Since 2015 microdosing has become increasingly popular. In that year it was discovered by a wide audience and labelled the 'Silicon Valley life hack' by journalists from mainstream magazines as Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Forbes, The Telegraph and Huffington Post. Let's see what the fuss is all about, shall we?
What is a microdose?
A microdose is 1/10 to 1/20 of a normal dose of a psychedelic drug such as LSD, psilocybin or mescaline. This is far below the threshold dose; the dosage where you start to feel perceptional and bodily effects that characterise the substance. This extremely low dose has only sub-perceptual effects and therefore allows you to function normally in daily life. Or actually, a lot better than normal, as the experts in this field are telling us.
Which substances are to be taken in micro quantities?
Currently, most experiences are known with LSD, psilocybin and mescaline. But also 2-CB, DMT, iboga, ayahuasca and kanna. Non-psychedelic drugs do not have any noticeable effects when the dose is below the threshold.
Which effects are known?
For years, Dr James Fadiman has been collecting reports of people who've voluntarily experimented with microdoses. A number of these reports are included in his groundbreaking book The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide. The subject report the following effects:
- Physical: Increased energy, described as 'good' or clear energy, not much like a caffeine buzz. Increased motivation at daily activities such as work and sports. Sometimes also an increased body load or stomach irritation.
- Creativity. More, sometimes even brilliant, ideas and the ability to comprehend complicated matters, patterns and ideas. Increased focus and ease to get into the flow while working, and stay in this flow longer than usual.
- Emotional. Appreciation and gratefulness for everything around you and life itself. A better mood.
- Spiritual. A sense of the interconnectedness of everything.
Fadiman tells in interviews that a general effect of microdosing seems to be that it rebalances people. And that the effects often manifest in the form in which the subject seeks improvement. So one person may improve his workflow, while another gets rid of her anxiety, and yet another managed to get rid of his severe stuttering.
99% of the contents of the anecdotal reports are positive. Negative effects exist too and may include: a headache (due to increased blood flow), sleeping difficulties, irritable stomach, increased anxiety and irritability and permanent personality alterations (positive or negative).
Who's idea was this?
Dr Albert Hofmann's. He had been microdosing for at least a couple of decades. He did this mostly during his walks in the forest, it helped him think more clearly. So thanks to him, more people became familiar with it. He also indicated that this is a very under-researched area. On the other hand, indigenous cultures have been ingesting very low doses of mind-altering substances for thousands of years. But as of today, very little is known about this.
What does science have to say?
All of this, of course, sounds very nice and promising, and the psychonauts amongst us have probably wondered already why they haven't started microdosing yet. But, which effects have been proven scientifically? What research has been done so far?
None. No double-blind, peer-reviewed studies have taken place. The most important reason for this is that in the US, where currently more psychedelics research than ever is taking place, scientists are having a hard time getting approval for administering psychedelics (Schedule I drugs) to subjects in a non-controlled setting. Their own homes and lives, that is. In Europe and Australia, where two studies are currently being designed, things look a little more promising.
However in 1966, just before the American FDA banned psychedelics research, a notable experiment was carried out by William Harris and James Fadiman. In this study, 27 professionals with high-level jobs (mathematicians, designers, engineers and other jobs that involve problem-solving) each got 200 mg of mescaline sulphate administered (this equals 100 micrograms of LSD). Apart from 4 people, all participants were able to quickly solve the problems they were working on, with better results than usual, resulting in a fair number of innovations.
But how does this work, what happens in our brains?
Due to research limitations, we don't know exactly how psychedelics work on the brain, but from what we know for sure, the following explanation can be given. Psychedelic substances work on the serotonin receptors (5-hydroxytryptamine of 5-HT). First, you should know that our system of serotonin receptors regulates our cognition and the way we learn. In our nervous system, there are many unique serotonin receptors that collectively regulate a large number of functions, from our mood to our bowel movements. The receptors that are mainly responsible for cognition, memory and learning are the 5-HT1A, 5-HT2A, 5-HT3, 5-HT4, 5-HT6, en 5-HT7 receptors, 5-HT2A being the most acted upon by psychedelics. This explains, in an oversimplified manner, how even a microdose of a psychedelic can cause a cognitive boost.
Feel like trying microdosing?
Researcher and author Fadiman has been collecting data about people's own experiments with microdosing. He wrote a protocol to help them get started. These are the most relevant guidelines:
Take a microdose every fourth day. Make sure it is not more than microdose, when in doubt rather take a little bit less than a little bit more. It's important to stick to your daily routines and activities, so work, sports, leisure, meals, family and social life.
Fadiman strongly suggests to write down a couple of lines every day, just for yourself. Also on the days, you didn't take the substance! Write how you feel, how productive you were, how comfortable were you, et cetera. In doing this you'll more easily identify changes in your mood, physical condition, eating habits. On 'free' days you can see to what extent you still notice the effects, and it allows you to tell the difference. Because of the super low dosages and this 1 to 4 frequency, no tolerance will occur.
Don't tell everyone about your experiment. There is still a stigma on drug use and you'll probably want to minimise external influence on your experience.
The minimum duration of this experiment is one month. Unless you don't feel good, in that case, just stop immediately. After this month you can see for yourself how often you'd want to microdose. Psychedelics are not addictive and most people choose to do it only now and then, on occasions they think they could benefit from it.
What are the risks?
If you're interested in microdosing, take full notice of the fact that there's no scientific basis for a responsible and effective use. So be cautious. There are insufficient data available about how people with anxiety disorder, depression or another mental disorder respond to microdoses. People who currently experiment with microdosing pretty much all have taken a psychedelic drug before. Therefore, we take the stand that microdosing is not for everyone. Despite the 99% positive reports, effects are not guaranteed. Some users don't experience any or hardly an effect or don't consider them as positive since they do not fit their personality or their life perspective.
Lastly, and you've probably seen this one coming, let's not forget that LSD, mescaline and psilocybin are illegal substances almost everywhere in the world. Be aware of the stigma and the (legal, medical and social) risks that using them bring about.
Where can I read more?
Sources for this article
The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide, Dr James Fadiman
Microdosing self-study protocol, Dr James Fadiman
Psychedelic Microdosing Research - Huffington Post
Microdosing Psychedelics - Nootropix
The Ultimate Guide to Microdosing - The Third Wave