For a few months now, I have had the pleasure of guiding and coaching Selah Sue on her microdosing journey. She shared her experience in the leading Belgian newspaper De Standaard. Thanks so much, Sanne for speaking out so openly and helping end the stigma still surrounding the potential healing power of psychedelics. Read her story here:
Famous Belgian Singer Selah Sue has been reducing her antidepressants for several months, with the support of microdosing XP truffles. ‘I experience how beautiful everything is.’
For a few months now, our team have had the pleasure of coaching Selah Sue on her microdosing journey. She shared her experience in the leading Belgian newspaper De Standaard. Thank you, Sanne for sharing your beautiful story. Also Thank you for your trust and support in the coaching team of Microdosing Institute. Check out her story here:
Sanne Putseys has led a life as an artist since she was sixteen, and that included thousands of interviews and media appearances. Her life was “chill,” she often said, and that word fitted well with her image: Selah Sue was “cool,” candid, unstoppable. Amazement everywhere when she nervously walked around as a debutante on the VRT last Wednesday, and knocked over her coffee at Stubru, while she only came to promote her new single ‘Pills’. Like she was someone else. That is also true.
“I started therapy with with the support of psilocybin-containing truffles last year, at the end of October,” she says. ‘Magic truffles’, as they are also called, are fungi that cause a psychedelic effect, such as a more intense experience of the environment. Unlike mushrooms, which cause a similar effect, the sale and use of fresh psychedelic truffles are not prohibited by our northern neighbors. Putseys gets her microdosing XP truffles from Microdose.nl, the official partner of Microdosing Institute.
Ready to shop microdosing products? 🍄
Note: This is an English translation of the original piece (in Dutch) by De Standaard
You have always said that antidepressants (40 mg of fluoxetine per day) helped you. So why switch?
‘The side effects of the antidepressants started to get in my way. I had tried to stop three times before, but impulsively, and I never succeeded. Now I was working on a new album for which I wanted to let the different personalities in myself speak, a therapeutic technique called “voice dialogue”. But something in myself was holding me back. I felt creatively flattened and blocked as a human being. And I realized once again how quickly I got bored, how lazy I was sometimes, and I wondered: am I really that person? It was corona time, without many obligations, and I felt I was ready to try something alternative.’
At the same time as the reduction of antidepressants, you started using truffles. How did that go?
‘I started therapy at the end of October. It means that I regularly take a microdose and occasionally a higher macrodose. The effect of that first microdose was immediately felt: playing with the children used to bore me, but now I could better empathize with their fantasy world, they built a camp and I went along with it, I also experienced nature more intensely. I felt an emotional peace that I didn’t know before.’
Medical research has not progressed to the point where medical use of psilocybin is advisable. What is your trust based on?
‘I am guided and coached by the Dutch Microdosing coach Hein Pijnnaken, who is the co-founder of Microdosing Institute, and have asked him a thousand questions. I have read many experiences. I am still being supervised by a psychiatrist. And I deal with it very consciously: I write down the effects of each intake. Of course, I was also scared. After five weeks I built in a break: for the first time since I was eighteen, I didn’t take anything. I went to sea with the children and it went well. Sometimes I was down, but I accepted it, whereas in the past I would have started exercising like crazy, or doing practical jobs, or looking for people to reassure me.’
How do you feel now when you’re down?
“I am the sea, and a storm is raging. But that storm, those are my thoughts, and they pass. Then the sea is calm again. I used to be the storm. It means that I let it come over me, and that is quite a step forward. I accept that it is not the end of the world, that it happens to many, that I am not alone.
You have taken a macrodose of psilocybin after three weeks, about 20 times the microdose. That’s a lot. Is there the real value of this therapy?
‘I thought it was an indescribable experience. I felt an all-consuming force, which can only be compared to childbirth. I screamed like a primal woman, cried all the time and said sorry, sorry, sorry because I am always so full of judgments, also and especially about myself. Meanwhile, there was music by Bach, which reassured me. I was completely in tune with a consciousness outside of myself. I started singing in a non-existent language, from something very deep within myself. I could feel emotions again.’
