Microdosing with psychedelic drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms has been growing in popularity over the past few years, thanks to anecdotal reports that the practice helps to boost creativity while also treating depression and other mental health issues. The science to back up these sorts of claims is largely lacking, although a new study provides some tantalizing preliminary evidence that microdosing with LSD might actually spark an increase in key growth factors in the brain.
The phenomenon known as microdosing involves taking tiny amounts of psychedelics that don’t produce any trippy effects, but which some claim can boost cognition and alter brain connectivity patterns in the long term. This, in turn, is said to allow for more flexible thought processes, making it easier to come up with new ideas or break free from negative modes of thinking.
If this turns out to be true, then it seems plausible that growth factors like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may be involved. This key protein facilitates the growth, development, and maintenance of neurons, and is essential for the formation of new neuronal connections. As such, it allows for neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s capacity to rewire itself.
Neuroplasticity is fundamental to depression and neurodegenerative disorders like dementia, all of which are associated with a decrease in BDNF levels and a subsequent loss of cognitive flexibility. With this in mind, the authors of this latest study decided to investigate the potential of tiny doses of LSD to boost BDNF.
To do so, they gave 27 volunteers a placebo and a microdose of LSD on separate days, while measuring their blood plasma BDNF levels every two hours. Results, which are published in the journal ACS Pharmacology and Translational Science, showed that a 5-microgram dose of LSD led to an increase in BDNF, which peaked after four hours, while 20 micrograms of the drug caused the growth factor to peak after six hours.
Strangely, however, a 10-microgram dose of LSD produced no such increase in BDNF levels, suggesting that the matter is far from straightforward. In spite of this, the study authors insist that their results do show a positive relationship between low-dose LSD and rising BDNF concentrations, although they concede that much more research will be needed before such a claim can be made with any certainty.
On top of this, the researchers point out that their study only assessed the acute effects of a single microdose, and does not provide any information about the long-term effects of microdosing on BDNF levels or neuroplasticity.
All in all, the findings imply that while there may be something to psychedelic microdosing, it’s still far too early to make any definitive statements about what it does or doesn’t do to the brain.