News.com.au publish a weekly column called ‘Ask Doctor Zac’, in which medical practitioner Zac Turner responds to questions, presumably submitted by readers of the column. A recent submission from ‘Anon’ reads like a more psychedelic and slightly less dramatic version of Reefer Madness.
“Dr Zac, I’m a fairly heavy user of magic mushrooms… I got into it because it was fun and risky, but now tend to prefer spending my Sunday afternoons outside in my own trippy world… I’m thinking about microdosing… Is my heavy use of psychedelics now going to cause me to be crazy when I’m older? – Anon, Byron Bay
I can’t help but wonder if Dr Zac and/or his editorial team writes these questions. They might have got Byron Bay right, but there are a few things that don’t add up.
- As someone who spends a lot of time amongst communities of people who use psychedelics, I can’t recall ever having heard someone (let alone someone who uses psychedelics only on Sunday afternoons) describe themselves as a ‘heavy user’. Even people who use more psychedelics than most tend to have dosage patterns that are very different from people who use other drugs. ‘Heavy use’ is a term generally reserved for substances more strongly associated with dependence and withdrawal such as opioids, benzodiazepines or alcohol.
- Magic mushrooms are likely the least harmful illicit drug, and are much less harmful than many licit drugs, so it seems strange that their risk is described as attractive.
- The timing of reaching out for health advice seems off. It is strange that Anon is concerned about the harms of their psychedelic macrodosing but claims to have been prompted to contact Dr Zac to discuss microdosing.
Conspiracy theory aside, Dr Zac goes on to promote a typical abstinence approach, which AOD Media Watch readers will know struggles to align with harm reduction, potentially exacerbates drug harms and perpetuates drug stigma. There is also a variety of psychedelic misinformation:
- Dr Zac claims we have no idea of dosage of black market psilocybin mushrooms, while it is easier to estimate mushroom dosage than most purified black market drugs. There are valuable harm reduction strategies for mushroom dosage, including powdering and species identification.
- Dr Zac refers to heart damage risk associated with psychedelics. The risk of heart damage accompanies psychedelics in general, not only microdosing. This risk is barely understood and seems linked to activation of the 5ht2b receptor. It is likely LSD is a greater risk than psilocybin in this regard.
- It is completely inappropriate for an Australian medical practitioner to say ‘I can put safe money on it [psychedelics] becoming an accepted mental health treatment therapy.’ AOD Media Watch have already covered this topic. Research evidence is not yet sufficient, and this is why the TGA did not reschedule psilocybin and MDMA.
- Without providing a citation, Dr Zac refers to a study published by AOD Media Watch editor, Stephen Bright, as evidence that Anon should swap microdosing for yoga. Yes, Bright et al. (2021) found that microdosing had similar benefits to yoga, however, when yoga and microdose were combined, the benefits were greater than microdosing or yoga undertaken separately.
Perhaps ‘Anon’ and their question for Dr Zac was genuine, but it certainly seems like news.com.au have taken advantage of an opportunity to have ‘magic mushrooms,’ ‘microdosing’ and ‘Dr’ all in the same headline. Law enforcement are not drug experts, and in many cases, neither are medical practitioners. Media outlets should ensure material is seen by appropriate reviewers before publication. This story is a direct example how even positive drug research intentionally crafted by people fighting drug stigma can be appropriated to perpetuate drug misinformation and harm.
Dr Liam Engel, Adjunct Research Fellow at Edith Cowan University
Disclaimer: The author takes full responsibility for the content of this article.
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