Your previous single ‘Hurray’ was also about this: ‘I’m judging everybody but I’m just as guilty’. Do you now feel that you have processed an unresolved trauma?
I always had a judgment ready, about everything and everyone, and was so myself. Those three experiences with a macrodose that I already had led to ego loss. I experienced how beautiful everything is, and that no one is better or worse, and that I should not judge. It was a spiritual experience, the most beautiful emotional experience of my life.”
‘Thanks to antidepressants, I have been able to build a career, but they do not tackle the core and flatten your emotional life’
What does it mean for you as a singer?
‘Exactly that: I felt the proof that producing and singing sounds was my calling after all. When I started, I often used the rhythmic parlando style of ragga music, and that became a bit of a gimmick. When Ziggy Marley let me know that he loved what I did on my first record, I thought I didn’t deserve it because I had appropriated his culture and benefited from it. When Prince told me “you breathe music”, I was ready with my self-criticism again. Always that refusal to be kind to myself, thinking I can’t do it and actually not doing anything right. That inhibition has now disappeared. I realize that I’m drawing from the same primal pelvis as Marley and Prince and that when I was younger, I just intuitively recognized that. We are all one. “One love” by Bob Marley means just that.’
You decide that antidepressants help, but they don’t solve anything.
‘James Fadiman, an American psychologist who maps experiences with microdosing, says that you can tolerate depression with antidepressants. I took them for 14 years and that’s right: I was able to build a career with them and I am grateful for it. But they don’t address the core, they flatten your emotional life. I was happy that I could say on the VRT that I felt stress, this is just a new life. ‘
Your new, seemingly fun single ‘Pills’ is a record of that, isn’t it? ‘I lost all my emotions/ Is it better when I’m broken?’ Dancing in the dark?
Selah Sue sings about the numbing effects of Antidepressants
‘Ha, I thought that was beautiful, such a smooth and very danceable pop song that then lyrically has a completely different dimension. The pills in the title can be ecstasy, which people take to party happily, and the pills that led to an apathetic attitude in me. So that’s the question: is it better to live with the extremes of high and low, or to opt for a constant gray color? Mind you, this is not a plea for microdosing. I just want to honestly tell you how I feel. That I no longer have to exercise like crazy to feel good. That I’m not afraid anymore.’
You have been working on this therapy for almost five months. What now?
“I don’t want to draw premature conclusions. Who knows, maybe a confluence of circumstances will make me feel now: getting older, my life circumstances, the combination of all kinds of factors. Maybe it will become more difficult again in a few months, microdosing is a placebo effect, who’s to say? At least I haven’t felt so good in a long time. And if I’m honest about the difficult periods, I can also be honest about the good ones. And if it doesn’t work for me anyway, I’ll be the first to tell you I’m taking antidepressants again — but I won’t be ashamed of it. I had to try this.’
Selah Sue’s album Persona will be released on March 25.
Who can use psilocybin?
Mathieu Seynaeve, who studies psychedelics as a psychiatrist at The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, calls the results of the research on psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient of truffles and magic mushrooms, ‘promising’. ‘But they are not sufficiently advanced to recommend medical use right now. The substance is not addictive. But there are risks involved. Expert preparation, guidance and aftercare are important and the use in combination with antidepressants has not been sufficiently researched.’
“The effect of a microdose, a very low dose without psychedelic effects, has not yet been scientifically proven,” says Seynaeve. A recent study in Nature indicated that people with positive expectations about the effects of psychedelics also got the best results by taking very low doses of psilocybin, in terms of mood, less anxiety, better concentration and more social cohesion. This may mean that a placebo effect occurs.’ But perhaps that positive attitude also strengthens the effect? ‘That’s possible.’
For the Belgian legislator, psilocybin is not safe: it is a ‘hard drug’, to be equated with heroin and cocaine, and therefore illegal. That is unjustified, according to clinical psychologist Lennart Cok. ‘Unlike the two, psilocybin is not addictive and scientific research increasingly shows that it can be used for therapeutic purposes. This is already the case in several countries.’
