The Lamen

Microdosing is getting more common, but scientists are not convinced.

Key Takeaways.

Psychedelics are enjoying a surge in popularity that places them beyond recreational drugs, with the potential to treat mental health conditions. However, what attracts the most skepticism is the idea of microdosing with psychedelics.

What matters: Proponents of microdosing claim a variety of benefits, including improved productivity, positive mood, and well-being. What counts is reaping the benefits of psychedelics without the "high."

Making moves: The FDA recently laid out its guidelines for drug trials involving "classical psychedelics" for the first time ever.

A bar graph for the breast cancer rates among women of different ethnicities.

As microdosing with psychedelics and the idea of entering a “higher state” receives renewed public interest, understanding the transformative process that one undergoes on a psychedelic trip becomes imperative. These experiences often provide unique emotions and insights, but the collective interest really lies in their therapeutic benefits.

via Unsplash

Published on Jun 28, 2023

How does microdosing with psychedelics work? The general scientific consensus is that we don’t entirely understand these compounds despite the vivid imaginative experiences that people who take them often describe.

Psychedelics (and their proponents) are enjoying a surge that positions these compounds as possible therapeutic drugs, showing potential to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, and depression.

Even though their popularity has skyrocketed, partly due to the recent increase in clinical trials gauging their efficacy, scientists continue to remain skeptical of one key aspect of the recreational and therapeutic use of psychedelics: microdosing.

Rise & Fall.

Psychedelic plants and mushrooms have been a part of indigenous medicine for thousands of years, but their roots can be traced back to religious traditions as in the ancient Sanskrit texts.

  • However, it was Dr. Albert Hofmann’s discovery of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and accidental ingestion 5 years later that led to the surge of psychoactive compounds in the 1900s.
  • Research on psychedelic use was at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when scientists published over 1,000 articles on using psychedelics as a psychiatric treatment, but hippies and dorms eventually took over as psychedelics saw growing use as recreational drugs.

Microdosing with psychedelics isn’t a new idea, with reports tracing the use of low doses of psilocybin to as early as the 1500s. However, starting in 1966, several states banned their use.

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, classifying LSD and psilocybin, along with several others, as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use under supervision.

What exactly is microdosing?

The talk: Microdosing is defined as the practice of taking very small doses of a psychedelic substance, often as low as one-twentieth (5 percent) of a full dose — supposedly changing its hallucinogenic effect, but not the legal status.

  • Individuals who have ingested a full dose of psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin have described distinct changes in their perception of reality — experiencing vivid imaginative experiences with pronounced visual and auditory feelings accompanied by intense emotions.
  • Such is not the case with microdosing. The aim here is to experience a heightened sense of perception without feeling “the high.”

What matters: Finding the optimal dosage when it comes to microdosing requires some trial and error, but proponents have claimed a range of psychological benefits, including:

  • increased focus, creativity, and productivity
  • improved memory and focus
  • positive mood
  • increased vitality
  • mindfulness and wellbeing

Beyond an improved quality of life, users have also reported that microdosing helps them manage symptoms of chronic pain, PTSD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression.

When it comes to microdosing with psychedelics, psilocybin remains one of the most commonly used drugs.

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound obtained from mushrooms (belonging to the genus Psilocybe) commonly called magic mushrooms. It works by activating serotonin receptors in the brain related to feelings of happiness or love.

Image by Unsplash

The efficacy of microdosing in improving mood and cognition along with treating some chronic conditions is largely based upon anecdotal evidence consisting of passionate surveyors, and more recently by large online communities.

  • The current surge in interest regarding microdosing can be attributed to “The Psychedelic Explorers Guide,” a book by James Fadiman — which led to extensive media coverage and scientific research, and was later inflated by Joe Rogan’s claims regarding the substances on his podcast.

While many scientists have begun exploring the benefits of microdosing in comparison to full doses of psychedelics, much of the evidence divides the community — often concluding that the practice holds no benefits.

Increasing acceptance of psychedelics.

The state of things: According to 2020’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2.6 percent of people aged 12 and older in the United States reported hallucinogen use in the past year.

  • The use of LSD in the U.S. jumped 56.4 percent from 2015 to 2019, with 1.2 percent of the users reporting emergency medical treatment after using LSD according to the 2019 Global Drug Survey.
  • The 2021 Global Drug Survey reported that 22 percent of those who used the “most popular psychedelics” such as psilocybin did so under the pretext of microdosing.
  • At the U.S. federal level, psilocybin remains under the Schedule 1 Drug category as an illegal drug, defined by the Drug Enforcement Agency as having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

Making moves: Oregon made history on January 1, becoming the first state in the U.S. to legalize the adult use of psilocybin, beginning a chain of events that might lead to the widespread acceptance of a multi-billion dollar industry.

  • According to an analysis published in April, at least 25 states have considered legislation that approves the supervised use of psychedelics.
  • The researchers also estimate that most states will have legalized psychedelics by 2037.
  • The FDA has also laid out its guidelines for drug trials involving psychedelics for the first time, including the basic conditions for trial conduct, data collection, subject safety, and new drug application requirements.
  • The guidance covers trials involving “classical psychedelics” like psilocybin and LSD, or “entactogens” or “empathogens” like methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).

“The goal is to help researchers design studies that will yield interpretable results that will be capable of supporting future drug applications.”

— Tiffany Farchione, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Tech stars like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates famously experimented with LSD as a gateway to creativity and productivity, and many notable figures have now started embracing psychedelics with open arms.

  • The Psychedelic Science Conference in Denver the past week attracted over 300 speakers and roughly 10,000 attendees, which included panels that explored the advent of therapies and business opportunities as the taboo surrounding psychedelics continues to lift.
  • Notable guests included New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, Ziff Professor of Psychology Carl Hart, Onnit founder Aubrey Marcus, and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) director Joshua Gordon.

This increased “openness” may represent how our society is experiencing a mental health crisis, where pharmacological treatment is stagnating, and the influential turn to alternative therapies.

What experts are saying.

Popularly known as the “Father of Microdosing,” Dr. James Fadiman introduced the concept of microdosing, along with the Fadiman Protocol which proposes a microdosing schedule of 1 day on, 2 days off, primarily based on his experimentation and research on microdosing.

  • The largely limiting factor concerning microdosing studies is that psychedelics are highly controlled drugs, which means that a “microdose” might not be able to able to predict the behavior of a clinical dose.
  • Another limitation relates to the metabolism of different compounds, as those exhibiting limited solubility in the body may not be well studied at small dosages.
  • Finally, many of the studies that reported participants feeling better involved self-reported data, with the risk of biases making them hard to draw conclusions from.
  • However, a study using fMRI showed that a very low dose of LSD was sufficient to alter the functional connectivity between the amygdala and cortical regions, which was correlated with positive mood.

Of the handful of studies reporting the effects of microdosing with psychedelics, scientific interest primarily leans towards these findings being premature and often wrong.

  • A study published in 2022 found that microdosing in adults with ADHD for a four-week period had shown a decrease in ADHD symptoms while showing an increase in well-being.
  • Another study reported that microdosing with LSD in healthy adult males showed improved creativity, energy, irritability, happiness, and wellness.
  • However, 10 percent of the participants in the LSD group quit the study due to increased anxiety.

A great deal of optimism is involved in attempts at breaking the psychedelic taboo, but policymakers continue to be wary of compounds that can literally alter your perception. Microdosing presents a much easier reality — one where changing modern medicine wouldn’t require everyone to get high.