Microdosing Psilocybin & Understanding How We Hold Tension In Our Bodies

Physiotherapist Brent Stevenson's experience with microdosing psilocybin mushrooms and how it relates to the tensions we hold in our bodies. He includes a list of resources to learn more about the topic.

I have the tendency to go down rabbit holes of knowledge every few years that end up challenging the paradigms that I believe to be true.  Typically, most of my beliefs hold up to the stress tests of new information and experience, while others fall away as less important, or relatively not useful anymore given my new skillset.  I started with university degrees in Human Kinetics and Physiotherapy where I received a more traditional medical model education of the human body, injury, and healing.  I followed up my degrees with a series of post-graduate courses on manual therapy that hyper-focussed on how to feel and move every bone and joint in the body, an approach that didn’t really resonate with me, so I started learning about movement by teaching golfers how twist properly.  Movement work lead into the principles of muscle balancing, which led into learning IMS dry needling from Dr Chan Gunn.  The ability to needle clients opened up galaxies of anatomy and human behaviour to me that I had not even considered, and eventually led me down a path towards visceral manipulation, a manual therapy approach that focusses on the role of people’s organs in their tension patterns.  Connecting with intention to people’s organs while reading, learning, and experiencing my own trauma showed me how we tend to hold our day-to-day stresses as tensions in our muscular systems, and deeper seeded issues in and around our organs.  Armed with the ability to release tensions from muscles with IMS and from the fascia around organs with visceral manipulation, breath work and mindfulness training, I started to realize how most of the tension and discomfort that people experience in their bodies is rooted in some type of emotional distress.

My twenty years of experience trying to help people with their bodies continues to take me progressively deeper inside of them to the point my approach is becoming as much philosophical as it is physical.  To genuinely understand Why Things Hurt, we need to appreciate that how we think affects how we feel, and start to view our bodies as the interface of our consciousness.  As I keep looking deeper for the root causes of the persistent discomforts in the people I am helping, I keep finding that empathy, kindness, and meaningful explanations are the groundwork that need to be present before physical interventions will have any lasting impact for a person.  Different forms of stress, fear, and anxiety fuel the regenerating sources of tension we unknowingly create and hold in our bodies, so physical treatments alone have a slim chance of getting to the root of people’s problems.

I have had great success helping people both physically and mentally by releasing tensions from their bodies, teaching them how to stand and move more efficiently, breathe differently, and generally be more mindful about their bodies, but I have also come to understand that there is still another layer of awareness that most people aren’t able to access.  I have been a long-time reader and listener of Tim Ferriss’ contributions to the world and witnessed him go through an arc of self-discovery and become a prominent advocate for the use of psychedelic assisted therapies.  I listened to him interview Paul Stamets, the leading mycologist in the world, Michael Pollan, the author of How to Change Your Mind, and a series of other leading researchers, authors and gurus that all had very compelling information about the history and use of psilocybin to help people with depression, post-traumatic stress, and general happiness.

While reading and listening to long-form podcasts I also started treating some health professionals in Vancouver that happened to run clinics that offered counselling, body work and facilitated guided journeys for people.  I was impressed by what I learned from the professionals that had been helping their clients under the radar due to the legalities of working with psilocybin mushrooms, but I was also happy to be working in a progressive city like Vancouver that is very tolerant of new ideas, and in a country that appears to be on its’ way to legalization.  I read James Fadiman’s book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, and gained an appreciation for the difference between microdosing, macrodosing and the concept of set & setting in the purposeful use of psilocybin compared to the experience of consuming magic mushrooms with friends in a casual setting.  I came to appreciate the process of the integration of the experience that can help people learn what they need to do by unlocking pieces of themselves that they had built walls around in order to keep moving forward.

