UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – 10% happier? At what cost?

“Stressed out, busy moms turn to microdosing.”

That recent headline in the Denver Post both caught my attention and freaked me out. The article from Colorado Public Radio reported on a new trend among working moms in Denver – taking small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms to help them deal with the overwhelming nature of their lives. The impetus for this habit is the “mounting stress and anxiety of what it is to be a mother on the go in 2022.” Apparently those pressures must be significantly different than they have been for previous generations, as the solution is radically different as well. 

“It’s just 10 percent helpful,” said Courtney, a mother of two who works in the cannabis industry and microdoses mushrooms. “You’re 10 percent more patient, 10 percent more joyful, maybe 10 percent more willing to play and roll around in the grass with your kids. And 10 percent goes a pretty long way. Sometimes that’s all you need.”

So, that’s ten percent more helpful, patient, joyful, and playful. And, I guess, we might add, ten percent more drug-dependent. That’s the telling detail that gives me pause – the reliance upon intoxicating chemicals to deal with everyday life. Granted, as the CPR article notes, the use of a chemical “mother’s little helper,” as the Rolling Stones’ described it in their 1966 song, goes back generations. And relying on a pill or a drink to calm the nerves at the end of the day is not at all limited to working moms. In fact, a wind down cocktail at the end of the day is as much a part of the daily routine for many adults as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But self-prescribing psychotropic drugs is certainly not routine, even as the use of psilocybin is becoming more accepted in the medical community. Michael Pollan, a journalist and professor at UC-Berkeley, has written about the growing research into the use of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of a wide range of mental illnesses. His book “How to Change Your Mind” discusses studies into using such drugs to literally change a person’s brain chemistry and improve their mental well being. That said, most medical experts would caution against experimenting with self medicating, especially with no evidence for dosages or safety of the drugs. Thus, even as the medical community researches the substances and looks for medical benefits, many people are in fact experimenting on themselves.

It’s the 10 percent comment from the mom in the CPR story that intrigues me, as it reminds me of another approach to stress. A few years ago I ran across a book from Dan Harris titled “10% Happier Revised Edition: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.” Harris is a former ABC news anchor who struggled with addiction and suffered a panic attack on air. After struggling with his mental well being, he used his journalistic skills in search of a cure for his inability to handle the stress of his life. Ultimately, he found mindfulness and meditation as the answer to his problems. In response, he wrote a book and developed an app to help others access help through mindfulness instructors such as the esteemed Joseph Goldstein.

What is it that has left so many people struggling and incapable of managing their daily lives? And why do so many turn to medications to handle work, family, and life? Undoubtedly, life in contemporary America can be busy, even hectic, and Americans are notoriously bad at slowing down, taking a break, and practicing self care. Too often people respond to challenges by relying on some sort of substance to help them deal with the dissatisfaction. And, at the same time that CPR is reporting on microdosing moms, NPR is reporting on the increasing rates of marijuana and hallucinogen use among teens, which are at their highest rates in two decades.

In his classic treatise on “Walden, a Life in the Woods,” Transcendentalist writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau advised readers to “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” Too often, he warned us, “Our lives are frittered away by detail,” and people are overwhelmed with lives they have filled with materials, responsibilities, and expectations beyond their own abilities to handle. If someone needs a bottle of chardonnay or a psychedelic trip to deal with their lives, they might want to consider changing their priorities.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. Ytou can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com