This past summer, I started going to sex parties. After attending three of them, I’d had some interesting conversations, but I hadn’t exactly participated in the sex part. The fact that I’m shy and don’t drink alcohol probably didn’t make it easier to approach anyone. So, for my fourth event, I decided to do a little experiment: I microdosed mushrooms beforehand. At the party, I felt slightly more emotionally labile and open with other people, but barely. That’s par for the course for microdosing: You take such a small amount that you might not even notice it, but it can still affect your behavior. Still, it was the first party where I actually hooked up with someone.
While I marveled at the brilliance of this discovery — that taking a small amount of psychedelics could loosen me up before a nerve-wrecking social situation — others are apparently in on the secret. And while sex parties are on the more intense side of the social spectrum (and might require more loosening up for some), the concept translates to plain old dating as well. Could the subtle shift in perception that microdosing potentially provides change people’s first date experiences for the better?
“I had been on dates with a guy who was really great, but I just couldn’t let myself get comfortable enough to let a connection happen,” remembers Kate Furlong, a 21-year-old student in Pennsylvania. To try and remedy the emotional block, she tried microdosing shrooms before their next date. “My anxiety diminished and I was able to truly be present in the moment with him. It was the most authentic connection we had experienced up until that moment, and our relationship changed from that point on,” she says. Furlong says that we tend to bring in “made-up constructs and ideals or even projections of past experiences,” into new dating scenarios, which can bog us down. A pre-date microdose helped her shed some of those oppressive thoughts.
Others describe a similar feeling, when on a small dose of psychedelics, of being more in tune with a new person they’re out with. “[Microdosing] can help you learn how you really vibe with that person because you can’t lie to yourself,” agrees Cindy, a 23-year-old writer in San Diego (who declined disclosing her last name to avoid any social or job repercussions). She also felt more inclined to giddiness and laughter after microdosing acid before dates.
Jessica McLaren, a 29-year-old editor in Montreal, found that microdosing mushrooms before a date actually gave her a kind of self-control. “Despite the strong sexual chemistry I have with this person, I found that it wasn’t driving me,” she says. “I find, in general with mushrooms, that they don’t kill my sex drive, but they do remove any urgency or sense of a destination to reach. So I might forget about it until I think about it head-on. Then, any action that ensues happens with a deeper sense of intimacy.” Microdosing awarded McLaren the mental space to get to know a new person so physical attraction wasn’t the only anchor for their connection.
There is some evidence that substances such as magic mushrooms could lower social inhibitions and catalyze connections, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. Psychedelics work on the dopaminergic system, which can elicit a sense of pleasure and reward, and the serotonergic system, which can cause feelings of happiness and calmness. As the medical world begins to unwrap psychedelics from their shroud of stigma and consider them helpful in therapeutic settings, clinical research on their effects on our brains is rolling in. One study in PLOS One, for example, found that people reported reduction of stress and depression on days that they microdosed psychedelics like LSD and mushrooms.
“There are some studies that suggest microdosing could be helpful for those with mental health issues like anxiety and depression,” says Sal Raichbach, an addiction psychiatrist at Ambrosia Treatment Center, a recovery facility with locations across the US. “However, these findings aren’t definitive.”
Also, those who say psychedelics enhanced their dates could be experiencing the placebo effect, says Giordano. There hasn’t been enough research to determine whether these effects go beyond the power of suggestion, so for now, it’s best to keep a healthy level of skepticism about microdising as an antidote for pre-date nerves.
And, of course, not everyone is going to have the same experience because we all process drugs differently. For some, it could be the opposite of rainbows and tranquility. At higher doses (which can be ingested by accident if a person meaning to microdose does so incorrectly) psychedelics can cause hallucinations, and it’s easy to see how that could get in the way of pleasant and relaxed feelings. Psychedelics’s social lubricant effects typically occur “at a dose that exists below what would be a hallucinogenic threshold,” Giordano explains.
In addition, some people find that psychedelics trigger anxiety for them, he adds. “You can sometimes have a binary effect. For some individuals, psychedelics make them more affable, and they’ll find social interactions to be more profound and meaningful. But sometimes, they can produce a bad trip, and as a consequence, a social situation can become threatening.” This likely stems from the same neural mechanisms as psychedelics’ feel-good effects; in addition to the reward response, the dopamine system can engage the brain’s fear response, says Giordano.
A negative reaction is less likely with a microdose, but a lot of people misunderstand what microdosing really is, Giordano adds. It’s actually a very small amount: For acid, it’s about one to five micrograms if you weigh 150 pounds, which means you’d have to cut a 100-microgram tab into 20-100 pieces. For mushrooms, it’s between .30 and .37 grams, according to Giordano. If you’re taking a true microdose, you probably won’t feel it at all, he says. “That’s sort of the point — you’re not necessarily supposed to feel anything, but there’s a change in subtle aspects of your cognition and emotions and behaviors.”
Another thing to watch out for if you plan on tripping, even mildly, before dates is any unexpected physical effects of the drug. Lawrence experienced nausea while the acid she dropped before her date began to hit, which Giordano says is not uncommon. Her date kindly assumed the cause was his driving, Lawrence recalls.
While I personally found shrooms much less judgment-impairing than alcohol, psychedelics do have one pretty pronounced downside compared to booze: They’re illegal in most of the US. And more importantly perhaps, they’re unregulated, so you can’t be sure what you’re consuming, says Raichbach. “One of the biggest risks with microdosing any drug is that it could be adulterated with other chemical substances,” he explains. “At the end of the day, you don’t know what you’re getting unless you test it, even if you’re getting it straight from the source.”
“Pharmaceutical grade psychedelics are clearly less toxic than alcohol, but the safety of illicitly manufactured products is uncertain,” agrees Chris Johnston, chief medical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers. It’s also very difficult to determine the correct dosage of these drugs, especially for a tiny microdose, Raichbach adds, and psychedelics can be particularly unpredictable for those with preexisting mental health conditions.
So, look — we’re not endorsing taking psychedelics before dates. But if you’re going to, you should take safety precautions and at least avoid driving, says Raichbach. It’s also best not to mix psychedelics with any other substances, Johnston adds. “It is the combination that generates the most serious problems.”
In other words, it’s difficult to say whether the mushrooms were responsible for my first sex party hookup, and taking them carried a bit of risk. But at the very least, they may have helped loosen me up a little, and I stayed sober as usual and Ubered home, mild euphoria still intact.