It was in March of this year that Eduardo Parada sat down for his first Skype session with Paul Austin. The call lasted an hour. Austin asked Parada about his professional goals in farming business management, and about what drives him, but the call wasn't exactly business or farming related; Austin is a professional microdosing coach and psychedelics advocate, offering counsel to folks interested in trying out microdosing for themselves.
"I never wanted to do it just for fun, or [to be] a rebel," says Parada, adding that he recognised the power of psychedelics to enhance his professional life, if used under supervision, after a trip last year to Peru. "So that was my first rule when I started this journey with psychedelics: You have to have an expert next to you, or you have to get some guidance."
Microdosing psychedelics – or, taking very, very low doses of drugs like LSD or psilocybin as a kind of therapy – has become increasingly popular over the past few years, particularly as a tool for productivity and harnessing mental acuity. (Silicon Valley, for one, loves it.) But Austin's goal is to make it more accessible to people everywhere.
Austin, 27, first embarked on his own microdosing experiment in June 2015 while building his first startup, an online English language school. For seven months, Austin microdosed LSD every fourth day, with the intent of improving focus both on-the-job and within his interpersonal relationships. The effect, he says, has been lasting.
"I think the biggest takeaway [since then] is the level of presence," says Austin via Skype from New York, where he's based, and where he recently led a Psychedelics for Professionals workshop. "Where I'm directing my attention, my direction is, instead of it being so splintered."
Nowadays, Austin runs The Third Wave, a psychedelic-focused web platform dedicated to advocacy and education, Austin's brainchild that "came directly out of microdosing," he says. It's through The Third Wave that Austin offers his private "microdosing coaching" sessions via Skype for $97 a call.
Austin says that, so far, he's done around 25 of his 30-minute "info sessions," as he calls them, and a handful of hourlong coaching calls, including his session with Parada. And although he only has three private clients right now, Austin recently launched an online microdosing course. The course has enrolled 240 students so far.
There was never one "aha moment" for Austin – the Michigan-raised son of a social worker and university director of career services – that inspired him to coach. Instead, motivation for the undertaking stemmed first from noticing that there were more and more people out there with questions about microdosing, and next from a firm belief that microdosing is best meant for personal growth, and not as a casual free-for-all. "This is an incredible tool," says Austin. "But if it's not used within a specific, integrated framework, and if it's not used with a specific intention or objective, then much of the utility and usefulness will be lost. And I think that would be a shame because the upsides are so tremendous."
Austin first heard about microdosing on a 2015 episode of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast that featured an interview with psychologist James Fadiman, a psychedelic research pioneer who has collected self-reports on the potential upsides of microdosing from around 1,700 individuals over the past several years. Austin now considers Fadiman a mentor, and the admiration appears mutual. The 78-year-old LSD research trailblazer has referred to Austin as "the next phase" of psychedelic work.
"Paul is giving people a kind of attention so that they will feel safer," Fadiman tells Rolling Stone of Austin's coaching services. "People love to be supported, and they love to have someone to report to. So Paul is doing, I think, a lovely service, and creating a new occupation that he and others can do easily."
While coaches and therapists specialising in integration – the process of incorporating psychedelic experiences into "un-altered" life – are nothing new to psychedelics, online coaching about how best to microdose is largely uncharted territory.
And a sober chaperone for a psychedelic trip – aka a "sitter" – is not a new concept either. Timothy Leary, one of the most outspoken LSD advocates of the 1960s, advised on the value of a sitter's presence in The Psychedelic Experience, the 1964 tripping guide he coauthored with fellow Harvard psychologists-turned-psychedelic researchers Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. The sitter's purpose, they wrote, centered on acting as a "wise guide," grounding the individual during their psychedelic experience by piping up to explain any unsettling physical symptoms related to ego loss, and keeping quiet "when the voyager is clearly in a profound ego-transcendent ecstasy." ("Ego loss," a hallmark of a moderate-to-high-dose psychedelic experience, is the temporary loss of one's sense of self.) Today, psychedelic-assisted therapy research employs teams of co-therapist dyads, or pairs of two, who sit with research subjects during the entirety of their sessions.
