Ayelet Waldman is Having a Really Good Day

Interview by Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey

Illustration by Emily Elliott


Ayelet Waldman is the kind of woman you want to hang out with, the kind of woman you want to be. Incredibly intelligent and a distinguished author with charisma, a wicked sense of humor, and enough heroism to heal herself in the way she chooses—legal or nah. Her most recent memoir, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life blew up the nation’s conversation on drug policy, pharmaceuticals, psychedelics and the power of microdosing.

In August of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a trial, the first of its kind, for treatment-resistant depression with psilocybin aka magic mushrooms. This will be the largest ever conducted in the The States. In light of this new shift in dialogue, we took the opportunity to chat with Ayelet Waldman about her journey as a self-healer, a writer, and the first woman to shed light on microdosing in the mainstream.

Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey How is it possible that you studied at Harvard Law, are a mother of four, an author of 13 books, a federal public defender—all with some extra time on the side to teach at the UC Berkeley School of Law?!

Ayelet Waldman Well, I did most of those things serially. I worked as a public defender before I had kids and before I started writing. It’s just that I’m old so you’re seeing it through different eyes.

Mennlay In light of all of your accomplishments, you’re quite young. I know a healthy amount of folks from various stages of life and few are as accomplished as you.

Ayelet I’m 53 and like most women— especially in my generation—have a deep sense of impostor syndrome. Nothing ever feels like an accomplishment and it is sort of grudging yourself on the idea of what you should be doing. I never really think of it that way, like, “Oh look at all of these accomplishments.” I think more like, “Why aren’t I writing more? Why am I lying around? Why aren’t I volunteering at the border?”

I’m mentoring a first generation college student. We just had this training session and one of the things that they were trying to train, is that most of the kids we mentor have a deep sense of impostor syndrome. They go off to four year colleges and no one in their families has ever been to college. So they think that they are not as smart as everyone else or that they don’t deserve to be there. As mentors, they’re talking with us about ways to combat these thought pattern. Then I look at myself—my mother went to Swarthmore and I went to college thinking the same, that I’m not smart as everyone else and I don’t deserve to be there. So how the hell am I going to help this kid overcome it?!

But I do think these sentiments gendered. I do think that men experience it, but not in the same degree or way that women do. I think us women are much harder on ourselves. Even now in 2018. But it helps to talk to an accomplished young woman like yourself and hear her ask me these questions. So then I think to myself—yeah I guess I’ve done a couple things.

Mennlay As a woman of color, I’ve found that sometimes one’s accomplishments can be overlooked. On that note, have journalists ever made you feel eclipsed by the successes of your husband Michael Chabon? Also with Michael Pollan’s book coming out—have you had the chance to read an advanced copy of the book? And what do you think about it?

I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody in the world gives a shit about what someone else does with his or her brain.

Ayelet I mean yes. Obviously everyone always asks about my husband and stuff but I really do feel like he is one of the greatest prose stylists of American literature—ever. Period. Certainly contemporary American literature. So I don’t feel any real sense of real competition with him. We’re doing very different things. Sometimes I feel like I get frustrated because I am what they call a midlist writer. That does, at times, frustrate me which brings me to the Michael Pollan question.

I’m so glad that he wrote this book. And I’m so glad that he mustered his massive audience to get behind this issue of microdosing. I’m really grateful to him for doing so much leg work. Honestly, I wouldn’t have tried seven different crazy ass hallucinogens. I wasn’t about to go down that road. But he was able to bring the full weight of his reportorial experience and gifts to it. So I’m really glad. But sometimes I do think, “What happened?” Why did one book sit on the shelves forever? And why did one not sell nearly as much? I think my subtitle was too soft and we could’ve made it a harder subtitle. I do think it has something to do with the fact that [microdosing] is a topic of interest primarily, though not exclusively, to men. And men are just not interested, by and large, by reading books by women. They’re much more willing to take a male authority’s word for things. Some of that, but also my book came out on inauguration day. I think that did it more than anything else. I think I really did suffer from that.

Sometimes I do feel like saying, “Yeah, I’ve been talking about this for a while.” But he’s been doing this work for a long time and he’s been doing it with great rigor and I have so much admiration for him. I don’t think it’s a case of discrimination.

