Microdosing is quite the buzz term these days, and for good reason. Microdosing psychedelics is gaining popularity, and the practice seems to offer great benefits to users. What’s the difference between microdosing psychedelics and taking a full dose? And what benefits and detractions does it come with? Read on to find out more.
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The art of the microdose
‘Microdose’ is certainly a buzz word these days, but what exactly does it mean? And does it only apply to psychedelics? A microdose is akin to taking a very small dose of a medication. In the world of psychedelics, somewhere between 1/10-1/20 of a standard dose. Most psychedelics deal in very tiny amounts. A standard dose of LSD is about 100-200 micrograms, which makes a microdose about 10-20 micrograms. A microdose of magic mushrooms is about .1-.5 grams. The concept of microdosing is used for all psychedelics, including LSD, MDMA, mushrooms, DMT, and mescaline.
The pharmaceutical definition is a bit different, as it doesn’t apply specifically to psychedelics. This definition makes the stipulation of “Less than 1/100th of the dose of a test substance calculated (based on animal data) to yield a pharmacologic effect of the test substance with a maximum dose of 100 micrograms.” In science, “This very low, subtherapeutic dose is used to study cellular response of substances.” Of course, using psychedelics isn’t the same as undergoing scientific research. For our purposes, a microdose is the 1/10-1/20 amount.
There’s nothing specific to psychedelics when it comes to the concept of microdosing, but whereas many drugs don’t offer benefits when taken at lower levels, psychedelics do. With psychedelics, a user can have a different experience entirely depending on the amount taken. This does apply in other places, like with cannabis, which is also gaining prominence for its microdose capabilities. Other drugs might provide a similar situation. Since a microdose is simply a small dose, so long as a drug has effects at the dose level, then a microdose is possible.
A microdose is not meant to have the same effects as a standard dose. For some people who are all about big trips and powerful effects, this probably isn’t desired. Microdosing psychedelics is a way to get a minimal response. This is beneficial for people who have a harder time taking larger amounts because of bad trips, or for people who want to gain effects without getting completely blasted. There are a lot of reasons why a microdose is preferred, and a lot of them have to do with the effects that a microdose produces.
What happens when you microdose?
Why are people opting for a tiny, barely-perceptible dose, rather than a nice large dose that’ll have them seeing colors and tripping out? For exactly that reason. Not everyone wants to completely trip out. Not everyone wants their experience to include messing with their perception or cognition. Microdosing psychedelics comes with separate, and more subtle, effects.
A regular psychedelic trip causes all kinds of hallucinations, and makes it hard for a person to follow what’s actually going on in life. Plus, psychedelics come with a strong enough stimulant effect to create bad trips in some users, and to keep a person up for many hours. Microdosing offers the ability to consume a small amount of the same substance, but without the massive hallucinations, cognition or perception alterations, and without as much physiological response.
Microdosing is eyed for improving mood and focus in users, as well as increasing creativity, and promoting better mental health. But it should be remembered, psychedelics are not preferred by everyone, and even microdosing comes with detractions that are experienced by some users. Reading only headlines might indicate that microdosing is the new cure-all, but in fact, it comes with some of the same issues as standard doses.
What research says about microdosing psychedelics
The first thing I noticed when looking at research into microdosing psychedelics, is that clinical trials tell a different story than the glowing headlines that speak of microdosing like the answer to all things. And this makes sense. Almost nothing is ever as good as the hype. Though it might offer benefits to some, like with anything else, it does come with issues to be wary of. Whether you’re microdosing just for funsies, or microdosing for the treatment of depression or PTSD, there are things to consider.
In this study from 2019 called Psychedelic microdosing benefits and challenges: an empirical codebook, researchers took a look at benefits and detractions of microdosing different psychedelic substances. To do this, researchers took reports from 278 people that microdose in the real world.
They found that there were certainly positive benefits experienced. For 26.6% of users it improved mood, and for 14.8% it increased focus. On the other end, a large 18.0% experienced physiological discomfort, with 6.7% reporting increased anxiety. Some write-ups on microdosing like to say that the doses are too small to experience physiological effects, but this study shows that’s not the case. And even at such small doses, 6.7% experienced anxiety.
Yet another study from 2020 backs up the idea that microdosing psychedelics can have great benefits, but can also have detractions. Called Mood and cognition after administration of low LSD doses in healthy volunteers: A placebo controlled dose-effect finding study, this investigation was “to determine the minimal dose of LSD needed to affect mood and cognition.” To do this, researchers created “A placebo-controlled within-subject study including 24 healthy participants,” which “was conducted to assess the acute effects of three LSD doses (5, 10, and 20 mcg) on measures of cognition, mood, and subjective experience, up until 6 h after administration.”
They measured cognition and subjective experience using the following scales: Psychomotor Vigilance Task, Digit Symbol Substitution Test, Cognitive Control Task, Profile of Mood States, and 5-Dimensional Altered States of Consciousness rating scale.
The results showed that between 5-20 micrograms of LSD increased positive mood (63% after 20 micrograms), friendliness, arousal, and attention (59% after 10 micrograms) for most subjects. It also caused negative experienced for some in the form of increased confusion at 20 micrograms, and increased anxiety as low as 5 micrograms. After 20 micrograms, the majority (63%) showed a decrease in concentration.
In their conclusion, researchers state, “analyses showed inter-individual variability in LSD effects on mood, cognition and subjective drug states.” They also point out that in terms of benefits for depression and anger, numbers were “based on half of the total observations, as only 48% of the observations showed a change from placebo after LSD administration.” And then they go on to say, “Furthermore, an increase in confusion (10 mcg) and anxiety (5, 20 mcg), and reduced feelings of concentration (20 mcg) and productivity (20 mcg) was found in the majority of the observations that were affected by LSD.”
They sum it up that their study “showed individual variation to the effects of the different LSD doses on mood. For instance, LSD increased positive mood (20mcg) but also induced unwanted effects such as increased anxiety (5 and 20 mcg), or confusion (10 mcg) in the majority of observations.” And that “Nevertheless, the present study showed that a low dose of LSD can have positive effects on mood, suggesting that anxiety induced by a low LSD dose does not notably interfere with other activities.”
What does this mean?
It’s hard to know when something comes out in the press, who exactly it applies to. A lot of great things are said about psychedelics these days, but that doesn’t mean the results apply to everyone, or that the story itself is told correctly. If you’re reading a purely glowing report on psychedelics that says anyone can benefit, and which doesn’t include the negatives, it’s nothing more than a fluff piece.
The reality is the same as it always was, things affect people differently. Psychedelics are stimulants, and stimulants cause anxiety and other feelings of discomfort in some users. Leaving this out in place of saying psychedelics can help everyone, is missing the point. Same as assuming that taking a smaller dose can’t come with similar detractions as a bigger dose. Understanding who psychedelics might help, and who they might not help, is important when it comes to treatment.
No, microdosing psychedelics isn’t a cure-all, and no, it won’t be effective for everyone. However, for people they work for, psychedelics seem to have positive benefits attached. In that sense, microdosing does offer a great way to access benefits of psychedelics, without going all-in. One of the biggest takeaways of the studies, however, is that microdose or not, psychedelics might not be best for everyone, and perhaps, could even create a negative experience. If you’re someone very reactive to stimulants, it might be best to look into a hallucinogen that won’t increase anxiety or cause discomfort.
Microdosing psychedelics is definitely the new thing, and for many people it offers tons of possibilities for mental health improvement. Having said that, everyone should be careful going in, as not everyone has the same experience.
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