Can Microdosing support the process of Grief?

February 15, 2023/Microdosing, Psychedelic assisted therapy
Can Microdosing support the process of Grief?

What is Microdosing?

Microdosing refers to the act of ingesting minute quantities of a psychedelic substance, in amounts that are barely noticeable, over an extended period of time. This practice has gained popularity in recent years, as individuals seek alternative approaches to support their overall well-being. By consuming small doses, individuals aim to benefit from the potential therapeutic effects of these substances, without experiencing the full-blown psychedelic experience. The idea is to experience subtle changes in mood, cognition, or creativity, rather than intense alterations in perception. The practice of microdosing requires careful attention to dosage and safety, and should only be done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

What is grief?

Grief is complicated. It takes many forms. Grief is the response we have to lose a place/person/thing that we once directed our love and care into. Love takes the shape of grief when we experience a long-lasting absence. There are definable collective themes people meet around a time of Loss. As suggested in Wikipedia, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions. I would see bereavement as the state of mourning as the term that best defines when someone enters during the early stages of grieving. Here are some common collective themes around loss:

  • Loss of a beloved/child/friend
  • Loss of identity/belonging
  • Loss of traditions/culture
  • Loss of identity/health/mobility
  • Loss of creativity/talent
  • Loss of belief/faith/religion

Are there stages to Grief?

Simplifying phenomena can be common in the early stages of study. In 1969 E.K.Ross created a foundation to understand grief. She described the process in stages, using a model that is often understood to be linear. The stages she described were so familiar to people it was a widely accepted model. She used people’s momentary experiences of grief to report on bereavement over time, but not all people experience the ‘5’ stages or go through them in the order suggested. The 5 stages can not be empirically proven, especially with relation to how unique each person adapts to life after the death of a loved one, over time, as per the research of neuroscientist and psychologist Mary-Frances O’Connor, PhD, in In The Grieving Brain.

How long does grief tend to last?

As Dr O’Connor describes in her book, there are many strange things about grief, especially in relation to what the brain has to do to understand the changes, in particular, when a person has died and is gone forever. A similar struggle happens with the loss of a cherished pet (e.g. guide dog) or if we tragically lose a limb, a joint, or our overall health. The surprising thing about the brain is that it tries to resolve the absence, through logic. With death, we might have even witnessed their decline or seen their coffin at a funeral, or we can literally see that something is gone. But the brain relies on multiple sources of information at the same time, and so the story of attachment or connection to this beloved is so hard-wired down, that we just can’t make sense of them missing. This is especially strong when we trust that relationship/task to be relevant to who we are, e.g., playing tennis every week and then losing our mobility.

Neuroscientific evidence shows us that psychological changes happen to the brain through connection. It is now evident it takes time for our brain to adapt to loss. It’s partly down to memory, but also down to strong emotions, like yearning, that is at the heart of grief. If someone we care about dies badly, or we lose our ability to do something important (like playing the piano), depending on the circumstances we can wonder if we could have done more to make the outcome different. Blame can enter the equation or guilt. It’s the combination that makes the whole thing very complicated. Also, our coping mechanisms play a role, in our level of independence, and capacity to create safety for ourselves.

The question is how long does it take? It is really difficult to answer. Adapting to a change in a habit, like eating breakfast with our beloved every day for 20 years, or playing in an orchestra for 35 years, takes time. The body has to rewire its expectations to not rely on our sense of usual. Dr. O’Connor says that it takes a lot longer than we imagine. There are so many changes to our sense of Self, and connection to the person or thing that our desire to live is dramatically altered.

What happens if you don't grieve properly?

In about 7-10 per cent of cases, this feeling of disconnection becomes so acute, that a state of ‘prolonged grief disorder’ becomes a reflection of stuckness, an inability to transition into the new way of being. A person can begin avoiding the intensity of the pain this crisis is creating through daydreaming, numbing through using substances or going over and over old memories, with a complete unwillingness to accept the reality that things have changed. This might mean someone doesn’t get past the perceived 1st stage of Ross’ model, Denial, or they don’t allow Anger to take hold, because they just don’t accept that this precious connection will not be returned. I consider a person with prolonged grief disorder to never have moved out of mourning, stuck in a perpetual state of bereavement.

How will I know if I’m experiencing prolonged grief?

Grief can take months to years to make itself fully present. If there has been a loss in your life, in the past 2-4 years, and two or more of the following are familiar, you can begin to wonder about the possibility that you are suffering prolonged grief:

  • You find yourself avoiding the pain of loss through distraction, a year or more on
  • You might become unusually stressed about small everyday things, months later
  • You are overly anxious or suffer panic attacks, or you are constantly angry
  • You might struggle around ANY type of loss, even simple endings act as triggers
  • You may feel distressed at night, feel acute loneliness, experience insomnia
  • You begin to experience chronic pain
  • You start to question ‘everything’ including reality and the meaning of life
  • You have been experiencing negative thoughts surrounding your mortality
  • We might have lost the will to continue living, overall and have suicidal ideations

How Microdosing can be helpful for grief?

If the pain is not easing, and your well-being is in question, then mourning can begin to generate numbness or rawness. When the vitality is low, this can be called a depressed state. If you have tried counseling and support groups, and still feel stuck, theoretically, microdosing may ease (or simply help you to go through) these feelings of anxiety and worry, allowing you to resume daily activities. Once you experience a sense of relief you may begin to sleep more easily, and this can bring enough relief to begin ‘living’ again, and feel constantly overwhelmed. With the right professional guidance, early research has shown that microdosing certain psychedelics can ease anxiety and break negative thought patterns. If you have experienced an unexpected loss and you are recognising any of the complicated symptoms listed above, this may be a trauma response as your emotions, brain, and spirit attempts to adjust to the absence. It’s important to listen to let the body tell it what it needs. This requires slowing down, especially irrational overthinking.

At what stage do I begin to consider Microdosing for grief?

You might consider micro-dosing after the period of bereavement has passed. This is when the realisation of the absence has descended and you are willing to allow the joy & enthusiasm for life to return, but you just don’t know where to begin. There are other supporting tools to consider, like bodywork, sound therapies, and voice work, to help recalibrate the nervous system. Microdosing can help to restore your willingness to be creative enough to take the risk of trying new things.

What to do next?

Schedule an appointment with one of our professional therapists and we will support you by assessing if it’s time to begin sessions of this kind.