Microdosing, until now the province of trendy Silicon Valley biohackers and Reddit users, is taking on a shiny new respectability as serious scientists and researchers take notice. Over the past few years, some of the most respectable journals of science — hello, The Lancet — have published studies looking into the practice of microdosing mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, and other psychedelics. The findings are no surprise to those who have been paying attention to the anecdotal evidence. Here’s a look at some of the purported benefits of mushroom microdosing for depression.
What Is Microdosing?
According to Dr. James Fadiman, who has been researching psychedelics since the 1960s, microdosing is taking tiny amounts of a psychedelic — far below the level that would cause noticeable perception-altering effects — on a regular basis as a way to “rebalance” your brain. Fadiman has been collecting anecdotal reports about microdosing from people around the world. He says that people report improvements in mood and clarity, enhanced focus, more creativity, and productivity, as well as relief from the symptoms of depression and other psychological problems.
While the term microdosing is relatively new, the concept — and the practice — are not. Dr. Albert Hoffman, who discovered LSD, was a proponent and long-time practitioner, and, as Fadiman noted in an interview with Huffington Post, indigenous people have been microdosing for thousands of years.
Why People Microdose
People turn to microdosing for a wide range of reasons. There are reports that it’s effective for everything from easing anxiety to relieving the symptoms of ADHD and opening them up to more creative ideas. It seems very much a YMMV type of experience. Fadiman says as much when he notes that people who wrote for help with anxiety found it helped their anxiety, those looking for something to help their productivity benefited in increased productivity, and so on. Here’s a look at some of the reasons people tried microdosing and their results:
- Janet Chang, a former Olympic speed skater, wrote in detail about her experiences during a year when she tried microdosing shrooms. She was on a quest for self-improvement during a very difficult year in her life. She experimented with varying doses of psilocybin, the psychoactive constituent in mushrooms, and kept meticulous notes. Overall, she found that microdosing made her less anxious, more creative and productive, and improved her self-perception and relationship with herself.
- Patrick Smith tried microdosing LSD after a few experiences with acid at full dosage levels. He found that microdosing LSD was a far different experience. After his first experience, he wrote that by the end of the day, he felt great. He’d found a “headspace” that allowed him a high degree of introspection and let him see how his decisions affected his anxiety and depression. He concluded that microdosing is a way of experiencing the beneficial healing effects of a psychedelic without letting go of control completely.
- James Jesso has been microdosing psilocybin and LSD for about two years. In a video on his site, Adventures Through the Mind, he compared the differences between microdosing shrooms vs. LSD. He noted that psilocybin helped him deal with trauma, made him feel more resilient, prevented him from spiraling into the depths of depression and helped him be more productive. He also found that psilocybin and LSD both helped him be more emotionally expressive. Overall, he concluded, microdosing LSD helps him be more productive and creative, while psilocybin affects emotions and self-perception more.
What Science Says
Researchers have been looking at psychedelics — both natural ones like psilocybin and synthetics like LSD and MDMA — as possible treatments for psychological disorders for decades. It’s only recently, though, that they’ve turned to studying microdoses as a method to enhance cognitive functions and ease symptoms of depression, PTSD and anxiety. Since the early 2000s, a number of small studies have suggested that there are definite benefits to taking small, sub-perceptual doses of psychedlics on a regular basis.
- In a study published in The Lancet, researchers treated 12 people diagnosed with a treatment-resistant depressive disorder with two microdoses of psilocybin, seven days apart. The researchers found that though some transient adverse effects occurred — mostly a little anxiety at the beginning of the session, some confusion and nausea during the session — there were no lasting adverse effects. The beneficial effects, however, did seem to hold up. All of the patients showed a marked reduction in depressive symptoms at one-week and three-month follow-up assessments, as well as improvement in symptoms of anxiety.
- A small study published in Psychopharmacology focused on the creative and cognitive effects of microdosing mushrooms. The researchers found that the microdoses seemed to affect both convergent and divergent thinking, but not fluidity. They concluded that microdoses of psilocybin might help balance cognitive persistence and flexibility and that further research into the precise effects is warranted. While all of that sounds very technical and scientific, it resonates with Patrick Smith’s observation that microdosing allowed him to delve into his emotional and creative processes without totally relinquishing control over his mind.
Much of the information about microdosing is anecdotal, and what little research does exist tends to focus on how microdosing LSD or mushrooms makes you more productive, more creative or otherwise improves your “value.” That’s about to change. The Beckley Foundation has recently launched the first full study into microdosing and its effects on mood and general well-being in addition to creativity and productivity. This could be a game-changer in the field, opening more avenues of research into the possible uses of microdosing to help people fighting a range of mood regulation disorders.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working in Massachusetts. She frequently writes about wellness, health and lifestyle topics.