It was July 2020 in San Francisco. I took two tabs of acid with two old friends. The trip was beautiful, everything about it, even the squirting flash of blood, a massacre of sorts, when my maternal line came to mind—a vision that lasted a fraction of a second. An alarming hallucination, one that stood out amongst the competing beauty. The next day, my friends left after morning tea, and it suddenly hit me: the heaviest period I’ve ever had.
What was strange was the timing. This was in the middle of my very regular cycle (no hormonal birth control) when I would typically be ovulating. I immediately thought it must have been the acid. A year prior, my period had also arrived early after I had done ayahuasca.
There’s no scientific research on the influence of psychedelics on the menstrual cycle, but there’s talk—whispers—about it in psychedelic circles.
It’s easier to find conversations on the way the four phases of the cycle may interact with the psychedelic experience. Follicular highs versus luteal lows, energetic extroversion versus contemplative introspection. Some facilitators refuse to dose menstruating women. Others offer a protective smudge. I’ve heard people say it’s not advised to trip during menstruation because of “competing energies”: “The menstrual flow is downward, while the medicines want to lift you into other realms/states of consciousness,” I heard once in pre-ceremony chatter. Regardless of personal interpretation, intuitively, it would make sense that when the body is depleted or tired, it might not be the optimal time to tax the body further by diving into the radical.
Less common are conversations on how the psychedelic experience may in turn influence the cycle.
I asked psychiatrist and author Dr. Julie Holland if she knew anything about this phenomenon, given her knowledge of both hormones and psychedelics. She said she hadn’t heard anything about it, but if more anecdotes existed, she’d be interested.
So I started asking around, and a slew of women contacted me with their stories. Here are just a few (none were on hormonal birth control at the time):
- Shoshanna (34) said she experienced a total cessation of her period for eight months in 2018 due to a bad breakup, stress, and depression. After that, she took a tab of acid (a strong one, according to her friends/source) and “experienced a deep and profound healing, a release of tears, and a release of grief.” The next morning, her period returned “in full force and has been regular ever since.”
- Abi (31) took 140 mcg of LSD and the next day got “the strongest period [she’s] ever had.” Heavier and longer than usual, which concerned her a bit at the time. It was her last period before her pregnancy. “I saw a baby during my trip, and didn’t realize it was some kind of sign.”
- Anastasia’s (26) period came eight days earlier than expected the day after the first trip on shrooms she did in many years. After this initial dose, she noticed her PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) was helped by microdosing, while the initial large dose made her incredibly sensitive and agitated before her early period.
- Ally (30) always had an irregular cycle, months on, months off. But she went through a time without a cycle at all for at least five years. The day after her first plant medicine ceremony, she bled for a week. For months it was perfectly regular. “After maybe 6 months, it’s varied from 18 days to 32 (during which time I was diagnosed with a hormone condition) but it is now back to regular,” she says. “That first journey opened up a world of deep self awareness and listening to my body in a way I had never been able to… Overall, deeply grateful for the unraveling and feel I’m a more alive, expressed, and empowered woman because of that journey, and the many that followed.”
Trip-induced cycle changes make sense from a scientific perspective. Psychedelics bind to serotonin receptors. Serotonin plays a role in altering the hypothalamus and posterior pituitary, which control hormonal release and balance. So one may posit that altering one system would alter another.
“In some women, psychedelics can affect hormonal balance—sort of like adjusting the volume and booting it up again. In this way, it can affect the neurochemical control of your hormonal regulation,” says James Giordiano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, in his recent High Times interview with Suzannah Weiss. Weiss too has experience getting her period early post-trip.
There is some speculation that microdosing psychedelics may successfully treat premenstrual symptoms and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) since it tends to reduce depression, anxiety, and general sluggishness—but there’s yet to be any research backing this up. There has been research, however, showing that LSD can decrease pain perception. But there’s still nothing on how macrodoses impact female hormonal cycles.
I asked several experienced psychedelic guides and received differing thoughts on the matter. One told me that “it’s not spoken about much.” Another said they could not “connect the cycle changes to the psychedelic ceremonies.”
Psychedelics bind to serotonin receptors. Serotonin plays a role in altering the hypothalamus and posterior pituitary, which control hormonal release and balance. So one may posit that altering one system would alter another.
Omolewa, an entheogen midwife in Jamaica, clarified that these experiences are so personal, there is so much we do not and cannot understand about what’s happening in and around our bodies, but that she has witnessed first-hand experience of plant medicine influencing menstrual cycles and playing a role in rebalancing hormones. She’s heard many stories. One particularly striking incident involved another midwife removing her own IUD mid-ceremony. This image might frighten some, and certainly be advised against, but it underlines something important: These medicines seem to teach us what’s best for the body both consciously and unconsciously.
Native lineages with ancestral traditions involving hallucinogenic plants have spoken about the links between psychedelics and the cycle for presumably ages. Communities in the Middle East and North Africa still use plants, like harmaline, as emmenagogues (herbal medicine that stimulates menstrual flow). Priestesses in Ancient Greece were using mind-altering brews of rye and fungi to facilitate the mysteries in Eleusis, which were initially women-only ceremonies. Who knows how they connected these experiences with their cycles…
If psychedelics do indeed have the potential to alter menstrual cycles, then could psychedelic therapy be used to treat a range of hormonal imbalances and fertility issues? As the West integrates psychedelic-assisted care, shouldn’t this knowledge be taken into consideration when addressing specific needs in psychedelic therapy? Or will it remain another remarkable connection beyond the capacity of the current perception?