Black Market Hopes
A 64 year old New Zealander thinks of self-treating depression with magic mushrooms
I am 64 years old, and recently went into remission from a life-changing cancer. I have experienced a lot of terrible anxiety and some bouts of miserable depression about the idea of death over the years. Should I experiment with taking psilocybin to treat some of these problems?
The anxious part of me is frightened that a “trip” could crack open some of my worst anxieties and panic. The Buddhist devotee part of me knows for certain that there is nothing to fear but fear itself (and I have sat through many heavy fears in meditation over the years).
I have been offered some psilocybin to take in a safe supportive environment so it is “doable”, but I would have to seriously override my desire to play it safe and avoid a totally unnecessary risk.
Thank you so much for considering my question,
D The Kiwi
Dear D The Kiwi,
From how you phrased your question, it sounds like you have heard of the new studies showing psilocybin used in mental health treatments provided long-term relief of anxiety and depression in cancer patients. In your position, it’s natural you would want to experience this exciting breakthrough in mental health treatment.
However, magic mushrooms are illegal in New Zealand today as well as much of the world and these psychedelically assisted treatments are unlikely to be legally available near you soon. On the black market, you could find psilocybin much sooner and, indeed, you already have a source and an invitation. Should you take these magic mushrooms on your own with well meaning amateurs and hope for the best?
A psychedelic “trip” in a “safe supportive environment” is not the same thing as the treatments in these studies led by psychiatrists and mental health professionals that included talk therapy, careful shaping of set and setting and follow up integration sessions.
As Death I can tell you that there are very few medicines that come without any risk. Even the safest and most carefully studied pharmaceuticals often come with a long list of potential side effects. Self treatment with psilocybin includes great risk to your mental health compounded by the amateur setting you would be taking them.
Not taking depression and anxiety seriously as threats to your life and seeking intervention also carries great risk. So here are some questions that may help guide your decision:
Have you exhausted your other treatment options?
How desperate are you to interrupt these symptoms of depression and anxiety?
Do you have a history of mental illness in your family that might make these substances even more dangerous to you?
How much of the successful studies with psilocybin could you replicate by, for example, seeing a qualified therapist before and after the mushroom experience?
One thing I wouldn’t do is take a bunch of mushrooms recreationally while expecting the results they got in the studies. Each of the patients had tremendous mental health support before, during and after the psilocybin journey experience and unless you can build a similarly robust mental health support around you for this experience, it would be foolish to hope for the same long-term relief from depression and anxiety.
My dream job at a tech start-up turned into a nightmare when they brought in a new boss for my team a few months ago. A few of my colleagues already left. He can be a bully. He’s constantly undercutting my projects. He gaslights me. I’m thinking of quitting but if I hold out and try to survive him another year, my stock will vest, which may be worth a lot of money someday. I’ve worked really hard for this company and deserve it. What should I do? Quit? Stick it out? Help!
Dear So Stressed,
Let me help you make your decision with an imaginative exercise.
Imagine that I’ve given you a tip that you will die in a year and a day. However, if you tell anyone or act like you know for sure, you will die tomorrow. You are a dead-person-walking but you have to be discrete.
Knowing you only have a year to live, look at your questions again. Does that stock still sound like it is worth sticking around for knowing you will never be alive to spend it? Are there other reasons that made this opportunity a dream job that make it worth dealing daily with a personality you describe as difficult and abusive?
Unless you can find a strong intrinsic reason to stay that makes dealing with abuse at work for a year worth the suffering, find another way to use your time. You don’t always get to choose who comes in as your boss but you can make new decisions accordingly.
The good news is many kinds of work feel good and taking actions now to move toward something better can make the abuse hurt less. The leverage people use to bully with words is your desire for their approval. Let go of ever hoping to find acceptance or approval from this boss and you can have peace of mind while you find your next act.
About This Advice Column
Ask Death is loosely inspired by an ancient Stoic spiritual exercise called The View From Above. It’s about looking at your problems from a larger perspective. When done well, this perspective leads to transformation of our views on the world, deeper meaning and equanimity.
We also need more questions! Email your questions for death to AskDeath@WeCroak.com