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Less is More

teafaerie | Musings | Friday, March 5th, 2010

I’m a big fan of epic doses. Before Erowid was around I had no reliable way of knowing what  a typical dose was, and in my vanished youth I tended to err on the side of intensity. Indeed, I hesitate even to report on some of my more ridiculous escapades because someone somewhere just might be stupid enough to try to imitate my folly. I’ve been lucky. Some of my tippy-top most memorable (if not exactly best remembered), most meaningful and most transformative experiences have occurred at dosages that rightly ought to have left me gibbering in a puddle of my own drool.[…]

That said, I think low dose experiences are underrated. If your goal has always been to get as bleeped up as possible, you’ve probably been blowing right past some of your favorite substance’s more subtle offerings. Back when I was a little raver kid I remember always being irritated at dealers for selling such weak ecstasy pills and doses that I had to take two or three of whatever it was to really get off. I figured it was just their way of moving more product. Now something that’s perhaps finally beginning to resemble mature wisdom tells me that one weaker hit was actually kind of ideal for that sort of environment. (Assuming that I planned on taking any drugs at all.) Yeah, I know, there is a weird half-ass liminal high that’s just uncomfortable, but I’m talking about aiming for the state just beyond that, where it first starts to become what it actually is.

I had a couple of impressively transcendent high dose experiences early on, and I think on some level I was always trying to retrigger that perfect ecstatic bliss by recreating the conditions under which it occurred. I went through periods where I spent a lot of my time exploring these matters and I think I sort of built up a tolerance; physically, psychologically, and possibly even spiritually. After a while I learned to dilate the raging chaos down to something manageable, which had its uses. For instance, I was often the one elected to attempt to perform the Jedi mind trick on law enforcement officers who sought to engage with our adventure party. (You don’t need to see our identification. These are not the drugs you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.) Or maybe that was just because I was the hot chick. Point is I never biffed it. Eventually I got so good that I could almost always pull off a passable imitation of sobriety no matter what was in my system. I was always so damned proud of the staggering amount of psychedelics I could take and still continue to serve Tea properly that it took me quite a long time to realize that I was missing the point entirely.

It turns out that one can, indeed, have far too much of a good thing. A naif might imagine that if one ecstasy pill makes him very happy, two pills might make him twice as happy. If he finds this to be true, he will quite naturally assume that four pills would make him yet happier still. Alas, many of us have learned the hard way that this is not necessarily so. Many drugs have a very steep dose response curve and seem to change character entirely when the intoxication reaches a certain threshold. Some substances seem relatively benign and even therapeutic at low doses, while at dangerously high doses they can present as the menace to public health that drug foes would love to make them out to be.

From one perspective, a lot of the super trippy visual distortions and so forth are side effects at best and many might be inclined to classify them as symptoms of an overdose. Some people might think that they’ve gone too far when their co-ordination or their memory becomes significantly impaired. How would they feel about losing all sense of time and space, getting pulled into a portal by hallucinatory aliens, becoming convinced that they’re some kind of galactic super hero and throwing up in the neighbors garden? Sure, one person’s train wreck might well be someone else’s great success. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste. There is nothing good to be said about medically sketchy overdoses, though. If you end up hurt or if you require intervention it’s not just you who has to deal with the mess, and it’s not just you who ends up looking dumb. You don’t want to be that guy who gives some drug a bad name because you can’t handle your shit and you do something stupid. The higher the dose, the more likely it is that you’ll either tax your system to the straining point or make an ass of yourself in public.

I’ve written before about the long-term low dose experiment that I did on Maui during one particularly glorious mushroom season, now more than a decade bigbangward. After a while, as I have reported, most of the distortion effects went away but the magic part kept on happening. I was never sick, I was never confused about what was going on, my memory was excellent, time flowed in the right direction and all that; but I felt like I was subtly telepathic and my wishes came true. That’s when I started realizing that psychedelics can be delicate tools for making finely tuned adjustments rather than thrill rides or crash courses.

For one thing, if I take small doses of a drug, I find that I can actually accomplish stuff whilst under the influence. I can write or draw or clean the house. I can load my pipe. I can dress myself. When the dosage is matched to fit the situation I find that I can dance at a dance party, walk around and interact with strangers at a festival, carry on a linear conversation at a social event, and comport myself politely in Ceremony. When I used to overdo it a lot I kept finding myself somewhat alienated from my environment and unable to smoothly mesh with the local gestalt. I would tend to huddle in a corner with one or two comrades in the same predicament and focus my will on just getting through it somehow and coming out the other side relatively unscathed. In retrospect all that seems kind of immature, like college kids who get puke drunk at frat parties. Some of those incidents were learning experiences, without a doubt, but like many important learning experiences they’re more than a little bit embarrassing in hindsight.  I wish that I could have picked up on some of these lessons by learning from the experiences of others; but, alas, I was always far too stubborn and conceited to do things the easy way.

