of microdosing is extremely limited, a guided microdosing practice offers a unique and potentially beneficial alternative as a therapeutic option for the treatment of PTSD.
One way of explaining trauma is "too much, too soon, too fast" referring to the characteristics of an overwhelming, disorienting and terrifying event that does not allow enough time, resources, choice, or context to allow the nervous system to properly process, respond, and integrate. In contrast, microdosing is an invitation to subtlety. Proper microdosing offers no more than a subtle shift in the individual's experience often requiring the practitioner to slow down and tune in enough to notice. It is in those gentle and subtle moments of curiosity and mindfulness that the medicine of microdosing is revealed.
PTSD often presents with symptoms of disembodiment and disassociation that manifest as substance abuse, eating disorders, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and extreme risk-taking. In my work with individuals with PTSD, the primary focus is the cultivation of safety in the body and the nervous system. Microdosing in combination with somatic therapeutic frameworks like Trauma Release Exercises and breathwork for trauma offers a gentle and effective container for cultivating body connection and safety.
Another challenging aspect of PTSD is heightened emotional reactivity and states of extreme overwhelm. In this context, my work with clients involves pairing an ongoing embodiment practice with microdosing as a framework to develop and strengthen a physical anchor point in the body to return to during moments of overwhelm in an effort to self-regulate. When we train our nervous system to nurture a single and consistent point of safety in the body as an anchor of safety, we are less likely to be completely highjacked by our emotions and more likely to recover quickly if we do. Microdosing offers a powerful neural elasticity boost that supports both the cultivation and the activation of this somatic safety anchor.
Microdosing has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression; two common symptoms of PTSD. Many of my clients who combine microdosing with a personalized lifestyle and supplemental protocol for anxiety and depression experience significant and lasting positive results.
In a world oversaturated by intensity, overwhelm, extreme experiences, and extreme solutions, microdosing is the gentle, safe, and mindful practice that can offer the critical contrast and safety for anyone seeking the medicine of subtlety but especially trauma survivors who can find hope, embodiment, perspective, and agency in this practice.