Armed with enough information and a sampling of past experience, I decided to start purposefully microdosing psilocybin based on the guidelines suggested by James Fadiman, which was effectively one day on, two days off, one day on, and repeat for a few months (click here for more information on protocols).  The suggestion was to take 100-300mg each day, but start low, so I stuck with 100mg capsules of ground mushrooms on Sundays and Wednesdays when I wasn’t working clinically.  I tried to make sure that I had some opportunities to be outside, walk my dog, listen to music, and reflect on how I was feeling during the days.  I noticed a lightness in my body, a gentle tingling in my arms and legs, a calmer feeling of presence, a better ability to focus on one train of thought instead of the ten that can go through my brain, and a marked interest and appreciation for the nature around me when I was outside.  I had a slightly harder time returning to my computer on Wednesdays to try and write my book because my brain had a slightly harder time interfacing with reading at first, but after a few times I learned how to comfortably be functional in most contexts without feeling impaired at all.  The thing that surprised me the most was that I actually enjoyed the following two days more than the day I took the microdose, it seemed to have the opposite effect to a hangover.  The next two days, I felt the tension that I hold in my chest relax, which allowed me to breathe more freely, and my sinuses seemed to clear.  I was more present, felt more emotion and generally felt happier and healthier.

The experience of two months of microdosing made me realize that the state that I had come to think was normal really amounted to an intermittent level of depression.  I was fully functional and living a busy life, but I was getting headaches, occasional migraines, randomly feeling fatigued without being sick and just a bit numbed to the chaotically busy life that I was living.  Purposefully microdosing psilocybin has helped me reconnect with what normal is supposed to feel like, and motivated me to reflect on how I haven’t really stopped moving, or properly processed the role my eye injury played in my life over the past eight years.  I have three active teenagers, run two businesses, created an online course, am writing my second book and work clinically full time.  Productivity calms my busy brain, but psilocybin seems to provide some calm and some perspective without me having to burn the candle at both ends.

On March 31st, I saw Paul Stamets talk to a diverse crowd of thousands of people at the Vancouver Convention Center in a presentation titled How Psilocybin Mushrooms Can Help Save The World.  I didn’t learn any distinctly new information, but I was impressed by how far the movement has come with scientific research, political acceptance, pending legislative change and overall awareness.  In my clinical practice, I am starting to suggest certain clients that clearly have challenges with stress and anxiety start to learn about microdosing and the option of counselling with the integration of a macrodose of psilocybin.  Psilocybin does not fall into the physiotherapy scope of practice, so when appropriate I suggest a counsellor that has more experience in the space. I have been part of the integration team (support for people in the weeks after a macrodose) for a number of clients that have experienced guided journeys and have seen and felt the shift in how people hold tension in their bodies in relation to their general outlook on life in the days, weeks and months afterwards.  I would say it is the first medicine that I have come across that helps people learn what to do instead of passively making them feel differently for a limited period of time.

The research into psilocybin is strong, but has focussed on things like post-traumatic stress disorder in Navy Seals, end of life anxiety for cancer patients, and people with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.  As a physiotherapist and father in his mid-forties, I suggest that psilocybin has a much broader role by helping people put their small-T traumas of day-to-day life in perspective and learn how to assertively work on their own levels of happiness.  With some direction and education, I believe that small amounts of psilocybin and cannabis can and should replace the role that drinking alcohol plays as a stress reliever in our society.  They can be healthier and more proactive ways to help people achieve an altered state that gives them a rest from their daily stress, help give them perspective, and generally be nicer to the people around them.  

I am currently writing the last section of my book titled Why We Hurt: Understanding How To Be Comfortable In Your Own Body, where I dive deeper into how our bodies actually work, consciousness, altered states, small-T traumas, and human behaviour as they relate to our physical bodies.

*To be clear, I am not an expert in this space, the purpose of this article is to share my experience and knowledge and encourage people to learn more if they are interested.  Below is a list of things to read, listen, and watch to better inform yourself on something that is likely going to become increasingly prevalent and available in the coming years.*


Read, Listen & Watch Resources:

How to Change Your Mind: Books, Physio & Psychedelics (My blog article)

Paul Stamets- How Mushrooms Can Save You and Perhaps the World (Tim Ferriss Podcast)

Michael Pollan- Exploring the Frontiers of Psychedelics (Tim Ferris Podcast)

James Fadiman- The Psychedelic Explorers Guide, Risks, Microdosing, Ibogaine and More (Tim Ferriss Podcast) 

How to Change Your Mind (Netflix series based on Michael Pollan’s book) 

Fantastic Fungi (Netflix documentary about mushrooms)

Microdosing Institute (website full of educational information)

Microdose Study (World’s largest mobile microdosing study) 

Thrive Downtown (Vancouver counselling services)

3 Amigos Psilocybin (Online Store, Resources & FAQ)

Enjoy learning about a fascinating topic that could have a significant impact on your life. Please feel free to leave comments below and I will try my best to answer them.

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