Parents who struggle to cope with the daily grind of raising kids are turning to mind-altering, illegal drugs. According to a recent report from The Guardian, a small but growing number of child-rearers in the U.S. and U.K. are now “microdosing“: taking teensy amounts of psychedelic substances — mostly ground up, home-grown magic mushrooms or LSD — to help ease the drudgery of parenting. As one shroom-consuming mom put it: “You don’t feel high, just … better.”
Moms and dads may be new to microdosing, but the trend has been bubbling for years in Silicon Valley. The tech set claim that taking 10 to 20 micrograms of LSD every few days (a trip-inducing dose is around 100 micrograms) makes them more creative and focused. Parents say it makes them feel more engaged and patient with their kids.
In principle, I’m not against parents adding feel-good molecules to their armory of coping mechanisms. I, for one, rarely turn down an invitation to a moms’ happy hour. But self-medicating, however minimally, with under-researched chemicals could be dangerous in ways we might not yet realize. My larger concern is that microdosing is just the latest manifestation of parents pursuing that impossible goal of having it all.
The science behind mircodosing is currently limited and wobbly at best. One study published in February followed 98 microdosers who were already using drugs classed as psychedelics, which includes LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. While all participants anticipated the benefits of microdosing to be “large and wide-ranging,” most experienced only some positive changes, such as increased focus and reduced stress and depression. There was no bump in creativity or life satisfaction. And, six weeks in, the study actually found a small increase in neuroticism.
Clearly, we need more quality studies on mircrodosing, and to approach this potential Pandora’s box of “happy” chemicals with extreme caution. Luckily, researchers at Imperial College London are looking into this, conducting the world‘s first placebo-controlled study of the microdosing and its effects.
Committed microdosers, however, aren’t waiting on more evidence. A mom interviewed anonymously for The Guardian strongly believes in what she’s doing. “It gives me an alertness, an assurance,” she said. “I move from a place of anxiety to a normal state of confidence, not overconfidence.”
A little digging online produced a subreddit from a year ago dedicated to parental microdosing. “I have not microdosed,” wrote u/nonamenyc, “but am thinking of starting. I have one child, a son, in grade school. Can anyone speak to how it has affected their parenting?” The poster received 28 replies. One person said microdosing made them more patient, loving, and understanding with their 4-year-old daughter. Another wrote the practice let them “approach parenting in a new way. When [my son is] having melt downs I’m able to sit down with him, talk to him in a positive way, and calm him down, and direct his negative mood into positive energy.”
Here’s the unpalatable truth: Looking after children is mostly hard and boring. The intense tedium of parenting, combined with the kind of tiredness that makes you feel drunk and chronically insecure, is utterly normal. But in recent years the job of parenting has become so Instagram filtered that our expectations of what it’s actually like to raise kids have become wildly out of whack with the reality. The disconnect between what we’re seeing from other smiling happy families online and what we’re actually experiencing makes us want to improve our own parenting skills — and this is what makes quick fixes like microdosing so appealing.
Perhaps rather than struggling to be perfect parents who extract joy from every experience — whether it’s making dinner, changing diapers, or reading The Hungry Caterpillar on repeat — we need to drastically realign our expectations.
Our parents‘ generation knew that taking care of kids, especially when they’re young, involves a lot of loneliness, self-doubt, and drudgery, and they didn’t expect otherwise. They also didn’t feel the pressure to engage with their offspring constantly, or need science and spreadsheets to reassure them that leaving kids alone to be bored and not over-scheduling them is extremely beneficial. Now, a lot of us hover over our kids relentlessly, and if we feel they’re falling behind socially, emotionally, or academically, we rush in to remedy the situation.
We take it all on our shoulders — and we expect to enjoy it. No wonder we’re seeking some kind of relief.