It is becoming increasingly popular; microdosing with psychedelics. Also in the form of self-medication. It relieves or remedies depression, ADHD and addiction, among other things, users experience. But what are the risks? How far along is the science? And might lsd be in pharmacies in the future?
Microdosing with mushrooms gives me energy and focus,’ experiences a young woman who struggles with ADD and burnout. After three weeks of microdosing with psychedelic mushrooms I no longer suffer from depressive feelings’, writes another user. And there are more positive stories. Many more, according to a collection of 1850 reports from users in 59 different countries. They experimented with very small amounts of LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca or iboga and experienced positive effects for depression, ADHD, migraines, obsessive-compulsive disorders, menstrual problems, addiction, recovery from stroke and allergies. The reports were collected over the past nine years by psychologist James Fadiman, a leader in psychedelic research.
The recent data analysis by social scientist Toby Lea also contains mostly positive outcomes. Commissioned by the German Institute for Addiction and Prevention, he examined the reports of 1100 users. One of his conclusions: more than sixty percent of the participants who microdosed because of depressive symptoms were less melancholy than normal.
Also, many participants had reduced cravings for cigarettes and alcohol or had even stopped using them. Among smokers, the figure was 50 percent; among drinkers, it was 60 percent. “Microdosing with psychedelics may have a future role in the mainstream treatment of depression and addictions, but first large-scale clinical trials are needed to clinically investigate the possible side effects and contraindications to ensure safety,” says Toby.
The first steps toward such research are now being made, with a number of exploratory studies from Dutch soil. Take the recent research of neurologist Kim Kuypers, who is a scientist at the University of Maastricht.
With funding from the Beckly Foundation, an English NGO and think tank that aims to explore and harness the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, she has just completed the first phase of her research: a placebo-controlled clinical trial of the effect of LSD microdosing among 24 subjects.
“It has an effect, is one of the first conclusions,” Kim says. Participants did not hallucinate, but they did describe altered perception. For example, they saw letters dancing on the door of the lab. “This is how we know it works, because we were skeptical about that. Because we were talking about such small amounts, we took the placebo effect into account.”
Another important finding is an increase in focus. Kim: “Test subjects worked with more attention on certain tasks. That could explain why people with ADHD sometimes use it as self-medication.”
In the pharmacy
In a follow-up study, Kim is investigating the cognitive and emotional impact of microdosing over a few weeks. But before you can get lsd available on doctor’s orders, many more studies are needed among people with mental disorders. For now, scientists are only testing on healthy test subjects.
According to Kim, it will be at least five to ten years before such a drug is available in pharmacies, if ever. There is already a British organization called Compass Ways, which may patent and market a variant of psilocybin, the active substance in truffles. At the moment they already produce psilocybin for people with untreatable depression.
The benefits of a small dose
Microdosing at about 1/10 of the standard dose can offer many benefits, according to Hein. “The risks are significantly lower, it doesn’t make you hallucinate, but it does put you in a heightened state of awareness. That can help break unhealthy patterns and process emotions,” says Hein.
Another advantage: you can integrate it better because you use it in daily life. For example, every three days for a month. Hein: “The contrast between a deep spiritual experience with a full dose of Ayahuasca and then being back at work is huge. People who microdose do so while just living their lives.”
Fewer side effects
Hein notes that a large proportion of people who microdose use psychedelics as self-medication and share the experience that regular medication does not help, but has many side effects. Toby’s research confirms that. “More than half of those surveyed turn to psychedelics because of psychological problems such as depression or anxiety. A portion of them are dissatisfied with the effect of regular medications.”
Compared to antidepressants, painkillers or ritalin, psychedelics have many advantages according to the users. You don’t suffer from unpleasant side effects such as loss of libido, weight gain, hyperactivity and possibly even more depressive feelings, as is often the case with regular medication. In fact, users report minimal side effects.
In Toby’s study, only a small percentage of participants reported feeling anxious and overstimulated. “Perhaps we should conclude from this that this is not the right ‘medicine’ for very anxious people,” he says.
A full dose of psychedelics can potentially trigger psychosis in people who are sensitive to it; microdosing has not yet demonstrated this. “It’s not all ‘glitter,'” says Kim. “The long-term effects are not yet known. What does years of microdosing do to you? Too many blueberries will eventually oxidize in your body, too, even if they are so healthy in smaller amounts.”
Although psychedelics are so far not considered mentally or physically addictive, Kim also sees danger in psychological dependence. “Soon someone will only feel happy with truffles on. It’s important to properly inform people about possible risks.”
“Possible psychological dependence applies to all regular drugs, and psychedelics are many times safer than speed, for example, of which ritalin is a derivative. Life consists of risks, psychedelics too. So use your head”, is Hein’s advice.
You can safely and legally microdosing in the Netherlands with psychedelic truffles, which you can buy on this website. Fadiman’s research team has made a list of all medicines and supplements that have been combined with microdosing without any problems so far, you can find this on microdosing.nl.
How it works
More focus and energy, more connection with yourself, others and nature, more in the here and now, a positive mood that lasts for days, more self-confidence, better sleeping, eating and taking care of yourself: the list of positive effects of microdosing psychedelics is endless. But how does the drug actually work?
“We don’t know (yet), but what is certain: psychedelics affect serotonin levels in your brain, which, among other things, regulate our mood. It also does something to certain receptors, which are mainly responsible for our learning, memory and thinking skills,” says Kim.
In 2016, scientists took brain scans of people after they took a higher dose of LSD (75 micrograms). After comparing them to placebo, they showed that different brain areas worked better with each other. At the same time, brain areas that control sensory information and consciousness, also associated with “the ego” became more inactive.
This may explain why users are able to break free from the rigid ways of thinking that underlie conditions that are difficult to treat, such as depression and addiction. Hein: “If you can’t break a pattern, create a new one. It seems like psychedelics do that: create new connections in your brain.”
Whether that works the same way with microdoses we will soon know: the Beckley Foundation, together with London’s Imperial College, is also launching an extensive brain study on LSD microdosing.
“But”, warns Hein. “Microdosing is not a quick-fix. You have to actively work on it yourself. Think about your intentions and insights and keep track of changes in a journal. If you think the drug will solve your problems, you’ll stay in the victim role and you’ll never break a pattern. Compare it to an e-bike. You go forward faster, but you have to pedal yourself.”