🫠 Psychonaut POV

[5-min read] Q&A with Jennifer Chesak, Author & Journalist

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Believe it or not, Jennifer Chesak landed her book deal before she’d ever tried psychedelics. Now having immersed herself in the research, consulted with experts, and experienced the magic firsthand, she’s the go-to educator on psilocybin and women’s health.

We spoke to Jennifer about why women are turning to psychedelics at higher rates than men, how psilocybin interacts with the menstrual cycle, and what advice she’d offer to aspiring psychedelic authors.

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Jennifer Chesak Psychonaut POV
How and when did you first encounter psychedelics? Did your personal experiences influence your approach to journalism or writing?

My first brush with psychedelics was during my teenage years when my friends were experimenting with acid, MDMA, and mushrooms. As the go-to designated driver in my peer group, I never tried them myself. But my early caution transformed into a deep fascination with psychedelics' therapeutic potential once I grew up and started my career in journalism, focused mostly on health and wellness.

This interest naturally evolved into writing about psychedelics, culminating in a book that explores their intersection with women's health. Once I’d secured the book deal, it was important to me to have my own guided psychedelic experience. That first journey not only validated the profound impact of psychedelics I’d read about but also debunked many myths I’d internalized about their risks.

My relationship with psychedelics has influenced my journalistic approach in a number of ways. I’ve become more empathetic and open minded towards the subjects I cover. It’s taught me the importance of firsthand experience in reporting, especially on topics as nuanced and misunderstood as psychedelics. Finally, it has grounded my work ethic in a more flexible and self-compassionate approach to deadlines and expectations. Writing about my psychedelic experiences has been a therapeutic process in and of itself. It feels like my personal growth and professional output are integrated.

What inspired you to write The Psilocybin Handbook for Women? Can you break down some of the considerations women face around psilocybin use that don't apply to men?

The inspiration for The Psilocybin Handbook for Women actually came from a publisher's suggestion. I already wanted to explore this subject in depth, so I leapt on the opportunity. What really struck me as I dug into the research was the trend of women turning to psychedelics more frequently than men, often as a means to self-treat conditions like PTSD, trauma, anxiety, depression, and menstrual pain. This shift toward self-treatment isn't surprising given the historical dismissal of women's health issues within the medical community—an experience I've personally faced with my endometriosis diagnosis.

There’s still a big gap in our understanding of how various treatments impact women differently than men. Women were still being excluded from clinical trials until 1993! So one reason I wanted to write this book was to ensure that women have access to reliable information about how psilocybin interacts with their unique physiology and psychology.

Drawing from current research and indigenous wisdom, the book explores the impact of psilocybin on the menstrual cycle, menopause, and conditions disproportionately affecting women. It also addresses common questions around parenting, breastfeeding, and pregnancy related to psychedelics. Given the unfortunate reality of sexual assault, the book also emphasizes the need for informed consent and stringent protective measures in psychedelic therapy. The purpose of the book is to equip women with the knowledge to navigate their psychedelic experiences safely and effectively.

Let’s talk about psilocybin and the menstrual cycle. Based on your research and reporting, what's working for women when it comes to managing cramps, PMS, PMDD, and other issues related to menstruation?

Research and anecdotal evidence are beginning to reveal how psilocybin might interact with the menstrual cycle, and the science offers some practical insights for managing these types of conditions. Preliminary findings suggest psilocybin can induce earlier periods, regulate cycle irregularities, and even restore absent periods before menopause. The mechanisms behind these effects seem to be tied to our bodies' systems for regulating hormones and stress. We know psilocybin interacts with serotonin receptors, which can trigger downstream effects via the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) and adrenal (HPA) axes. So it seems likely that psilocybin affects menstrual health by modulating the complex interplay between stress and hormonal balance.

This knowledge becomes immediately practical when you start timing your psychedelic experiences. Estrogen levels, which can vary throughout the menstrual cycle, appear to affect binding at serotonin receptors, including the binding of psilocybin, which could then impact a trip. Some research suggests that women might have more challenging experiences with psilocybin. Likely it matters which phase of the menstrual cycle you’re in at the time of the journey.

Traditional wisdom supports the scientific rationale, too. Experts like Mikaela de la Myco advocate for aligning psilocybin use with the menstrual cycle to leverage natural energetic peaks and troughs. We have more energy available to us near ovulation rather than in the late luteal phase. The fact that these ideas have been passed down for generations tells me that there are physiological, emotional, and energetic dimensions to this dance. Science is just beginning to catch up.

What does the research say about psilocybin use during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

This question is complex, mostly because there’s a lack of mainstream scientific research on the topic. Understandably, the usual advice leans towards caution and advises against substance use to protect both the pregnant person and the fetus. However, this stance doesn't account for scenarios where the pregnant person is grappling with severe mental health challenges of their own, such as intractable depression or anxiety, where psilocybin could potentially offer relief.

Indigenous wisdom offers a different perspective. Some communities use psilocybin during pregnancy without any reported harm. By no means do I mean to make a blanket endorsement of psilocybin in these sensitive situations, but I want to highlight the importance of nuanced, individualized decision-making. We need to be able to have open, informed discussions with healthcare providers, where we can honestly weigh the mental health of the pregnant person against the risks.

Regarding breastfeeding, the situation is similarly nuanced. Again, there are examples of traditional use while mothers are still nursing, but the scientific community lacks concrete evidence regarding its safety or harm. The book breaks down some practical strategies for those considering psilocybin while breastfeeding to minimize exposure through breast milk. If you factor in your dosing, the drug’s half life, and the child’s age, you can design a personalized strategy to ensure the safety of both mother and child. I’d also encourage any new mother to consult a lactation expert to navigate these decisions. They really are non-judgmental allies.

Can you offer any advice to our readers who may be inspired, like you, to contribute to the psychedelic discourse with their own book?

Usually, the starting point for nonfiction works is to write a book proposal. This proposal is your blueprint; it outlines your book's thesis, structure, and desired impact. It's what you'll use to catch the attention of agents and publishers, setting the stage for your ideas to find a home within the publishing world. I was fortunate enough to have a direct connection to a publisher, which allowed me to skip several steps. However, my journey was unconventional, and understanding the traditional pathway is important for most aspiring authors.

For those drawn to fiction, you'll need to write your entire manuscript before seeking representation. Whether your narrative weaves in psychedelics as a central theme or a subtle backdrop, agents will want to see the complete story, not a proposal.

Either way, don't be deterred by the existing body of work. The ongoing nature of psychedelic research and its multifaceted impacts mean there's always room for more voices and perspectives. Whether your interest lies in the scientific, anecdotal, or speculative aspects of psychedelics, your contributions can add valuable depth to the conversation. Find your unique angle, and start writing. Just remember to go easy on yourself with the deadlines.

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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.

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