You won’t find Ayelet Waldman dancing up a storm in a sweaty nightclub or off her face at a music festival, instead the 53-year-old believes taking LSD and MDMA have helped her to be a better wife and mother.
The Californian mother-of-four has never taken drugs recreationally but specifically as a marital aid and as part of a month-long experiment to help gain more control over her moods.
Ahead of her talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas this weekend, Ms Waldman told news.com.au that medical research into the potential benefits of drugs like LSD for treating mental health issues was growing every day, including that it had fewer side effects and could be less dangerous than other legal drugs.
Ms Waldman can personally vouch for LSD, also known as acid. She experimented on herself for one month, taking the equivalent of a single dose of LSD divided into 10 microdoses, which she took every three days.
She took the tiny doses mainly for legal reasons because the prison sentence in the US would be lower if she got caught with a smaller amount of the drug.
Some might wonder why she would take the risk at all, given she had a lot to lose.
As well as being a former lawyer and law professor turned novelist and essayist, she was also a wife and mother to four children.
But as she writes in her book A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, Ms Waldman was prone to unstable moods as well as anxiety and depression.
Desperate for a new approach after a lifetime of taking cocktails of prescription medication, Ms Waldman decided to see if LSD could help and surprisingly found that it did.
“It resolved my intractable depression overnight, I simply wasn’t depressed and I was suicidally depressed before,” she said. “I wasn’t depressed the day that I took it and that was very striking.”
She found that the most dramatic change was how much more productive she was at work and her children also noticed she was less angry.
“I didn’t fly off into uncontrollable rages, I was able to do my work and be presentable,” she said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if it was legal I would be taking it now.”
However, Ms Waldman did have more trouble sleeping and also understands that she may simply have experienced a placebo effect, which is why more research is so important.
In her book she also talks about her use of MDMA, which she has taken “six or seven times” in the last 10 years as a marital aid.
She has taken the drug, also known as ecstasy, with her husband every couple of years to help them re-engage with each other but not physically as some might expect.
“For six hours, we talked about our feelings for each other, why we love each other, how we love each other,” she writes of their first experience.
However, she also writes about the potential risks in taking the drugs and making sure the supply is tested for purity. The drug’s effect also tends to wear off each time you do it and so it’s important to share the experience with the right person.
“I believe that with whom you do MDMA for the first time might even be more important than with whom you have sex for the first time,” she writes.
While drugs like MDMA and LSD remain illegal in the US and most other parts of the world, other drugs like Valium and fentanyl are available with a prescription, even though many have complained about their side effects and opioid-induced deaths in Australia have almost doubled in the last decade.
Ms Waldman believes the complex history of drug use in America has led to the outlawing of some while others became legal.
“In the US it comes back to race and politics,” she said. “Drugs have been criminalised as they’ve become tied to different racial groups.”
Drugs were not illegal in the 19th century when the typical opioid addict was a woman who used laudanum but this changed with the introduction of marijuana, which politicians and the media tied to hordes of Mexicans crossing the borders.
Ms Waldman said there were articles about sex-crazed Mexicans being driven to rape by marijuana, “which if you’ve ever smoked marijuana is laughable”.
Later fears were raised over the use of cocaine, which reportedly could made African-American men immune to the consequences of being shot by bullets of small caliber guns.
Even to this day police in the America’s south carry larger guns, she said.
Early media coverage of LSD had been quite positive and featured housewives talking about how it cured their depression and gave them new insight into the world.
But as the use of psychedelics became tied to anti-Vietnam War activists and civil rights protesters, parents were terrified by Dr Timothy Leary’s message to “turn on, tune in, drop out”.
“With the hippies it became very terrifying because if a child stops listening to you, drops out of college and starts doing acid, this is catastrophic for parents,” Ms Waldman said.
She said people could not in fact overdose on psychedelics but overdoses on other drugs were attributed to LSD and there were a handful of people who died after falling out of windows for example.
“The truth is, psychedelics are very powerful but they are not physically powerful except when the experience they cause is profound and awful,” she said. “What I’m calling for is more research.”
Ms Waldman said one of the possible benefits of having Donald Trump as the President of the United States, was that other countries may start considering other approaches to drug use.
“I think that the single greatest impediment to more research … is obviously its illegality,” she said.
She said other countries have tried to change their drug laws in the past but have had the US come down hard on them and demand support for its “war on drugs”.
“The US used to be and has always been, an international bully,” she said.
“The previous president was respected so other countries toed the line,” she said.
“Now we have a lunatic as president and other countries no longer feel they have to do anything he says.”
Ms Waldman said she hoped that models for decriminalisation of drugs, such as the one in Portugal, which has seen a dramatic drop in overdoses, HIV and drug-related crime, may now have a chance to spread across the Western world.