This is not the service that Austin offers. For starters, microdosing does not induce ego loss, and does not seem to necessitate such a guide's monitoring. The effects of microdosing are sub-perceptual – many microdosers agree that if the individual feels as though they've entered an altered state, they've taken too large a dose to be considered "micro." And, says Austin, a microdosing regimen is not about the day that one ingests the LSD. It's about the days and weeks that follow, and about integrating lessons learned into daily life. What Austin provides now is information, preparation and advice on whether microdosing might be right for the person on the other end of the Skype connection.
"I'm trying to help [students] understand where they came from," says Austin.
For Parada, Austin advised he hold off. Their call convinced Parada that he had more work to do in terms of integrating his Peruvian experience from a year ago, and needed more time to develop a stronger sense of self.
"He's not the guy who's going to tell you, 'Take this pill and everything's going to be solved,'" says Parada, who calls Austin in the way he approaches these substances. "There's more consciousness behind him."
For those who Austin does recommend microdosing, he suggests starting with a very low dose, and avoiding public places for the first couple days while gauging the body's initial reaction to the drug, if any. He gives clients the flexibility to use microdoses of either LSD or psilocybin as part of their "protocol" – the every-fourth-day dosing regimen developed by Fadiman – though Austin favours LSD for his own micro-use. Clients are on their own for how they'll procure their microdosing substances. And while Austin's customers to date have reported previous exposure to psychedelics, they're mainly still in the "'need-info' stage," as he puts it, on microdosing.
But that's starting to change. "Psychedelic naives" are beginning to attend his workshops in greater numbers, like the one he ran in New York earlier this year. After asking the room who among them had not taken psychedelics before, around 20 percent raised their hands. Austin projects that more of his calls will soon hinge on how to best utilise microdosing, not just background on what microdosing is and whether or not it might be helpful. Appointments tend to unfold like career counseling session – unsurprising since microdosing has become perhaps best known as a boon for efficiency.
"Whenever I'm doing some sort of coaching, I'm always identifying where a person is currently at," says Austin. Often, he says, his clients express a misalignment between their internal purpose and drive, and their public, professional persona – a schism between their ideal self and their day-to-day self. The microdosing coaching, he says, helps people clarify their professional pursuits and goals. "But at the same time," he adds, "I'm trying to help them understand where they came from, and where they're at, so that they can make the best decision possible for themselves, without me imposing what I think is best for them."
Austin's coaching business is one component of his larger mission with The Third Wave, "to change the way in which mainstream culture perceives psychedelic substances." And microdosing's decidedly un-trippy quality might help to do just that.
Microdosing isn't a panacea, however, and Austin doesn't claim it to be. Look no further than Reddit for a dive into the downsides and drawbacks of microdosing, where users point out that the long-term effects of regular microdosing are unknown, and that microdosing can incur a "what goes up must come down" withdrawal effect, the intensity of which varies from person to person and depends on the size of the dose.
Education and awareness are the key focuses of The Third Wave's psychedelic advocacy bent, says Austin, adding that there's a lot of misinformation out there related to drugs, not to mention safety concerns. Psychedelics are, after all, illegal in the U.S. But since many of the early adopters of microdosing are professionals in their twenties and thirties, Austin believes that these forays into mindful microdosing bode well for what he sees as the bigger picture: community building among social entrepreneurs.
Could smart and safe microdosing change the conversation surrounding psychedelics? Microdosing has ignited interest for an audience apart from society's fringe, and could signify a meaningful step in that direction. "[Psychedelics] help to accelerate a maturation process," says Austin, "where we can see that we're not operating within silos. Instead, we're operating as part of a larger collective and part of a larger community."