When I arrive at Vanessa Panzella-Velez’s fifth-floor apartment in Brooklyn on a blue-sky morning in January, she’s already taken drugs: one third of a gram of magic mushrooms. A pouch of tan capsules sits on the table—like vitamins, except powdered psychedelics.
Not that you’d know. There are none of the stereotypical signs: no trippy hallucinations or bodies writhing around like you’re looking in a fun-house mirror. Instead, there’s Vanessa, 38, a freelance social-media manager, welcoming me inside with the offer of a warm drink, cacao with almond milk in a bowl-size mug. She’s used maple syrup to sweeten it, not honey. “Is that okay?” It’s been a busy morning, between trying to fix the internet and schlepping her puppy, Cookie, to the dog park in near-zero temperatures. Later, she tells me, she has plans to help her 11-year-old stepson with his schoolwork, which includes finishing up a woodworking project and studying mixed fractions for math. That night, she’s going to a birthday party for her niece. To put it another way: Vanessa is not high. Getting high is not the point. Vanessa and her husband, Danny, 45—her stepson’s father, who is present during my visit and also on one third of a gram of magic mushrooms—have recently begun to microdose with psychedelics two or three times a week every few months. In the past, they’ve taken higher doses when they’ve needed to work through something bigger, like a communication issue. It’s a practice they say has completely transformed their relationship while radically improving their parenting.
This is a time of psychedelic renaissance, of mushroom mania. It’s a time when people are increasingly turning to psychedelics not for recreation but for healing—and many of them are parents.
It makes sense; perhaps no one is more in need of a mental-health salve. Because while parenthood is often billed as the ultimate blissed-out euphoria, for many it is where the hemorrhaging of happiness happens. It’s a sleep-deprived, tedious, anxiety- riddled road, recently made all the more difficult by the pandemic. Worn down by the malaise of modern parenting, burdened by the traumas they’ve inherited from their own parents, or disillusioned with a mental-health-care system they feel has failed them, some parents have found an answer in psychedelic substances.
A few years ago, Vanessa and Danny were in a rut. Their relationship was up and down. As a stepparent, Vanessa says, she had a lot of insecurities, especially as she struggled to get pregnant herself. Parenthood made her feel resentful, frustrated, depressed—none of the things she thought it would. She began to put up walls between herself and her stepson.
Vanessa and Danny had already tried counseling when a friend suggested psychedelics. At first, Vanessa was unsure. She had never smoked weed, not even one time. Danny was more open, but his exposure to drugs was also limited. He remembers the public-service campaigns showing an egg frying in a pan: “This is your brain on drugs.” No, they decided, they wouldn’t do it.
Except Vanessa could see how psychedelics had benefited their friend. She saw it in the easy joy the friend carried, the way grief didn’t consume her, the gratitude that seemed to guide her. “Actually, maybe this could help us,” Vanessa remembers thinking.
That was January 2019. As explanations go, Vanessa’s experience with psychedelics sounds like both a cheesy trope and a profound experience every parent would want to have. Suddenly, she could see and be receptive to more. “The mushrooms allowed me to feel vulnerable,” she says. “All the things I was afraid to say poured out of me. I was in this place of peace and love and real clarity. That experience helped Danny and I become more compassionate people, more understanding people, for love to flow through us. How could that not affect my stepson in a positive way?”
Beginning in the late 1990s but exploding only in the past few years, a steady thrum of studies has illuminated the potential benefits of psychedelics in helping with myriad mental-health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
To name just a few: A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted therapy significantly reduced or eliminated the symptoms of major depressive disorder in 71 percent of participants within four weeks. An earlier study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease reported that when LSD was used in psychotherapy sessions, people who had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness experienced decreased feelings of anxiety. The FDA is expected to approve the use of the psychoactive substance MDMA (a.k.a. ecstasy, a.k.a. Molly) in conjunction with talk therapy to treat PTSD as soon as next year. Adding to the increase in awareness and interest is the recent proliferation of psychedelics in pop culture and everywhere. There are the plant-medicine influencers on Instagram and Nicole Kidman’s psychedelic utopia in Nine Perfect Strangers on Hulu and Gwyneth Paltrow taking Goop employees on healing psychedelic retreats on Netflix and Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence on the New York Times best-seller list. It’s estimated that more than 30 million people in the United States have used psychedelics, according to Matthew W. Johnson, the Susan Hill Ward professor in psychedelics and consciousness at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Various studies show a spike in numbers over the past few years.
“There appears to be a clear trend of parents using psychedelics more intentionally to resolve specific life and relationship issues,” says Eric Sienknecht, a ketamine-assisted psychotherapist and cofounder of the Polaris Insight Center in San Francisco. Sienknecht is also working on the clinical trials involving the use of MDMA to help with PTSD sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit research organization. While he has observed an uptick in patients seeking out the benefits of psychedelics relating to parenthood, there isn’t hard data or research on exactly how many parents are partaking.
The movement has spawned its own catchy monikers, like “plant parenthood” and “psychedelic parenting,” and there has been an increase in support groups—both online and in person—for parents looking to connect in a safe space.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Andrea Stanley on Harper’s Bazaar
Published: April 17, 2022
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