Research into the special powers of psilocybin, magic mushrooms, magic truffles and other psychedelics is in full swing. Never before – at least since the 1950s – has there been so much research into the effects of psychedelic drugs on the human body. But while the growth is strong, the number of studies remains relatively limited. Now, a new study shines light on how the placebo effect might affect the powers of microdosing.
Micro-dosing involves taking small amounts of psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD or even ayahuasca in order to experience the benefits without tripping. Microdosing has been a growing trend for several years, but now a study from Imperial College London suggests that the benefits of the practice may be determined by the expectations of people who start it.
Researchers took an unconventional approach to the study because conducting analyses of illicit drugs is just not easy, especially in this era of COVID-19. According to a press release from Imperial College, more than 190 members of the public participated in the placebo-controlled study. The participants were all already microdosing psychedelics, implementing placebo controls in the comfort of their own homes and with instructions from the research team.
The study participants followed the researchers’ instructions to make gel capsules at home that either contained a low dose of LSD or were left empty. The capsules were then mixed together, with the participants not knowing whether they were taking LSD or the placebo.
Strong improvement after micro-dosing?
First of all, the study showed that a large proportion of the participants actually saw improvement in various aspects of their lives. During the several weeks in which they had taken microdoses of psychedelics, so-called psychological parameters were positively influenced. However, similar positive results were also observed in the placebo groups – the groups of people who did not take real psychedelics. “Anecdotal reports about the benefits of microdosing are almost certainly distorted by the placebo effect,” says lead author Balázs Szigeti.
“Our findings confirmed some of the beneficial psychological effects of microdosing based on anecdotal reports and observational studies, such as an improved sense of well-being and satisfaction with life. However, we saw the same improvements in participants taking placebos. This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug, but may instead be explained by the placebo effect. ”
Within a few hours, most participants who used LSD reported improvements in mood, creativity and anxiety. However, those who used the placebo reported similar benefits. “It is important to take the placebo effect into account when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or user expectations may lead to a strong placebo response,” says senior author David Erritzoe.
But does this mean that when microdosing psychedelics, you’re only dealing with placebo effects? No, it certainly doesn’t. First of all, there is a big difference between the different types of psychedelics. This study assumed the use of LSD, one of the most popular hallucinogens. Yet LSD again has a different effect than, say, psilocybin.
The psychedelic medicine and biotech company Mind Medicine Inc. is currently conducting its own randomized, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the benefits of microdosing LSD. This study, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Kim Kuypers of Maastricht University, will track the impact of LSD on “cognitive performance, sleep quality, mood, neuroplasticity markers, emotion regulation, quality of life and immune system response.” “I am excited about this new study, which combines a variety of measures ranging from self-report and cognitive tasks to health and sleep parameters, bringing us closer to the mechanism of action behind the claimed benefits of microdosing,” said Dr. Kuyprs.