Benefits and Risks of Microdosing Psychedelics
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
With an increasing number of people using psychedelics to enhance their lives, improve their work, or boost their creativity, it appears that microdosing is gaining popularity. Many online community forums dedicated to exchanging experiences about this practice provide compelling testimonials from those who have experienced personal growth and healing through microdosing.
There are some studies trying to capture and systemize the available information, but scientific research has yet to catch up with the anecdotal data available online. Current studies use data from self-reported benefits from users, or by analyzing qualitative data from trip reports. This lack of scientific rigor and control over variables make it difficult to make accurate correlations.
Nonetheless, the anecdotal data out there is promising. For those seeking relief from anxiety and depression, or to level up their spiritual, personal, or emotional practices, microdosing psychedelics remains a compelling option.
Today, let us take a look at some of the current studies and their findings.
Recent Scientific Studies Supporting the Benefits of Microdosing
In 2019, Vince Polito and Richard J. Stevenson, two researchers at the Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia published their findings of microdosing in PLUS ONE. They observed and systemized data from 98 people who microdosed. They tracked their daily microdosing experience over six weeks, assessing various psychometric measures related to mood, attention, well-being, personality, and so forth. These measures were observed before the study began and then again at the end.
The study results revealed that participants experienced an immediate boost across a range of psychological variables, such as connectedness, contemplation, creativity, focus, happiness, productiveness, and wellness, on the day of microdosing. These effects, however, were (mostly) not sustained over multiple days. To investigate the longer-term effects of microdosing, researchers did a second set of analyses where they observed nine domains of psychological functioning (mood, attention, wellbeing, mindfulness, mystical experience, personality, absorption, creativity, agency). They compared the baseline data to the post-study data and found significant improvements in participants’ depression and stress states; decreased mind wandering; and increased absorption.
Another 2019 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal analyzed possible benefits and challenges by 278 self-reporting microdosers. The results of the study showed that participants reported experiencing improvements in mood (12.8%), focus ( 10.0%), creativity (9.4%), and energy (7.6%). Although they were not able to account for recall bias or placebo effects, the researchers call for further research “to investigate psychedelics as potential medicines and for the betterment of well people.”
Erik Kast’s work in the '60s revolved around the idea that LSD could have pain relief potential in patients who have cancer. A current study at Maastricht University, took that hypothesis and looked at the role of LSD in pain management. Low doses of LSD (5ug, 10ug, and 20ug and placebo) were administered to 24 healthy volunteers, and their resistance to pain was observed using the Cold Pressor Test. Participants held their hands in a water tank at 3°C until they could no longer bear the sensation. It was concluded that participants that received 20ug of LSD were able to keep their hands immersed in the cold water 20% longer. The dose was high enough to increase pain tolerance and decrease subjective levels of unpleasantness, but low enough to avoid a psychedelic experience.
One of the untapped potentials of microdosing is the possibility of it being the gateway to macrodosing. For those who have never tried psychedelics before; or are skeptical or afraid, but still curious about this new realm, microdosing is an introductory experience that would open the doors of perception.
You might be asking yourself, why is this transition desirable?
The Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme co-founded by Amanda Feilding has been conducting a few pioneering studies regarding the effects of psychedelics macrodoses on treating treatment-resistant depression in humans and addiction in mice.
And while microdosing doesn’t have profound effects in treating resistant mental health issues, it does facilitate a sense of aliveness, joyfulness, and creativity that helps us navigate the hardship of daily lives leaving us feeling more fulfilled and connected. Microdosing and macrodosing are two sides of the same coin, they complement each other and some of the mystical experiences and life-shifting changes one experiences during a macrodosing session, could be integrated easier in one’s daily life with the help of microdosing.
Potential Risks of Microdosing
An adverse effect most people report when they first start microdosing, is that they feel even lower than usual during the days when they don’t microdose. However, this phenomenon is reported to go away after a month or so. For me, this was definitely the case. It almost felt like my body was readjusting to this new routine. But once I got through it the lows were not as low anymore, and the general mood stabilized at a higher level.
Another risk of microdosing, as seen in the reports provided in the article published in PLUS ONE, participants experienced an increase in neuroticism. This means that not everyone has a great experience, and brings to our attention the idea that microdosing may not be universally beneficial. That’s why further and in-depth research is needed.
Specifically related to long-term microdosing, another negative aspect is building up a tolerance. The body's response to certain substances becomes diminished when they are used regularly over time, generally leading to the subjective experience of reduced benefits. This is a critical reason why microdosing protocols do not advocate dosing every day.
While it is not possible to become physically reliant or addicted to psychedelics, there is a risk of developing psychological reliance on psychedelics as an exterior aid to fix aspects of one's life. But through our human experience, we’ve already noticed that we can develop small addictions or reliances on pretty much anything. As long as we reflect upon our experience, behaviors, and habits we form; becoming reliant on microdosing shouldn't be a concern.
Another potential risk that has been discussed was the correlation between continuous 5TH serotonin receptors stimulation and valvular heart disease (VHD). These findings emerged after a few FDA-approved medications with 5HT2B receptor activation were withdrawn from the US market. There is no conclusive evidence to support correlations between microdosing and heart issues, as the inference seems to be a bit stretched, but, it’s advisable to reconsider microdosing if there is any personal or family history of heart issues.
Ultimately, the decision to microdose is a very personal one. Everyone should assess their comfort zone, their risk tolerance, and whether or not they have a supportive social system they can rely on. Always consult a doctor to get an informed assessment of your health, as psychedelics should not be used if there is any personal or family history of psychosis or heart issues.
I will conclude with Amanda Fielding’s words: “ Microdosing may well be the ideal way to rehabilitate psychedelic compounds in the eyes of the world: a pill that enhances energy, vitality, creativity, and mood, while allowing the user to retain full control of their focus and behavior, could be a welcome addition to our current pharmacopeia in the midst of a rising tide of mental health disorders. As Francis Crick wrote in his diary: Suppose a psychedelic chemical was produced to make people more intelligent, with no addictive properties or bad side effects. Would you object to it?”
Ana Maria Badila's professional background and education are in Special Education and Psychology. Her love for human psychology and personal development allowed her to dive deeper into exploring her core wounds, healing, and tapping into her creativity. She found a lot of answers in the plant medicine practices.
Ana puts her skills and passion to good use, and a couple of educational tools manifested are the Microdosing Guru website and Odin, the journal dedicated to anyone who's microdosing psychedelics.
Do you have any questions you would like to ask Ana? We are creating a Q&A on Microdosing next week, so don’t hesitate on leaving your question in the comments or send it to us via e-mail!