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Book Review

A microdose (of LSD) a day helped keep the doctor away

Author Ayelet Waldman

In “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega-Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life,’’ Ayelet Waldman writes: “[I]n 1906 . . . [e]ighty percent of addicts were upstanding citizens, employed, with families and dependents. They thought no more of taking their laudanum or cocaine than we today think of having a glass of wine with dinner.”

At the heart of Waldman’s wildly entertaining book is a chronicle of her experiment with taking tiny therapeutic doses of the illegal drug LSD. Waldman also weaves in insights into the criminalization of particular drugs, and how, as a lawyer, she saw how “race and class bias were rampant” in those determinations. Her conclusion? That the war on drugs, prosecuted with a “punitive ferocity,” is racist, classist, and wholly unwinnable.

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Given all that my response after reading this book will no doubt be shared by some others: I might want to try microdosing.

Waldman initially chooses microdosing after all other legal pharmaceutical avenues to deal with her mood storms fail her. Desperate to halt her “inner self-loathing insecurity-monster,” she wants to live more comfortably in her own skin — to have more “really good days.” She wants to sleep more, work more efficiently, and experience less pain. She wants to pick fewer fights with her kids, her husband, rude strangers on the Internet, and, most of all, herself.

Waldman is a likable narrator, although she’s plagued with worries that she isn’t. Although she admits to being “excitable, impulsive, and easily agitated’’ she also notes that “[t]here is no quality I admire so much and possess so little as equanimity.” This is precisely why I admire her. She’s not afraid to put her life under a microscope, which is exactly what nonfiction writers should be doing, and it’s necessarily uncomfortable.

Yet Waldman’s frankness means she is often put on trial — because she’s married to famous novelist Michael Chabon and because she boldly expresses unpopular beliefs and questions taboos. Her book “Bad Mother’’ (in which she noted that she loved her husband more than her children) still divides readers, as do her opinions about Israel. A bright woman willing to speak her mind and take risks, both personal and literary, sometimes at the same time? Yes, please.

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Waldman’s prose, crisp and delightful, masterfully weaves personal experience with research. Each chapter begins with a daily rendering of Waldman’s physical, mental, and emotional states, which, in the hands of a less astute writer, might become the Jewish, middle-aged mother’s version of “Bridget Jones’s Diary.’’

A former lawyer, she is thorough, offering a meticulously reported and researched understanding of the history of drug use and the injustice of the law. Underpinning all this are her own experiences representing the people most harmed by the criminalization of drugs like LSD, MDMA, and others, that are far less addictive and have historically led to far more deleterious results than the socially acceptable use of alcohol, nicotine, and now, in many states, marijuana.

The crackdown on drugs, Waldman believes, has little to do with safeguarding our children or our mental health: “Our interminable drug war has from its inception set its sights on the poor and the brown. The first drug laws, the anti-opium laws of the 1870s, were directed at Chinese immigrants, never mind that the country was full of white middle-class laudanum addicts, tipping from their dropper bottles all day long.” Thus was the legal pattern set. Her claim is persuasive.

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LSD scares people, no doubt. Waldman (along with many others, including me) “swallowed” the stories about it; namely, that you could easily go crazy and be plagued by flashbacks all your life, or even die.

But Waldman offers solid proof that therapeutic use has helped people manage anxiety, stress, hypomania, depression, and chronic pain. It was used by such illustrious historical figures from Thomas Jefferson to Aldous Huxley to current cancer patients able to face their deaths without fear.

Like Ritalin and Adderall, “psychedelics enhance neuroplasticity,” but unlike these commonly prescribed (and abused) drugs, they also “increase productivity and focus.”

Reading Waldman’s book, full of passion and integrity and moments of genius hilarity, you’ll want her as a friend, a confidant, a teacher, and — if she still practiced law and you’d been caught with a brick of weed — your lawyer. Like every great nonfiction writer, she uses her personal experience as part of illuminating the larger world, both its beauties and its inequities. I can think of no better compliment for a nonfiction writer, and Waldman earns it on every page. I’d follow her mind anywhere, on any kind of trip.

A REALLY GOOD DAY:

How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life

By Ayelet Waldman

Knopf, 229 pp., $25.95


Emily Rapp Black is the author, most recently, of “The Still Point of the Turning World.’’

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