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Psychedelic microdosing is the practice of using sub-threshold doses (microdoses) of serotonergic psychedelic drugs in an attempt to improve creativity, boost physical energy level, promote emotional balance, increase performance on problems-solving tasks and to treat anxiety, depression and addiction. The practice of microdosing has become more widespread in the 21st century with more people claiming long-term benefits from the practice.
The two most common psychedelic drugs used in microdosing are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (psychoactive mushrooms). Other psychedelics that have been used for microdosing include 1P-LSD, mescaline, 4-HO-MET, 2,5-dimethoxy-4-bromoamphetamine, 2C-H, 2C-D, 2C-E and lysergic acid amide. A microdose is usually 1/20 to 1/10 of an active dose of a psychedelic drug.
In contrast to the recreational use of psychedelics, individuals who microdose stick to strict drug schedules, often dosing about every three days, and do not observe any impairment to their normal functioning. In a study that evaluated the effects of three different doses of LSD on healthy human volunteers, it was concluded that the threshold dose of LSD that would affect normal functioning is 13 ug. Doses lower than this are considered appropriate for microdosing with LSD.
Prevalence and demographics
Both gender and education have an effect on the prevalence of microdosing. An online survey found that out of 2,437 individuals, 13% had previously practiced microdosing and 4% were currently microdosing. Females (n=100) were about half as likely as males (n=188) to report microdosing. The average age of these individuals who had previous microdosing experience, both male and female, was 33.26. Education and income was highly correlated with microdosing experience. Participants who reported microdosing were more likely to have lower income levels (<$50,000) and lower levels of education. No particular type of employment was associated with microdosing.
Another anonymous online survey drew a sample of microdosers from the online forum Reddit. The survey was primarily targeted at current or past users to examine demographics, practice, and mental health comorbidity. Microdosers and non-microdosers showed no statistical difference in terms of age, sexual orientation, social class, or highest completed formal education. Significant differences were found in gender and religious affiliation with microdosers more likely to be male and reporting lower rates of religious affiliation. The majority of microdosers reported the use of LSD or psilocybin as their substance of choice and followed a one-day-on, two-days-off schedule. Despite no significant differences in psychiatric history, microdosers were less likely to report a history of anxiety or substance use disorder. Statistical analyses showed that users were about five times more likely to report recent substance use, excluding caffeine, alcohol, and prescription medications, compared to non-microdosers.
Research that examines the motives of users is narrative or survey-based. People’s reasons for microdosing are both physically and psychologically oriented. A study investigated the motives for microdosing with psychedelics in 1,116 users through an online questionnaire. Common reasons given by respondents were performance enhancement, mood enhancement, symptom relief, and curiosity. Almost half of respondents claimed that they microdosed to go to work.
Another study relied on data collected from interviews with thirty people who had previously microdosed. Responses from users emphasized their role as conventional citizens, distancing themselves from traditional drug users. Motivations were similar to those of the previous study; reasons for microdosing included mood enhancement, greater productivity, and increase in sociability. Although this sample is not representative of the population of users, the results still provide insights about the motivation to microdose.
Most research on the effects of microdosing to date has been based on either anecdotal evidence or survey. Long-term effects remain largely undetermined. In a study examining the qualitative reports of 278 microdosers the researchers found that there were mixed results among users. Some users experienced positive effects such as improved mood and increased focus, while other users experienced negative effects such as physiological discomfort and anxiety. More recent studies have indicated increasingly positive results in the categories of: improved mood, improved focus, and social enhancement.
In one of the only double-blind, randomized studies to date, those given microdoses of LSD did not perform better than those given the placebo on cognitive tasks. This study did not have any conclusive evidence on whether or not microdosing with LSD has any therapeutic effects for those suffering from anxiety or depressive disorders since all participants were healthy at the time of the study. This study analyzed users who answered mood questionnaires and performed behavioral tests after taking a range of microdoses from 0-26 ug of LSD. The only changes in function that this study saw were a decrease in how the users rated the positivity of images that had positive emotional content and an increase in their vigor, determined behaviorally, when compared to those who received the placebo.
Another randomized, double-blind study examined the effect of microdosing of LSD on the perception of time. Participants were either administered 5, 10 and 20 µg of LSD and assessed using a temporal reproduction task and self-report measures. The study showed no significant changes in self-report scores of perception, mental activity, or concentration among the three groups. Despite larger reported drug effects of temporal perception, there were not any significant effects of the drug.
An open-label natural experiment was performed to test the effects of microdosing psychedelic truffles. Subjects were measured on three creativity constructs before and after microdosing: creative thinking, divergent thinking, and fluid intelligence. The creative thinking and divergent thinking were measured using two creative problem-solving tasks; fluid intelligence was measured using a matrices task. The study found that creative and divergent thinking performance was improved following microdosing, yet fluid intelligence was unaffected. However, the limitations of this study, such as the natural setting and quasi-experimental design, do not allow any causal conclusions to be drawn from this study. Further research involving randomized, placebo-controlled studies are necessary to determine a causal relationship between microdosing and creativity.
Since research on the topic of microdosing with psychedelics is fairly new, there are sure to be more studies focusing on double-blind, randomized experiments in order to determine if these doses have any benefit to normal functioning as proclaimed by some users.
Studies have been conducted to investigate the effect of microdosing in animal subjects. A recent study examined the effects of microdosing D,D-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) on mood and anxiety in rodents. Anxiety and depression in male and female rodents was measured using fear extinction and forced swim behavior. When treated with chronic, microdoses of DMT, the rats displayed increased fear extinction behavior and an antidepressant-like phenotype. Microdosing may also have an effect on metabolism in rodents, as the male rats gained a significant amount of body weight following the microdosing schedule. Despite the significant findings of this study, more research needs to be done to understand the effects of microdosing in animals and the translation of these findings to human subjects.
Analysis of microdosing behavior has primarily focused on the potential benefits that subjects experience. Few studies, however, have examined the challenges that microdosers face. An anonymous, online survey examined both the benefits and challenges of 278 microdosers. The benefits that were reported by users were similar to those described in other studies: improved mood, creativity, and improved focus. The main challenge (29.5%) among users was concern about the illegality of psychedelic substances and the resulting consequences. Subcategories of illegality include worries about perceived social stigma, cost of the substance, and correct dosage. Other major challenges for users include psychological discomfort, impaired focus, increased anxiety, and excessive energy. Despite the claimed challenges by users, additional randomized control trials are necessary to determine the safety and potential challenges posed by microdosing.
- Psychedelics in problem-solving experiment
- Psychedelic therapy
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