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Can Psychedelics Help Reduce Anxiety in Women?

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

*DISCLAIMER - This article is in no way an incentive for anyone to try any legal or illegal

substances. It has been written for educational and harm reduction purposes only. If you have

any health conditions or are taking medication, DO NOT take these substances without first doing your own research, and talking with your doctor or healthcare professional.*

According to studies, anxiety is twice as common in women. And the number does not depend on social class, ethnicity, or geographic location: the issue here is gender.

The beginning of 2020 was a time in which my anxiety levels rose far higher than I could manage to control. Due to the constant scenario of uncertainties, I often found myself in a state of restlessness, accompanying a lack of focus, overeating, and a really bad quality of sleep. I was anxious all the time.

And not surprisingly, the fact that I was feeling anxious would make me even more anxious. This anxiety then generated psychosomatic symptoms in my body that varied from gastritis and headaches to muscle pain on my entire right side. My mind was making my body sick and it took me a long time to acknowledge this as a coping mechanism that needed to be addressed.

Unfortunately, that was not just my reality, but of many women across the globe even before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

photo collage woman and flowers
Artwork: Samba De Verão by Ana Paula Hoppe

Women: The Relation Between Anxiety and Gender

In political discussions, at work, or in the family, it is common for women to be called crazy, emotional, or impulsive. Taking the topic of women's mental health seriously is rare, especially without it falling into sexism.

In 2016, the University of Cambridge analyzed more than a thousand published articles and researches conducted on anxiety and depression since 1999. The results they found were alarming, although not surprising: anxiety disorder is twice more common in women than it is in men. This number is independent of any other issue, such as social class, ethnicity, and location on the globe.

Psychological problems like depression, bipolarity, and anxiety are not uncommon around our world today, especially after the current global COVID-19 crisis. In fact, according to the WHO, these problems affect 1 in every 3 people in the world today. And the number reaches 4% of the global population when considering anxiety disorders only. Among women, 42% suffer from the disorder, while for men, the number drops to 29%.

The WHO defines anxiety disorder as a constant feeling of worry, disability, and fear. Physically, a person may experience nausea, tachycardia, and sleep problems, and when they have an attack, they may not even be able to leave the house or carry on with simple daily tasks. These symptoms help us to explain why it is important to take gender into account when analyzing anxiety disorder. According to the study of the University, they appear in women, because we are constantly on alert.

But why are we constantly on alert?

To give you an idea, here are some shocking statistics. According to the WHO, one in five women will be raped in her lifetime. Also, of the 50 million people who live in conflict situations around our world, 80% are women and children. Victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment on the streets, at home, at work, and on public transport are also mostly women.

In addition, there is also a lot of pressure created by the multiple roles imposed on women - such as motherhood, for example - and the lack of support from the family if they finally decide to start any sort of psychological treatment. Often, women do not even have the autonomy or the chance to understand that what they are feeling is an anxiety disorder.

We are in great need of having more open discussions around women’s mental health. These conversations are important because such conditions are still ignored, even when the object of study is not gender. It is estimated that, worldwide, only two out of five people suffering from mental disorders while presenting such coping mechanisms seek psychological help.

The Potential of Psychedelics for Anxiety

Earlier this year, I had a light psilocybin journey at home with the intention to reconnect with my body. It felt rock-heavy as I entered into a deep state of relaxation I had never before known. As I dove deeper within my mind, I could feel every part of myself and how each one of these components connects to another. That feeling of interconnectedness continued to unfold for the next three hours and, for once, I could fully understand how, by taking care of my mind, I would also be taking care of my body.

In our day-to-day life, we are struggling to keep up with today’s demands: staying on top of our to-do lists, being perfect in all the roles we embody, proving ourselves personally and professionally, and keeping up with societal standards to fit in. All of these can be major sources of anxiety and depression and it’s no wonder that we are all trying to reconnect to more meaningful experiences that alleviate stress. And that’s perhaps why recently, thousands of women across the globe are self-medicating with micro or macro doses of psilocybin mushrooms or LSD.

But what does the research say about the potential of psychedelics for treating anxiety? A 2017 study done in Switzerland, researched the efficacy of LSD in reducing anxiety in patients with or without life-threatening illness. The results were stunning, showing that there was a decrease in anxiety symptoms at 2, 8, and 16 weeks with LSD- compared to placebo-assisted psychotherapy.

According to researchers, psilocybin may also be a valuable tool for improving the efficacy of psychotherapy and, in turn, alleviating these symptoms. The exact mechanisms of how that works are still unknown to experts, but they believe the drug can make the brain more flexible and receptive to new ideas and thought patterns.

Furthermore, previous research suggests that the drug targets the default mode network (DMN) in the brain. The DMN is triggered as we participate in self-reflection and mind wandering and aids in the formation of our sense of self and coherent narrative identity. This network becomes hyperactive in people with anxiety and depression and is linked to rumination, concern, and rigid thought. Psilocybin tends to sharply alter operation in this network, allowing people to have a more holistic view of their behavior and lives.

Besides that, there’s also the possibility that a macrodose experience engages the root cause of anxiety in a completely different way than microdosing. That can happen because a psychedelic experience has the potential to change your perspective on anxiety and trauma.

It's important to note that high-quality research on the effects of microdosing to treat anxiety is still scarce. And even in some reports, anxiety was listed as a side effect of microdosing psychedelics, something that can also happen with macrodoses.

photo collage woman and flowers
Artwork by Pierre Jean-Louis

The Journey Within

So far I have had several journeys that have helped reduce my anxiety while having changed my relationship with it. By putting me in a state of being rather than doing, these experiences have taught me how to be more present in the here and now. They have taught me how to connect with my body, rather than letting my mind run in spirals. And for women, who are constantly worried about everything and everyone, this return inward has the potential of being extremely therapeutical.

After a journey, spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant and some things look so small in comparison to having perceived the world in a whole new way. The best results when making use of these substances are seen by also carrying out integration work, mindfulness techniques, and lifestyle changes. Especially when addressing mental health issues that have been a constant in your life.

The truth is that psychedelics haven’t fixed everything, but rather have reminded me how to listen to my innate body wisdom. The body has its own ways of knowing, separate and distinct from that of the mind. The mind thinks while the body feels. And although these compounds have helped me reconnect with my body, I know these are not magic pills that will make me wake up the next day anxiety-free.

Nowadays when I feel the anxiety taking over again, I lie on the couch and it doesn’t hit me that bad anymore. And it doesn’t take me long to realize that the most precious gift psychedelics have given me was to learn how to be… gentler with myself.

About the author: Jessika Lagarde is an experienced plant medicine facilitator, integration coach, educator, and Women On Psychedelics Co-founder. Jessika provides one-on-one coaching, sessions, and group ceremonies for women going through life transitions, such as grief, career change, relationship break-ups, motherhood, or moving countries. Check out her website and offers here.

If you would like to learn more about how to microdose psychedelics, check a few of the articles we have available on our platform.

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