“There’s nothing you can’t microdose,” says Fabian Piorkowsky, his salt-and-pepper hair slicked back into a low bun. “You could probably microdose nicotine if you wanted to.” The European biochemist turned shaman has spent the last three decades leading ayahuasca-fueled healing ceremonies in countries like South Africa and Peru and claims to have promoted microdosing — or the administering of tiny quantities of drugs to trigger what he calls a “healing crisis” — long before it became the hottest buzzword in Silicon Valley. But on this rainy Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, he’s attracted a small crowd to hear him speak in a venue much closer to home: a century-old brick loft in the middle of Hollywood, a neighborhood — with its rash of tourist attractions, fast food restaurants and nightclubs — that's not exactly known for its wellness scene.
Tamara Edwards, the 32-year-old founder of the Be Hive, is looking to change that. Billed as an “urban sanctuary,” the second-floor space she opened at the corner of Cahuenga and Sunset boulevards last July — directly above two other health-focused businesses, LifeFood Organic and Sweatheory — offers the kind of programs you’re more likely find in a remote jungle, or at least west of the 405: cacao ceremonies, new-moon gatherings, sound baths, yoga and reiki classes, and a smattering of science-and-spirituality–blending workshops such as the microdosing one Piorkowsky hosts every month. (He charges $45 in advance or $50 at the door for the two-hour session; drugs not included.) Owing largely to word-of-mouth and social media, the Be Hive has quietly built a small but devoted following of mostly Eastsiders who don’t want to travel to new age–friendly Venice or Malibu — or South Africa or Peru, for that matter — in search of spiritual enlightenment.
“It feels like this part of Los Angeles is already calling for it,” says Edwards, who actually lives in Venice herself. “We’re just building this super organically and we kind of just see ourselves as stewards of the space. … What does this space want and what does the community want? We’re just curating that.”
What the community apparently wants, in addition to meditation and hypnosis workshops and regular visits from Piorkowsky, who acts as a kind of shaman in residence, includes the option of spending the night in one of six sparse yet modern bedrooms, all named after various plants and herbs and available for rent on Airbnb for less than $100 a night. The rooms, which keep the Be Hive afloat financially by covering its rent, tend to attract the kind of traveler who feels more at home lounging on a tiny rooftop garden covered in potted succulents than, say, tanning at the pools at the nearby Roosevelt or W hotels, which can cost more than three times as much.
But any of the programs and offerings at the Be Hive are easily upstaged by the historic space itself. Erected in 1914, the brick building is among the oldest in Hollywood. It is rumored to have housed a bank at one point and a brothel at another. Though there’s little evidence supporting the latter, it’s easy to imagine that the row of near-identical white bedrooms connected by a long wooden hallway at one point served a more salacious purpose than simply hosting travelers from Airbnb. The building has housed everything from a now-shuttered museum of rock & roll memorabilia in the 1980s to campaign headquarters last year for then–City Council hopeful Teddy Davis. It is still the current home of the recording industry startup Gobbler — its co-founder and CEO, Chris Kantrowitz, is the Be Hive’s primary investor and has committed it to a 10-year lease, according to Edwards.
“It’s kind of this hub for spiritual but also modern and nomadic entrepreneurs, basically,” the soft-spoken Edwards says. “Obviously we have a lot of artists but we’re not exclusive, we’re open to everyone.”
Piorkowsky’s workshop, for example, drew a mix of people — parents and schoolteachers included — many of whom were eager to learn about microdosing as a form of stress or pain management. Largely associated with psychedelics such as LSD, microdosing involves taking one one-hundredth of a typical dose of a drug, according to Piorkowsky. The amount is large enough to help with anxiety and depression, some researchers say, yet small enough that its psychoactive effects are rarely felt. The technique has been touted as a mood and even a marriage enhancer by author Ayelet Waldman — her new book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life , chronicles her regular use of LSD — while Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have hailed it as a creativity-inducing productivity booster in the pages of Rolling Stone and GQ.
In a long room with gold-painted walls and big windows overlooking a cactus garden, about a dozen people at the Be Hive sit cross-legged on floor cushions, taking notes and asking questions about the history, chemistry and legality of microdosing (the answers vary widely depending on the substance). “The general idea behind microdosing,” Piorkowsky explains, springs from this question: "How can I achieve what the medicine or plant or substance offers in a safe way without interfering with daily activities?” Piorkowsky, whom Vice once described as “a German who made a killing working in finance in London, only to spend it all becoming a shaman in the Peruvian jungle,” has come up with one such solution: homemade tinctures called SOL drops, whose natural ingredients he says mimic the structure of illegal hallucinogens such as ayahuasca, iboga and San Pedro.
While they’re far from FDA-approved — Piorkowsky is careful not to make any medical claims — he says the herbal supplements are intended to boost energy, emotional balance and self-awareness. And at $40 for a 15-milliliter bottle, they’re not cheap. But it’s a price some of his followers are willing to pay. One of the workshop’s attendees, who asks not to be named because of her work with incarcerated youth, says she was desperate for stress-management techniques after having internalized the pain and anger of many of her students. On top of that, she says, she was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty following the election of President Donald Trump. She’d heard about the purported psychological benefits of microdosing and figured she’d give it a try in the name of self-care.
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Edwards was seeking a similar kind of enlightenment when she turned to meditation about a decade ago following a life-altering breakup that caused her to question her identity. A New York–based model at the time, she credits a two-week meditation retreat in India with her realization that she needed to leave the fashion industry because it wasn’t spiritually fulfilling. So she returned to Los Angeles, where she'd once moved as a teenager to pursue acting, but this time tried her hand at producing. She landed gigs on a number on indie films but soon became disillusioned once again, and eventually left to become a meditation teacher. Now, she says, more people are turning to spiritual practices like meditation, thanks in part to the tumultuous political climate.
“It’s like this rat race and I think we’re reaching a time that people are starting to wake up and be like, ‘Every moment of my life is precious,’” she says. “So they are looking for something deeper, they’re looking for deeper connections, they’re looking for deeper fulfillment in life.”
Of course, not everyone seeking deeper connections can afford to drop $50 in the hopes of aligning their life “with the rhythms of the natural world,” as, for instance, the new-moon kava ceremony purports to do. Edwards says she welcomes input and involvement from the community about the types of programming they’d like to see at the space. She eventually hopes to shift the business to a more affordable membership model, where members pay a monthly fee for unlimited classes rather than just for individual ones. “It almost seems to make the most sense, so that we could make the prices lower and more accessible,” she says. The way she sees it, it has the potential to be "like a Soho House for wellness.”