For another thing, drugs are expensive. When I used to smoke a lot of pot, I found that I could easily smoke up all of my meager discretionary income and still find myself jonesing before the month was out. The resulting poverty eventually helped push me to discover a brilliant solution to my conundrum. Now I smoke just about as often and I get just about as high, but it costs me a lot less. No, I’ve never been a dealer and I never will be. My husband would be utterly unamused by that sort of thing. I just use a little fake cigarette pipe rather than a big old honking six-foot bong. Turns out in my case it’s mostly about the ritual, and when I’ve smoked my body starts relaxing on its own, regardless of the dose. I know I know. It’s partly the placebo effect. (Now there’s Extra Strength Placebo! Placebo! It works like crazy!) but why not take advantage of the way that you’re wired and save some brain and lung cells while you’re at it? Sure, sometimes a good tree needs pruning. Gotta make the hardware last, though.

I once talked to an ayahuasca shaman who drank the potent jungle brew almost every day. She told me that far from having developed a tolerance, she has learned to go in super deep on almost nothing. That was inspiring to me and I started trying to learn to tune into smaller doses. I’ve gotten pretty damned sensitive over time. I even get off on contact high now, which is generally entirely free of cost, risk, time commitment and wear and tear on the system. Plus when I actually do smoke a real bowl these days I start tripping clit right away. I’ve become a cheap date again, just by smoking less for a long time and slowly bringing my tolerance down.

Taking recreational drugs less often is also a good way of cutting down your risk. Some of this stuff can be hard to integrate. Working through a big trip can take a lot of time and going back in again while you’re still chewing on the previous session can lead to unprocessed material piling up. Why not put some of those groceries away before you go out and buy some more? You’re also safer if you have a smaller number of different drugs active in your system at the same time. Everybody knows this, but it’s important to drag it out once in a while and dust it off and consider it in the light of your evolving practice.

Mary PoppinsA good rule of thumb is to always take the lowest and most infrequent dose that you need to achieve the effects to which you aspire. That’s the least invasive approach, and it has a lot to recommend it. I’ve not always been an excellent exemplar of this model, and I hope that my admonitions are received as a warning from someone who sees herself more as an object lesson than a role model. I’d hate to be afraid to dispense good advice out of fear of being called a hypocrite, though. I think with effort many practitioners can learn to tune into their own sensorium and get a lot of what they really want out of lower doses without courting the familiar host of unpleasant side effects that can accompany heroic leaps into the unknowable. Enough, as Mary Poppins says, is as good as a feast. If you’ve got something to prove it’s way better to work all that out before you start wildly flinging your ego around inside of your own unconscious, if you get my drift. And if you’re determined to hit it really hard (and I know that nothing could have stopped me in the first flush of my Discovery) then at least do it somewhere safe and private, with a sitter and an emergency plan.

Sometimes I still push the boundaries. It’s just a contextual thing for me, now that I’m a grownup and stuff. I find that over time I have consistently tended to lower my dosage at social events, with the intention being to add just a little bit of sparkle and energy to an already magical occasion. Conversely, I’ve tended towards upping my less frequent deep exploratory doses in the direction of the maximum intensity that I think I can safely tolerate. There is a time and a place for that sort of thing. It’s probably not at a party, though. It’s definitely not at school. It’s not in the mall. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is more, too, of course. Sometimes more is more than you bargained for, though. Another good rule is to start low and work your way up. You don’t have to learn this the hard way. Unless you do, in which case may the Force be with you.

Ever Higher! (except for when it would be better to just smoke a bowl or two and check out the scene.)


  1. great!

    my take on this is similar to yours: lowering the dose will give you more subtle effects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t dive in deep, just that you have to do more of the work yourself.

    one can get very high, but fail to pay attention to it and not get much out of it, or get less high and instead pay a lot of attention and go really deep.

    however, I don’t have enough experience with high doses to say that this is absolutely true for me, but it feels intuitively correct.

