Does Microdosing Psychedelics Have Any Medical Benefits?
Microdosing psychedelics has been a thing for a while now. It is the practice of ingesting drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (the stuff that puts the magic in magic mushrooms) in amounts too small to create a psychedelic experience in a bid to improve focus and creativity, boost mood, or quell anxiety.
Microdosing has developed a laudatory literature—see Ayelet Waldman's 2017 A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life and Michael Pollan's 2018 How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence—but next to no serious scientific study.
Until now. In findings first presented at the June Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague (and to be published as three separate research papers later this year), University of Toronto researchers offered fascinating insights into the how, why, and results of using small amounts of psychedelics for therapeutic effects.
In a research announcement, cognitive neuroscientist and study co-author Thomas Anderson said his interest in the topic was sparked when he reviewed the scientific literature and found plenty of anecdotal reports but a lack of scientific research on the practice.
"There’s currently a renaissance going on in psychedelic research with pilot trials and promising studies of full-dose MDMA (ecstasy) use for post-traumatic stress disorder and of psilocybin use within healthy populations or to treat depression and end-of-life anxiety," said Anderson. "There hasn’t been the same research focus on microdosing. We didn’t have answers to the most basic epidemiological questions—who is doing this and what are they doing?"
Anderson and a team of researchers decided to do something no one had done before: ask the users themselves about their experiences. The researchers identified microdosing communities on Reddit and other social media forums and sent them an anonymous online survey asking about the quantity and frequency of their psychedelic use, reasons for microdosing, effect on mood, focus and creativity, and the benefits and drawbacks of the practice. The survey generated 1,390 initial responses, with 909 respondents answering all questions. Two-thirds of the respondents were either current or past microdosers.
"We wanted to ensure the results produced a good basis for future psychedelic science," Anderson said.
What they found was that microdosers reported positive effects, including improved focus and productivity, better connection with others, and reductions in migraines. Quantitatively, microdosers scored lower than non-microdosers on scales measuring negative emotionality and dysfunctional attitude.
Microdosers did report some drawbacks to the practice, but those were related more to the illegal status of psychedelics than to the practice itself.
"The most prevalently reported drawback was not an outcome of microdosing, but instead dealt with illegality, stigma and substance unreliability," says Anderson. "Users engage in black market criminalized activities to obtain psychedelics. If you’re buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else."
The survey did help clarify the frequency of microdosing—most respondents reported using every three days, while a smaller group did it once a week—and just what constituted a microdose.
"Typical doses aren’t well established," said Anderson. "We think it’s about 10 mcg or one-tenth of an LSD tab, or 0.2 grams of dried mushrooms. Those amounts are close to what participants reported in our data."
But accurate dosing was another problem area: "With microdoses, there should be no ‘trip’ and no hallucinations. The idea is to enhance something about one’s daily activities, but it can be very difficult to divide a ½-cm square of LSD blotting paper into 10 equal doses. The LSD might not be evenly distributed on the square and a microdoser could accidentally ‘trip’ by taking too much or not taking enough," Anderson said.
"The goal of the study was to create a foundation that could support future work in this area, so I’m really excited about what these results can offer future research," he explained. "The benefits and drawbacks data will help ensure we can ask meaningful questions about what participants are reporting. Our future research will involve running lab-based, randomized-control trials where psychedelics are administered in controlled environments. This will help us to better characterize the therapeutic and cognitive-enhancing effects of psychedelics in very small doses."
Eventually, the science will catch up to the practice. In the meantime, microdosers are going to microdose. Anderson has a scholarly caution for them: "We wouldn’t suggest that people microdose, but if they are going to, they should use Ehrlich’s reagent (a drug testing solution) to ensure they are not getting something other than LSD."
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.