Psilocybin does not work on the dopamine system, but on serotonin, a brain protein that affects emotions by facilitating new connections between brain cells. In this way, users would break free from entrenched, negative thinking patterns and be open to constructive emotions and behavior.
‘The fact that Selah Sue can break patterns through her use is very recognisable’, says Seynaeve. ‘In our research, we witness such experiences, which are difficult to capture in papers. You see how people return to the feeling, often in their childhood, that they were not accepted or were not good enough, and now recognize that their self-esteem does not depend on what others think and learns to accept the different parts of their personality in an authentic way.
How exactly a therapy with micro- and macrodoses can work is not indicated by scientific research. ‘We do know, however, that a macrodose in particular provides the solid foundation’, says Cok, who is also president of the Psychedelic Society Belgium. ‘Some people are satisfied with a few macrodoses, others believe more in daily or bi-daily intake of microdoses. About that application, albeit with LSD, the American author Ayelet Waldman wrote a personal report (A very good year) in 2017.
In the Netherlands, the use of psilocybin-containing truffles is legal because truffles are not in the ‘Opium Act’ – mushrooms are illegal. Several universities are conducting research, and participated in a recent study by Compass Pathways (a British pharmaceutical company) in 223 patients. It indicated that the depression in some of the patients disappeared completely or greatly decreased after tapering off the antidepressants and after a one-time treatment (under supervision) with 25 milligrams of psilocybin.
‘Guidance from a coach or therapist is very important,’ says Cok, ‘because although psilocybin is physically very safe, there can always be an unexpected or dark side temporarily. First do your research before you start experimenting.
UPDATE From Selah Sue:
(1/2) Thrown into excruciating mood swings.
Left is how I feel in a good moment. Right is the state of being that keeps getting hold of me these last few months.
This is the most painful post ever. But I feel I have to share it. After the release of ‘PILLS’ thousands of people told me they recognized themselves in my story with antidepressants.
In the media, I expressed my hope that this time – my fourth attempt in 14 years – I would finally be able to stop taking it. If it didn’t work out I would let people know. I feel I owe everyone I gave a glimmer of hope a conclusion to the story now. Or a follow-up.
The first months without antidepressants were magnificent. It felt like a bell jar was lifted off of me. I experienced everything ten times as intensely and I enjoyed unparalleled creative and emotional highs. The psychedelic path, sports and meditation strengthened that feeling and made me think I stood firm and stronger than ever.
After about six months the darkness returned, totally unannounced and without a clear reason or cause. I woke up with inexplicable fear and was catapulted from heaven to hell in just a matter of weeks.
Initially, I could still ‘carry’ the load, thanks to the positive experiences I gained through psychedelics, mindfulness, and my daily jogging routine. But it quickly became too large. Too overwhelming. Unbearable.
It’s pure brain chemistry, my psychiatrist says. Unfortunately, for a select number of people there is not much you can do about it. Restarting the antidepressants remained my only option. And again, like 14 years ago, I feel like it’s saving my life.
2/2) It’s day 25 now. The overpowering darkness is slowly starting to clear up but the pain is still there. It’s an infernal intermediate stage but experience tells me it will get better. I’m holding on. I’m looking forward now to just feeling ‘OK’. Enjoying the little things. Getting some balance. I’m hopeful because for 14 years I’ve led a beautiful and happy life taking medication. In ‘PILLS’ I ask myself the question but now I know my own personal answer:
I’d rather have a stable, somewhat flattened emotional life with pills, than live through explosive ups and desperate downs without pills.
I was able to fulfill my role as an artist and a mother relatively ‘well’ during the last months, thanks to the support of my incredible partner and everyone of my entourage on tour. You are golden.
Lastly, as a godmother of @projecttegek I would like to repeat this: Break the taboo about mental suffering, most of us will experience it sooner or later. If it’s the case, surround yourself with people, speak up. Actively seek for connection and help. There’s always hope.
To everyone who’s going through a difficult time: I’m thinking of you. I feel you. I love you. It will get better, don’t lose hope.