    Comment by d — March 6, 2010 @ 1:18 am

  2. Lovely article!

    I think tea from plants like chacruna and mariri would do me great good. Peganum seeds haven’t gone easy on my system. I’ve learned to see psychedelics anything between turbo engines, multi-channel satellite transmitters or a trigger of brain stimulus that feels much like a stroll on encyclopedia galactica. I’ve also learned that, though not as immediate in result, there’s a great sense of joy in doing something out of one’s own hands, like in, “I can wake up the next day and do it all the same”… mastering our fields of interest with everyday practice, is the most reliable way to proceed towards founded acquisition of skill and conquered excellence. Though I’ll never object my visits to the lands of infinity, I believe that as the user widens ones background of skill and know, sprinkled with an investigative intension, the more these substances will contribute to problem-solving and flowing appreciation of creative potentials. Interesting to point out I’ve had some remarkable dreams dreaming to be on acid, likely even enhancing the real thing, almost like a world made refined, in which their was a flavor to the ambience and an indescribable feeling of connection in the transmutation of ideas and associative qualities of feeling the form into precision output of expressing these in a medium to yet another stream of sensorial effects. Such the interplay with the notes on ones guitar for example may dialogue to a storyline, or simply a concise coherence between the plucking of a string and the feel in ones gut as hand become unmediated outlet to whatever that strums. Unfolding from outwards and within to such a degree must be an apex in creative perceiving.

    Comment by Gilson — March 9, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

  3. Nice writing! :)

    Comment by Desiree — March 11, 2010 @ 11:54 pm

  4. Yeah, Mistress. It is again a wonderful and rightful text. You always seem to give out information that I just discovered for myself in someway, hence no additional comment required. You’re just right!

    Hope we will meet someday.

    Comment by g — March 12, 2010 @ 12:38 am

  5. wow, i am pretty sure you are the female version of me. then again, it is probably a really common story. person thinks that drugs are good for the first time, person gets obsessed, person uses a lot, eventually a tolerance builds and his whole life is tripping. and it needs to stop. you posting this when you did is perfect timing. it reinforced mplay that i need to use lower doses less often.

    thanks tea faerie


    Comment by charles (nightwatch) — March 12, 2010 @ 2:10 am

  6. You write magnificently. A masterpiece! Love this article.

    I found, as I first started to work with Entheogens (mushrooms), that even at 4mg dry, I was having very mild reactions. So for me, these are low doses. And I did this about 4 times and found that my mood swings of moderate depression were totally gone. I got off Lexapro in about 3 weeks as opposed to previous failed attempts over months. I FEEL GREAT!

    I ascribe to low threshold mushroom doses at least 2x monthly, as I am finding that taking it that way medicinally is also changing my eating habits completely (I can no longer stand processed foods) and eliminating desire for Alcohol or addictive substances. At almost 50, I feel better than ever. There is also marked changes in attachment to egoic concepts (translation, I am a much happier bitch!), but I give much credit to the higher doses for this as well.

    I still do the Heroic dose when I am specifically working on matters of transcendence and, like you, tend toward crazy amounts (7grams), but I do have this weird natural tolerance.

    Anywho, heading out soon for my first work with AYA. And I so appreciate this article as I have not heard anyone speak of this, and I am becoming a low dose advocate. It is changing my experience, but only 100%.

    Comment by Lisa — March 12, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  7. Your articles have been excellent, TeaFaerie. This last one is not only well-written, but it is a fine exemplar for the younger generation. Starting low with anything and gradually working up to see what differences there are is a great idea, and also your cautionary advice about using well-controlled environments and sober sitters is sound and time-tested, the standard protocol for a responsible psychonaut. I wish you could come to the MAPS conference in April. You’re preaching to the choir with me, but your advice in all your articles is first-rate, in this old-timer’s opinion!

    Comment by andy-dog — March 12, 2010 @ 11:33 am

  8. Oh yes, great writing! This all pushed me to finally submit a huge trip report on the topic of immature (and excessive) psychedelics use, of an experience I had last summer. Scarred my mind for a while and I made a complete fool of myself in public.

    Looking forward to reading more of your articles :)

    Comment by Dan — March 13, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  9. Just tuned in here via erowid.Very astute and wonderfully well written. Even in the fully-charged days of my youth I discovered (out of budgetary restraints) I could stretch my experiences dramatically and plumb newer depths by using simple techniques of concentration and focusing.The mind can turbocharge our realities quite well given a little practice.The advantage of the lower dosage is that you can pull back when you like.Thanks for the great writing.

    Comment by broma — March 14, 2010 @ 10:37 am

  10. beautiful, timely, succinct, well written and informative. you caught me just at the right time. as G said, no further comment needed, you’re just right :)

    peace, love, thanks.

    Comment by jockmchaggis — March 16, 2010 @ 6:20 am

  11. I have recently come to the same conclusions after I went to a party where I wanted to talk and see alot of friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile. I took some acid and didn’t really want to talk to people much and conversations were just weird and awkward. On the other hand I had a blast spinning glowsticks outside by myself. Well, there’s nothing really wrong with this, but I kind of regretted it. Why not eat acid and spin glowsticks on a sunday night when there is nothing to do and stay sober (or somewhat sober) at the party so I can catch up with old friends. Now I tend to do harder pyschedelics only at home by myself or with a few close friends.