I don’t think it’s a situation that so many women of color have experienced. Although I do have a friend who had an interesting experience where it was a white dude and he wrote an article about going to Japan and renting a friend. And then this amazing young female writer, Elif Batuman, who I love and is a wonderful writer. She wrote an article for The New Yorker a couple years later about going to Japan and renting a family. And they’re very similar in tone. But her book got optioned for a movie or something and I know he’s feeling like, what?! So sometimes it’s just the question of the moment.

I’m a privileged white lady and I try not to go down that path because I know that it is not my time to whine about discrimination right now. But yeah, every time I open up The New York Times best seller list I’m like—ahhhh!

Mennlay On that note, have you noticed microdosing in general—whether it be cannabis, acid, or mushrooms—have you seen more scientific research being done?

Ayelet There’s not a lot of scientific research. There are two studies that are sort of beginning. One is a real study as in they are administering microdoses of psilocybin. It’s happening under the The Beckley Foundation in England. Unfortunately what they are doing is giving people microdoses and then seeing how they play the game Go. Amanda Feilding is really into Go as a way to assess creativity by how they play the game Go. I do not give a flying fuck about the game. So I really wish they would just study depression or anxiety, but that’s their plan. I wish they would administer a standard depression screen. There’s more of an ad hoc they are using an assessment formula where you get in touch with them and you say, “I am microdosing” and they send you these documents. The documents compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges. This will be at least a more coherent analytic tool. Because most times you don’t know whose microdosing on what amount. But I do think that we are seeing a much more increased interest in microdosing and so much interest in psychedelics as treatments for therapy.

Mennlay You stated in your book: A Really Good Day, that you’ve used medical cannabis in non microdose forms for pain management and issues with sleep. Do you microdose cannabis?

Ayelet I’m still doing that, I do that now. I only take CBD because I do not like the psychoactive qualities of THC. The few times I’ve accidentally taken THC instead of CBD, it’s made me feel super anxious. I’ve tried CBD in microdose forms. I’ve taken those mints that have 1mg of THC but even that is a lot for me. CBD has been incredibly helpful to me. It’s been helpful for my anxiety, for sleep, for pain. I really do feel like cannabis is kind of amazing. It has replaced in many ways, Advil, Tylenol, Ambien—it’s replaced so many different medications that I used to take.

Mennlay Two weeks ago the World Health Organization officially deemed cannabis as a “relatively safe drug”. What are your thoughts on that?

Ayelet I feel thrilled. It’s amazing. I’m so happy. I think it’s terrific—my biggest concern right now. First of all, I don’t trust Jeff Sessions and I feel like anyone could be prosecuted at any moment for cannabis. So that’s one thing that makes me really anxious in the United States. But I think the biggest issue facing the legal cannabis market is how to compensate the people who suffered so much for the criminalization of cannabis. Particularly communities of color, as you know, who have suffered an increase of over-incarceration when compared to white people.

The statistic I give to my students in classes is that proportionately white people use so much more drugs than for example, African American people and way more than Latino people—cannabis specifically. Yet they almost never get prosecuted at all. They almost never go to jail. At all. So I feel like in California and Colorado and states where we do have this big lucrative market being creative. We need to address first and foremost, compensating those individuals whose lives were ruined [by marijuana possession and charges]. Giving them access to the gold rush of legal cannabis. I feel like when we’re looking at opening and licensing new cannabis retail centers and dispensaries, that there should be a bias in favor of traditionally victimized communities. So that is the issue that I am more interested in right now.

My husband said a lot of these weed shops are like Bose Stereo stores—they are like the Apple stores but with weed.

Mennlay When you see this shift of legalization as someone who has been a public defender—where do you stand?

Ayelet I would like to see decriminalization of all drugs, I would like to see full legalization. I think that’s probably a pipe dream in my lifetime. But I think that we—if we are still a country in the next three years—I think we will see a shift towards decriminalization, or more so some form of psychedelics-based therapy being legitimized. I think. But you know what, I’ve lost my ability to prognosticate. Even when we knew T***p was elected as President, it never occurred to me that he would be setting up prisons for small children. So I don’t know what’s going to happen in this country. Maybe California will secede and we’ll have a paradise here on the West Coast of decriminalized drugs and egalitarian politics and an equal rights amendment and it will just be joy to the world and the rest of the United States can go fuck themselves. But I’m not holding my breath for that one.

