Simone was struck by a double tragedy. She says a surprising substance helped her change her life

Until a few years ago, Simone Surgeoner had never used drugs.

Now at the age of 49, the Australian mother-of-four believes they’ve changed her life.

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“I had never done drugs like I didn’t even mess with drugs growing up or anything,” Surgeoner said.

However, her perspective changed dramatically when her father and partner died in quick succession. Struggling with mental illness, she tried magic mushrooms.

“When I microdosed[magic mushrooms]it was like, ‘Oh, I’m me again,'” she said.

Surgeoner is among a growing number of Australians turning to illegal psychedelics to help with mental health issues.

It is estimated that one in five people in Australia suffers from a mental illness each year – and some research suggests that more than a third of those affected may not respond to existing treatments.

But with limited scientific evidence supporting their use and strict rules still in effect, psychedelics are still an underground treatment.

Radical illegal drugs decriminalization bill to be brought before Victorian Parliament.

Radical illegal drugs decriminalization bill to be brought before Victorian Parliament.

A unique way to approach grief

In 2015, Surgeoner’s father died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep.

“There were no warning signs,” she said. “It was quite a shock”

Then, just six weeks later, her partner – father of her two youngest daughters – died of cancer.

Soon after, Surgeoner began dating an American and moved to the United States with him.

“It wasn’t a healthy relationship,” she said. “It was hard.”

When the troubled relationship ended and Surgeoner returned to Melbourne in October 2018, her grief caught up with her.

With no money, no home, no career, and two young children to care for, Surgeoner went through the hardest times of her life.

“I was in a really, really dark place coming back like I just can’t handle it. I didn’t want to get out of bed,” she said.

“I was a first-time single, single mom, and I came back with nothing. I was still mourning.”

Antidepressants didn’t appeal to her, so Surgeoner began looking for other alternatives.

She read a book that recommended something surprising: microdosing psilocybin — better known as magic mushrooms. Microdosing typically involves taking about 10 percent of a regular recreational dose.

As a therapist, life coach, and mentor for almost 20 years, she has always been interested in psychedelics-assisted therapy, where patients take psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and other psychedelics alongside psychotherapy. But she had never taken them herself.

“I was taking other mushrooms for health reasons, so I was like, ‘This is just another health benefit, and it’s just working on a different level of my mind and emotions,'” she said.

She said she felt nauseous for about an hour after taking her first capsule.

“And then I was really, really tired, like I just had to lie down and sleep, and that wore off for about an hour. But there was no stumbling or any psychedelic effects or anything like that.”

The rest of the day she felt jittery — just sort of “not herself,” she said.

But in the days that followed, Surgeoner felt elated and happy.

“On a really good day, you just feel like yourself.”

CSIRO develops medicinal psychedelic drugs.

CSIRO develops medicinal psychedelic drugs.

The biggest problem was getting more – psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms, MDMA and LSD are illegal in Australia.

She checked with friends of friends and finally found a “trusted source” who knew how to get the drugs off the dark web.

She was a little nervous about accessing illegal substances – but she found they worked.

“Rather than just kind of feeling like I was drowning, I’ve gotten to a point where I feel a lot better, have more resources, and things feel more stable,” she said.

Self-treatment with illegal drugs

Surgeoner’s way of dealing with her darkness has been unusual — but she’s not alone.

Since the early 2000s, there has been a resurgence in clinical research and public interest around the world in how psychedelics can help people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other significant mental disorders.

In Australia, magic mushrooms are still illegal and our medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), does not recognize any medicinal value for magic mushrooms, MDMA and LSD – microdosed or not.

Last year, TGA considered reclassifying these drugs, but decided against it. If so, it would be one of the first countries in the world to recognize them as legitimate drugs.

But interest is growing. In March of last year, the federal government allocated $15 million to research the potential of psychedelics to treat mental illness.

UWA researcher Adam Fielding is among the Australian scientists studying psychedelics and mental health. Recognition: Sara Polansky

And a global drug survey released last year showed that more Australians are turning to psychedelic drugs to self-treat mental illness and emotional distress.

Initial clinical trials of psychedelics by CSIRO scientist Peter Duggan have been promising, he said.

Australian psychiatrist Dr. Tanveer Ahmed has noticed a “surge of interest” in psychedelic assisted therapy, including microdosing of magic mushrooms.

He wants psychedelics to enter mainstream therapy — but he says there’s still a lack of scientific evidence on the effects of microdosing psychedelics to treat mental illness.

“From a purely clinical perspective, there is no evidence that microdosing is in any way potentially therapeutic for diagnosable mental illness, and the various patients I have seen over the years improve when I give them only legitimate mainstream treatments, often and they don’t need microdosing,” Ahmed said.

“I see the appeal of microdosing. There’s a certain glamor to it… But it’s certainly not something I, as a reputable, clinical psychiatrist, would recommend.”

“I don’t know how it works, but it works”

There’s still a lot to explore as to why psychedelics help people with mental illness, but Surgeoner is just glad it helped her.

“I don’t know how it works, but it works,” she said.

She wants authorities to look for better ways to dispense drugs like magic mushrooms.

“Anything can be abused,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s a reason not to do it. You have to break the stigma of ‘oh, those are drugs’.”

Before she stopped microdosing magic mushrooms last year, she decided to take a full dose.

“I had never done a ‘magic mushroom trip’ before. So I decided to make one myself.

“And this is where it starts to sound weird and trippy — but that’s when the mushrooms said, ‘You don’t have to make me anymore. You’re done.’

“So it was like the medicine itself telling me I was done with the medicine. So I stopped taking them and haven’t felt the need to take them since.”

The Finnish Prime Minister takes a drug test

The Finnish Prime Minister takes a drug test Simone was struck by a double tragedy. She says a surprising substance helped her change her life

James Brien

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