Category Archives: Health

Mary and the Mushroom: Psilocybin, Chronic Depression and Me (7)

It’s Getting Real, and I’m Getting Nervous.

I have been given a date for my first dosing of psilocybin! This news produced in me a curious blend of excitement and nervousness that continues whenever the issue pops into my head. (If you’re just tuning in, you can get the background on my upcoming adventure by reading the first post in this series.)

I am disinclined to share the actual date of the procedure, as I think it would add pressure to the experience if I knew that people were waiting to find out what happened. But I will receive the first dose in July, which isn’t that far off any more.

It seems that ever since the researchers gave me a date, I’ve read and heard about nothing but bad trips, so that has made me apprehensive. So does my inability to imagine what it would be like to be considerably altered by one dose of a drug: it seems impossible and nerve-wracking at the same time. Of course, nothing may happen at all. And on the third hand (?), maybe all the projections and hopes will be realized and I will gain a new lease on life and a new sense of purpose: depression alleviated. Since, according to Michael Pollan, no drug is as suggestible as a psychedelic, if I focus on potential positive outcomes, rather than negative ones, that will probably help. There is a lot of evidence that bad trips can be mitigated if care is taken with “set and setting,” which I discussed in a previous post (scroll down to the heading of that name).


Which brings me to my other concern. As of today, May 1, I need to start tapering off the antidepressants. This means cutting the dose in half now and eliminating the medication (duloxetine/Cymbalta) completely in early June.

I have been on anti-depressants of one sort or another for about 35 years, so this is not nothing. I have read that withdrawal can be very difficult; hence the tapering. My research team has advised me that potential withdrawal symptoms include “anxiety, irritability, brain zaps and flu-like symptoms.”

My temptation is to grab a few bags of munchies (both sweet and savoury) and to take to my bed for a month or two with a few books and a remote so I can stream some riveting tv programs and streaming series until the withdrawal passes. I know this is not a good idea as such behaviour is more likely to plunge me deeper into depression than is the withdrawal experience itself. So instead I’m resolving to meditate every day and to get out into the woods every couple of days at least.


I have started to compile a list of books and articles I’ve read, and programs and podcasts I’ve watched and heard, that relate to the potential benefits of psychedelics in the treatment of depression. I will update this page as I come across new material that I believe will be of relevance to people besides myself who are interested in this issue.

Between now and the first dose, I plan three updates here: I will be briefly reviewing two books: Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind and The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman. I am also going to write a post as the time gets closer about what I am expecting from this treatment, and what I am still worrying about. If other topics occur to me, I’ll write about those as well. (Let me know if there’s anything relevant you’d like me to investigate, report and/or confess.) (I’m joking about that last one. I write confessions only when I’m so inclined.)

In the meantime, I am working on a new novel… and worrying about what happens if its author “changes her mind” completely before it is done. I’ll be posting a few chapters of that work of fiction as invented by my pre-psychedelic-treated brain (🙂) on another of my blog sites as they are completed. Because if I don’t post them, I will never write them. (← confession)

I am very happy with the positive feedback I’ve had from readers of this blog. There seems to be a fair amount of interest in the subject. Nice to know I’m not alone.

My First Sleep Test, Part 2: Thoughts on Sleep Apnea and Other Stuff

I’ve learned a bunch of things from the responses I received when I posted about my first experience with a sleep test.

First, I learned that I should have explained what a sleep test is — not everyone knew. A “polysomnography” or sleep study is primarily intended to determine whether or not the subject has sleep apnea. “Obstructive sleep apnea” occurs when your throat muscles relax when you are sleeping, obstructing your airways, causing your breathing to stop and start while you are asleep. It is usually associated with snoring – those who have heard someone with sleep apnea will recognize the silence in the middle of a snoring session followed by a huge intake of breath in an extended snort.

Sleep apnea can lead to all kinds of cardiovascular problems and other health issues, as well as daytime sleepiness. Researchers have recently identified a link between sleep apnea and an increased risk of dementia. (As I told my son, who pointed this study out to me, nothing is more likely to get seniors to comply with a health recommendation than the threat of dementia.) The major snoring associated with the condition also causes distress to those who have to sleep next to it (or, in really bad cases, anywhere in the same house).

A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine corrects the problem: it involves a face mask and a steady stream of air. A friend of mine has pointed out that APAP (automatic positive air pressure) machines are now available. These adjust to the particular sleeper’s breathing patterns rather than releasing a continuous stream of air. An internet search reveals that there are also BPAP machines (!. They will eventually take over the whole alphabet!) that increase air pressure when you inhale, and reduce it when you exhale.

Since those who have sleep apnea don’t get enough restful sleep, they are often tired the next day. If you have a sleep test and are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may not be legally allowed to drive unless you are using a CPAP machine, because of the danger that you might fall asleep at the wheel. Therefore, if you have sleep apnea, by using a CPAP machine you may be avoiding a ticket, saving your own life, preserving your brain, and reducing the risk of running your vehicle into other people and objects. Up to nine percent of adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea but it is likely that many more have it and are undiagnosed. Therefore, having a sleep test when indicated is a Very Good Idea and my whining post should not discourage you. End of Public Service Announcement, but here’s more if you want it:

Here are other (related) things I have learned in recent days:

  1. In the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, several of my Facebook friends have had “remote” sleep tests where they attach monitors to themselves at home and these are tracked remotely from the sleep lab at the hospital (or wherever it is located). At least those sleep-study subjects get to sleep in their own beds. I don’t know why they don’t do this in Ontario.
  2. People in the United Kingdom don’t seem to be sent for this test as often as people in North America. Several Facebook friends in the U.K. had never heard of a sleep test, while most of those who responded from North America had.
  3. A lot of people I know have had the test, and a lot of people have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and are now using CPAP machines. After they got used to them, most users love them because they sleep so much better with them, and they feel more rested during the day. I’m guessing that many of their sleep partners also love them: in addition to eliminating snoring, CPAP machines are great “white-noise” makers, as I can personally attest.
  4. I wish I had stock in a CPAP company and, now that William Shatner is promoting them, CPAP Machine Sanitizing Systems might be a good investment too. (Not the sanitizing machines themselves: they’re too expensive and likely not covered by insurance. I mean stock in the company that makes them.)

Finally, here is a video of Phyllis Diller — to whom I referred in my previous post — sharing some early-1970s humour and looking sort of the way I did on Monday night hair wise, except that she has no wires.