How Psychedelics Became Key to My Long COVID Recovery

By MaryAnn Welke Lesage
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Editor’s Note: To date, no empirical studies have concluded that psychedelics cure long COVID. Though case study research in this area is ongoing, this article represents one person’s experience and should not be taken as medical advice. For a more comprehensive understanding of this topic, we encourage you to listen to the full episode of our May 31, 2024 podcast, which includes a broader conversation with experts in the field.

Driven by a deep need for relief and guided by curiosity, in 2022 I turned to psychedelics in my battle against long COVID. What started as a mission to manage post-viral symptoms transformed into a meaningful exploration of psychedelic healing, culminating in unexpected relief, and a shift in my life path. This is my story of navigating the challenges of long COVID, the healthcare system, and my own journey to recovery through the use of psychedelic medicines.

The Turning Point

While I might not be the typical image of a person experimenting with psychedelics, my situation led me there. A married 40-something suburban mother of two, working in academia and technology, I was an unlikely candidate for a psychedelic journey. Yet, desperation and long COVID pushed me in this direction. 
The fear of stigma and the potential impact on my professional reputation initially made me hesitant to share my experience with substances that remain illegal. However, meeting Court Wing, a passionate advocate for the potential of psychedelics in treating chronic pain and long COVID, changed my perspective. I met Court at a Plant Parenthood integration circle for parents using plant medicines. In that session, I discussed my initial experiences with plant medicines, unaware that this would lead to my story being featured in a medical journal, and even mentioned in TIME magazine.

The Challenge of Long COVID

In early 2022, my life seemed on track. I had a great job at a Canadian university, a bustling family life, and I had just started a Ph.D. My husband, Neil, supported my career ambitions as a full-time caregiver to our children. The U.S.-Canada border reopening in early 2022 prompted me to take the kids to visit family in Connecticut.

We were fully vaccinated and took precautions to keep from contracting the virus. But the Omicron variant was still circulating, and at some point before leaving for our trip, we were exposed and became ill.

The journey back to Canada, coupled with an extended isolation and constant scrutiny from health authorities, left me exhausted, stressed, and at a low point in my mental health.

Severe COVID-19 patients often arrive at the hospital already in respiratory crises. I never needed oxygen, but COVID-19 devastated my body and brain in many ways, initially unbeknownst to me. The aftermath was debilitating: I couldn’t think or regulate my emotions, suffered from severe fatigue, confusion, headaches, and a deepening depression. The healthcare system offered little support, with constant changes in my primary care situation and delayed access to a long COVID clinic.

Determined to recover, I initially pushed myself too hard, only to relapse and sink deeper into despair. I then shifted to prioritizing self-care, including meditative walks in the forest, which helped mildly with depression and brain fog but hit a plateau in cognitive recovery.

After a few months, I was finally able to get a referral, and was accepted into the local hospital’s long COVID rehab clinic. I was so relieved that I would finally get proper care. Then the other shoe dropped – ‘getting in’ only meant that I was now on the waitlist. The estimated wait was a staggering seven months.

From then on, I entered reluctantly into a new phase of acceptance. I made self-care my only priority.

Despite the lack of health care, I took my care and rehabilitation into my own hands. I joined long COVID online communities and read the recent research.

Turning to Psychedelics for Help with Long COVID

My research on emerging treatments led me to anecdotes of psychedelics aiding COVID-related olfactory loss and brain fog. The growing evidence of psychedelics treating depression, anxiety, addictions, and trauma piqued my interest further. Though no clinical trials were testing psychedelics for long COVID, the safety and efficacy in related conditions motivated me to experiment on myself.

My journey led me to a friend and trained guide, Kate, who understood my symptoms due to her own severe traumatic brain injury. Kate guided me through a psilocybin and MDMA-assisted ceremony that became a transformational experience, comparable to the births of my children in its impact. Almost overnight, my anxiety and depression vanished and my cognitive clarity returned. My headaches eased dramatically. The veil of the long COVID fog was gone.

Learning to Live Again

I cautiously eased back into life. I experienced no crashes in the week following the ceremony, and continually increased my exercise until I reached my pre-COVID workout routine. The day I reached my usual 40 laps in the pool, I knew in my heart that I was truly on the path to recovery. Within weeks of this journey, I initiated a progressive return to work.

Over time, I began to see sharing my story as a responsibility to those suffering from long COVID and other conditions that could benefit from psychedelic medicines. My experience has profoundly changed my personal and professional direction, and I am now pursuing studies in Psychedelics and Consciousness at the University of Ottawa.

My greatest hope is that I can contribute in some small way to the launch of clinical trials for the use of MDMA and psilocybin for the treatment of long COVID. My story is mine alone, but hopefully it will serve to inspire others.

MaryAnn Welke Lesage

About the Author

MaryAnn Welke Lesage

MaryAnn Welke Lesage is a long-COVID survivor turned aspiring psychonaut and student of psychedelics and entheogens.  She works and studies at the University of Ottawa where she’s a director in IT, and also pursuing dual master’s degrees in Psychedelics and Consciousness Studies, and Digital Transformation and Innovation.  She lives in Ottawa, Canada with her husband and two children.