    Comment by Brent — March 16, 2010 @ 7:30 am

  12. too true i like to tell myself that i have also chosen to be modest with my intake from time to time (its nice to go for a swim before you dive in) but i fear its always been down to circumstance sharks in the water or good old finances

    Comment by count basie — March 16, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  13. I am reminded of my own forays into psychedelic use. What I have found not only saves money, but increases the potency of a dose of almost anything, is the regular practice of Hatha Yoga. I used to take heroic doses of dried mushrooms (quarter or more) as well as far too many hits of LSD and now find that a gram or a drop get me to The Moment. The same can be said for me of alcohol and herb. What used to be a ten beer night is more than likely four or five and quarter of herb will last me weeks.

    Comment by Lyserginaut — March 17, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  14. This writing on lower dose benefits struck a chord with me. As a “druggie” of 40 years experience (and counting) my view has evolved over time to realise that an essential ingredient for long term use is respect. I don’t wish to list the drugs but suffice to say that over such a time period many opportunities arise and I took them all.
    Respect for the substance: There are some things I can seldom achieve any meaningful experience from. MDMA is a case in point. For 15 years my wife and I used it weekly (and blissfully). Towards the end of this period, we fell into the trap of believing that the drugs were becoming weaker/ more adulterated so we upped the dose with predictably disappointing results. The more consumed the further from the desired result. (It may well be that the drugs available ARE shit and we can “return to Eden” one day but I ain’t holding my breath).
    Respect for self: When was the last time you found yourself wasting re-creation time simply trying to wait out the effects of some ill-considered dosage consequence? And that is if you are strong-minded enough to retain the idea that “this is a drug experience, it will wear off”. I do drugs because I like it. I don’t do drugs to compete or validate myself to others. Neither should you. (I run the risk here of proscribing behaviour but that is not my intention, that’s a self-assumed goverment position. The central reality of any experience is that YOU are in it.)
    Respect for others: Ever seen the guy (or girl) at a party who over does things and relies on the good-will and compassion of their neighbour to help them back from the edge? I find it difficult to relax into a situation when it is almost inevitable that someone may flip out and require, at the least, talking down. Usually young and inexperienced but nonetheless deserving of help. On the other hand, ever met the drooling, sweating, groping asshole who just HAS to tell you what great insights they are achieving moment by moment? (or, shudder, BEEN that person?)
    Into this category may be the effect of ciminalisation of new substances and the resultant handing over of control to genuine bad people. As I write this, the UK government is stating that Mephedrone will soon be banned due to an unspecified amount of recent deaths. I am not saying that people have not died but I AM saying that the particular circumstances of these events have not yet been investigated but it is “assumed ” that Mephedrone is the culprit. We all know where this leads. In this way, I feel that some self restraint may be in order for the benefit of the wider community. Spent too much time scuttling about in unsalubrious circumstances in order to score some substance so that I could feel that I was transcending the realities of this world.

    “There ain’t nothin’ worse than some fool lyin’ on some Third World beach in psychadelic spandex trousers, smokin’ damn dope, pretendin’ he’s gettin consciousness-expansion”
    Alabama 3

    Before I begin to feel that this is being too cynical, an uplifting story. Having avoided mushrooms for many years due to over use burnout, I decided to try again at a lower dosage and in more appropriate circumstances than partying. I live in a remote area of Scotland surrounded by natural beauty so I decided that a dose of 50 local, fresh Liberty Cap, taken in daylight may be the right way. Indeed this proved so. The result was deeply spiritual in a Shamanic connection with nature sort of way which defies any attempt at verbal description.
    A truly transcendent and transforming experience which I am glad to say is repeatable.
    Set and setting anyone?

    Comment by KOAN — March 23, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

  15. At first I felt as if this contradicted with what Terence Mckenna always talked about.

    He always advocated high doses and in my interpretation he did this because low doses would lead to daily use and abuse because youre able to function normally in society. While high doses needed time to prepare for and time to recover from therefore abuse was unthinkable.

    and as we all know, a drug looses its flavor with continued abuse.

    Well see but then I realized that for you high doses meant abuse. and i can totally see where thats coming from. I used to smoke weed all day everyday to the point that being sober was a trip. I quit for over a year and just recently i took only one hit of mj and had one of the strongest most memorable trips that i can remember of.

    So if I got this right, there is no contradiction?:

    You = low doses = low tolerance = more meaningful trip
    Terence = no abuse + high doses = more meaningful trip

    Perhaps the point here is to not lower the dose but to lower the abuse???

    Comment by Valerie — April 8, 2010 @ 8:13 am

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