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Exploring psychedelics for women's health challenges, this article delves into the gender bias in medical research and the potential of psilocybin for conditions like PMDD and PCOS. With traditional medicine often falling short, more inclusive studies on psychedelics could offer vital insights and solutions.
Public health researchers, sociologists, and women’s rights advocates have known for a long time that gender bias within the medical research fields is a substantial problem.
One article states, “Not only have doctors, scientists and researchers mostly been men, but most of the cells, animals and humans studied in medical science have also been male: most of the advances we have seen in medicine have come from the study of male biology.”
On the other hand, women’s diseases and disorders have been understudied and often unrecognized. Doctors often dismiss women’s pain. Women tend to wait longer, get less treatment, and be diagnosed with mental illness at a higher frequency. The experience of feeling blamed and “gaslit” by medical professionals is not uncommon.
In some cases, women have been excluded in clinical drug trials entirely. This exclusion affected not only women but also unborn children in soon-to-be mothers who were using medications that had never been tested on females, much less those who were pregnant or breastfeeding.
Although the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 in the US mandated the inclusion of women and minorities in publicly-funded medical studies, recent data shows that women remain underrepresented in key disease clinical trials.
As a result, many women with issues such as endometriosis, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and infertility continue to suffer for years with misdiagnoses and inadequate treatment from the traditional medical establishment.
Naturally, some of them turn to psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics. Some women report positive effects such as improved menstrual regularity, mood, sleep, and self-esteem by taking entheogens.
Still, even within the field of psychedelic medicine, there has been little research done on how these substances affect the female menstrual cycles and reproductive systems.
"Most women aren’t turning to psychedelics to numb themselves. Instead, they are taking entheogens to sit with difficult emotions and situations. They may receive valuable lessons about themselves, their emotions, and their relationships."
And while psychedelic research is expanding into areas that largely affect women, such as psilocybin therapy for females with anorexia nervosa, the impact of psychedelics on women’s health and everyday concerns remains largely overlooked. Additional research is necessary to better understand how women can use entheogenic substances to treat various health conditions.
In this article, we’ll:
First, what is PMDD and what do psychedelics have to do with it?
While more than 90% of women say they experience at least one symptom of premenstral syndrome (PMS), an estimated 5-8% of women suffer from PMDD.
Although the two ailments share symptoms, PMDD is much more severe than PMS, and can often exhibit the traits of and be misdiagnosed as one or more of the following conditions:
Trauma seems to play a pivotal role in the development of PMDD, with one study citing that 83% of women diagnosed with PMDD experienced early life trauma, with 71% of those surveyed experiencing emotional abuse.
As with many illnesses caused or exacerbated by trauma, there is no known cure for PMDD within the current medical paradigm. Doctors routinely prescribe birth control or anti-depressants to alleviate symptoms. In an attempt to cure themselves, some women turn to surgery: hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), bilateral-oopherectomy (removal of the ovaries), or a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes).
When conventional medicine fails them, some turn to forums such as the PMDD subreddit in search of community, emotional support, and advice on diet, supplements, and anything else that might help their condition. Occasionally, the conversation turns to psychedelics.
At least two women have published books about using psychedelics to treat their PMDD: Tina A. Williams who wrote The Woman in the Basement and Ayelet Waldman who composed A Really Good Day. They describe how using psychedelics brought relief they could not find elsewhere.
Women like Williams and Waldman are paving their own way: with few formal studies to go on, they experiment, gain knowledge, and share with others. Because psychedelics are still illegal in most jurisdictions, women like them are taking risks to help themselves and each other.
It’s not just PMDD: women are turning to psychedelics to treat everything from eating disorders, postpartum depression and menopause because they are desperate for relief and tired of being ignored and blamed by the mainstream medical establishment. They don’t want more pills; they want true healing.
Intentional psychedelic use can help us get to the root causes of illnesses. These substances can bring suppressed emotions, memories, and traumas to the surface, giving us the opportunity to witness, process, and release them. Although results are not guaranteed, people often report feeling lighter and more joyful.
On the other hand, numbing ourselves with alcohol, cannabis, opiates, and other substances is a short-term band-aid. They can help us feel “good” for the time being, but often cause psychological or physical dependency.
