Psychedelic Microdosing Has Benefits, But Not The Ones People Expect

To the best we can determine, there are benefits of taking very small quantities of psychedelic mushrooms or LSD, but not those currently being most promoted. Macrovector/Shutterstock

The first longitudinal study of microdosing has found real benefits from the newly popular practice. However, the anticipated effects that were the most common motivation to microdose were not seen.

Microdosing involves taking drugs like LSD or psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, in quantities too small to cause psychedelic effects. Claimed benefits range from reductions in stress and unhealthy habits to increases in attention and creativity. Anecdotally the practice has recently taken off, particularly in Silicon Valley where the claimed creativity effects are thought to improve job performance.

However, there is minimal research behind this. The drugs involved are illegal to possess, let alone take, almost everywhere, and most countries make it very difficult to study the effects of prohibited drugs. Dr Vince Polito of Australia's Macquarie University has skirted the law to create the first peer-reviewed longitudinal study of the practice, which supports some, but not all, purported benefits.

Polito had 98 microdosers report the size and timing of the doses they took over a six week period, and their mood each day, whether they dosed that day or not. Many positives were reported, including lower depression and stress, following dosing, along with increased focus. People also described a more transitory improvement in attitude.

On the other hand, most participants said they were taking the drugs because they expected they would boost their creativity and mindfulness. To the extent these can be tested, there were no signs their hopes were fulfilled.

“Glowing media reports have presented microdosing as a panacea, able to improve virtually all aspects of life, so it is not surprising that participants have strong expectations,” Polito said in a statement. Besides these not being met, participants described an increase in neuroticism, which was unexpected, and the one clearly negative trial outcome, aside from the threat of prison for self-medication.

Polito freely admitted the trial, published in PLOS ONE, had serious limitations. There was no control group, let alone blind testing, and most participants had been microdosing for a while, so comparisons with pre-dosing were not possible. Polito explained that while experiments giving people controlled substances are technically legal in Australia, the process of gaining approval is so complex and expensive it was realistically impossible for him. Surveying people already taking drugs is legally safer. “We tried to be as rigorous as possible under the constraints we had,” he told IFLScience.

One “self-blinded” trial of microdosing is underway, but has faced many obstacles to get there.

Microdosing advocates suggest taking a dose every 3-4 days, but Polito found every 5-6 days was more typical. Curiously, frequency of dosage appeared to have little effect on reported benefits. Average doses were 13.5 micrograms of LSD or 0.3 grams of psilocybin.

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