Mennlay I’m speaking to a group of late teens/young adults who are doing a summer program on drug policy here in Mexico—what do you think is the most important issue to drive home to them when it comes to policy and being involved?

Ayelet I think the most important issue is criminal justice reform. For me, I think there is a myriad of injustices associated with drug policy. But the most important thing to me is reforming the criminal justice system. It is the criminalization that causes all of these cascading ills. So I think you have to come from a criminal justice perspective—it’s a really good place to start. It’s very easy because it’s mostly about harm reduction. You can scoop up people on all sides of the issue if you say, yes. Even if you have some kind of moral or religious objection, when you think just in terms of what causes the least harm to society. What’s going to cost the most to society? I think we can all get behind criminal justice reform and drug policy reform if we focus on that. Then you don’t have to delve into those greater issues like fundamental rights and things like that. People are always going to disagree with that, but if you approach it in the way Timothy Leary did, you’re going to lose people. But if you say, look this is costing us too much money—we can’t afford this—it’s costing us too many lives, people are dying—or the only people making money off of this are the cartels—I think when you come from this perspective, you’re more liable to come to a consensus with people who come from different perspectives.

Mennlay I was listening to a lecture by Yasmin Hurd, PhD. She stated that approximately 80 people die each day of opioid related overdoses. She mentioned that medical cannabis not only can replace opioids and help wean people off of them, but that what’s more is if we start looking into cannabis treatments in place of opioids, it could save the U.S. 500 million dollars per year.

Ayelet Right, there’s research that shows where cannabis is legal, there is less use of opioids. It’s sort of a matter of asking, what would you rather your kid do? Smoke weed or start shooting heroin? Twenty-four percent of people who use heroin go on to become addicted. That’s a huge number and I think I say this in the book as well. “They always think it’s one and done so when they hear 24%, they’re like that’s not a lot. But it’s a huge number of people. I do believe yes, there are some people who grow dependent on marijuana, but it’s not an addictive substance. Even when someone is dependent on it, the harms associated with it are so much less that it doesn’t even bear talking about in the same sentence. Also just from a purely medication point of view, if you have legal cannabis available, people who have pain issues can use that instead of the overly prescribed opioid derived drugs. When I had this frozen shoulder pain, the pain was unbearable. I would’ve done anything to have stopped the hurting. And it’s just pure luck that the opioid I tried did not work and what actually worked was cannabis. The truth is, if the opioids prescribed to me had worked, I would have become dependent on them. I was in so much pain and all I wanted was for the pain to stop.

Mennlay In the very beginning of A Really Good Day, you powerfully quoted Terence McKenna, “If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it’s written on.”

When we speak of our liberties to heal with cannabis and any other psychedelic drugs for that matter—what is your stance on that?

Ayelet Personally, I feel like it’s ludicrous that we as a society believe that we can legislate what someone does to their own brain. I don’t understand it at all. I even understand that I am fervently pro-choice, I even understand that if you believe that life begins at conception, why a person wouldn’t be pro-choice, and why one would want to legislate what someone wants to do to her body. I can even understand that—though I don’t agree with it and I’ll battle it until my dying day. But at least I can understand that mindset. I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody in the world gives a shit about what someone else does with his or her brain. It makes so little sense to me. As long as no harm is being done to other people, I just don’t understand why it would make any difference to anyone else what I, you, or anyone else does in their own head.

It’s so mysterious to me, that hyper judgmental mindset. It’s really mystic to me and speaks to an authoritarian impulse. There are people in the world who feel that they have the right to tell people what they should believe, feel, how to vote, and how to pray. Then there are other people who believe each individual should have the right to themselves and those two groups can’t communicate. That’s the lesson I’ve learned over the course of this past year and a half, is that we don’t even speak the same language.

You can pick-up Ayelet’s book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life now through Penguin Random House or your local book store.

Also check out Mennlay’s new book: The Art of Weed Butter: Recipes and Tips for Dope Cannabutters and Delicious Ediblesa down to earth cookbook that walks you through how to master infusing cannabis with butter, coconut oil, and even bacon fat — all while touching on social injustice issues, her thirteen years in the industry, what to do if you get too high, and 35 edibles recipes! Support black women voices in cannabis and get yourself a copy online or at your local bookstore!

This piece was originally published in our eighth print issue of got a girl crush magazine — it has since been edited for grammatical and spelling errors.