Most women aren’t turning to psychedelics to numb themselves, but to confront and process difficult emotions and situations. In their journeys, they may receive valuable lessons about themselves, their emotions, and their relationships.
The psychedelic substances don’t automatically cure illnesses, but they can be wise teachers and counselors. They won’t do the work for us, but they can clarify the work that we need to do. They can help shine light on important questions to ask ourselves.And, for many women, the topics of pregnancy and motherhood can often stir up difficult questions. Add psychedelics to the mix and the unknowns multiply.
While some women do not have or want to have children, reproduction and motherhood are central issues in women’s health. Questions abound:
A study on pregnant rats confirmed that psilocin crossed the blood-brain and placental barriers, suggesting that pregnant women should avoid using mushrooms during pregnancy.
However, the researchers did not follow the rat pups after birth, so there is no information about the effect of psilocin exposure during their development. Who knows? The psilocybin may have helped the baby rats to be more intelligent, social, or enlightened.
In fact, although the idea of children partaking in psychedelics is taboo in Western culture, “in indigenous cultures, children may be involved in the harvest, ceremony, and ingestion of substances in both small and full doses.”
In the linked article, Rebecca Kronman, founder of Plant Parenthood, gives many examples of how psychedelic substances are incorporated into indigenous culture. She points to Huichol Indians in Mexico, the Fang tribe in Gabon, and Santo Daime Church members giving, respectively, peyote, ibogaine, ayahuasca to children.
She also shares how the women in indigenous cultures have utilized plant medicines "prenatally or during breastfeeding to help prevent miscarriage, ensure the maturation of the fetus, and increase breastmilk production."
She urges us to consider how our mindsets has been affected by the War on Drugs, and to learn from cultures who have utilized these sacraments for longer than our current Western civilization has been around.
Another pioneer, Mikaela de la Myco has been collecting stories of women who used or are using various psychedelic substances during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and early motherhood. At the time of her interview on the Psychedelic Passage podcast, she had collected over 240 submissions.
She reports seeing benefits such as increased patience and creativity. The mushrooms seem to help the mothers work through their parenting triggers and the corresponding childhood wounds, helping them to be calmer and more present when they are with their children.
Microdosing moms are reporting all kinds of benefits, such as an easier time making decisions, more patience, and generally being happier while on the mushrooms. Again, the truth is becoming harder to hide as more women speak the truth about their plant medicine experiences.
Women have been involved in the psychedelics movement for as long as psychedelics have existed. Unfortunately, like in other fields, their efforts have often been ignored. A layman who has listened to a few podcasts on psychedelics will have probably heard the names Rick Doblin, Gabor Mate, Stanislov Grof, Timothy Leary, and Roland Griffiths. But probably not Ann Shulgin, Mabel Luhan or Gertrude Paltin.
Fortunately, the psychedelic space is increasingly recognizing the importance of women. Here are just a few women-centered psychedelic projects:
As you can see, many women are not waiting for lawmakers and doctors to recognize the value of psychedelics. They are exemplifying courage and taking action to help others on their journeys.
Gender bias in medical research prevents society from evolving into a more compassionate and holistic one. The harms women experience affect everyone including their children, husbands, partners, fathers and brothers. Even though we may not necessarily see or understand the ripple effects of an individual woman's suffering, we are all affected by it.
Women must be able to explore natural ways to cope with and overcome conditions such as PMDD and endometriosis. To utilize every tool at their disposal including, and perhaps especially, mushrooms and plant medicines. Western medicine simply doesn't address the root causes of disease and sometimes causes more problems than it resolves.
When we explore the intersection of reproduction, motherhood, and psychedelics, many questions arise, challenging conventional wisdom and cultural norms. While concerns about the safety of psychedelic use during pregnancy exist, the limited available research leaves many unknowns.
The idea that Indigenous cultures have been incorporating psychedelics into family life for centuries challenges our rigid ideas of right and wrong, and highlights the potential benefits that have long been overshadowed by the War on Drugs.
As more women share their stories and advocate for their right to explore consciousness, the truth about the symbiotic relationship between psychedelics and women's health is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Nature is urging us to reconsider preconceived notions and embrace a more inclusive, open-minded, nature-oriented approach to modern-day problems.
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