Does Microdosing for Mental Health Work?
Much evidence suggests that humans consume psychedelics for years for spiritual therapeutic purposes. It can be seen in different paintings of mushrooms in some African caves. However, consuming psychedelics in a more peculiar way only became popular a few decades ago, and this is all thanks to the works of James Fadiman, an American writer.
Microdosing is now widespread in different parts of the world. The idea is to take a tiny amount of a hallucinogen like psilocybin or LSD every few days. With that, it becomes easy to enjoy the therapeutic benefit of the psychedelic without experiencing their adverse effects.
But what are the purported benefits that people who microdose experience? The various claims suggest that microdosing helps ease chronic fatigue, reduce migraines, decrease anxiety, elevate mood, and inspire creative thinking. Microdosing to encourage creative thinking was popular among tech workers in Silicon Valley as it helped to improve their productivity. For them, Microdosing was a sustainable alternative to Adderall.
There are a lot of claims about the benefits gotten from microdosing, but the real question lies in whether it works and if the experienced effects are more than a placebo effect. While there is other research-based evidence to show the impact of microdosing on mental health, a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests otherwise.
Available Claims and Research Findings
Many people are microdosing for mental health, and it’s why scientists worldwide are exploring this to find out if microdosing works for mental health. An example of someone who has enjoyed the benefit of microdosing on his mental health is Joseph, an Austin-based designer. Anxiety and depression run in his family, and he has been taking Prozac since his childhood days.
His symptoms came back in his early 30s, but he had no interest in his prescription drug and decided to find an alternative this time. Joseph came across research about psilocybin from Johns Hopkins University. The results from the study reveal that full doses of psilocybin improved depression and anxiety in cancer patients.
With this information, Joseph went on to read Silicon Valley’s anecdotes which show how tech workers benefitted from tiny doses of psychedelics. As a result, Joseph’s desire to start microdosing mushrooms to improve his mood came alive.
According to Joseph, he started to see the benefit almost immediately, and his mood became a lot better. It became easier for him to have more fun as he was more excited.
What is Microdosing?
According to experts, microdosing involves taking less than 10% of the total dose of any psychedelic to enjoy the mental health benefits it offers. The major psychedelics used for this purpose are psilocybin and LSD, and microdosing avoids the high hallucinogenic effect they give.
For example, if the ideal dose of psilocybin is 20mg, a microdose will only take 2mg or less. Claims suggest that taking a microdose several times a week helps to boost creativity and improve mood.
With such a low dose, another point of concern is if everyone measures the microdose amount of these psychedelics. A statistical report highlighted that only a third of people take time to measure the right among, while others only take a sufficient amount to get the effect they desire. These effects usually being an hour after ingesting the substance and can last up to six hours.
A key thing to note is that mushrooms don’t all have the same concentration of psilocybin, and a bit of trial and error is involved when eating mushrooms. Some people who have accidentally taken too much have reported adverse side effects, but they aren’t dangerous. However, researchers also say that repeatedly taking too many psychedelics can stress the heart.
What do Research Findings Suggest?
There are different studies to understand the effects of microdosing magic mushrooms fully. In one of these studies involving 40 participants after attending two microdosing workshops, the participants were to take two bags of identical pills. The constituents of one of these bags were placebos, while the components of the other bag were psilocybin.
The instructions to the participants were to consume a bag over three weeks and the second one after two weak breaks. These participants weren’t aware that a bag contained placebos.
These participants were invited for different sessions, during which they would ingest a pill. After an hour, the next thing was to take measurements of their level of anxiety and depression. The participants took part in different tasks to measure their emotional processing.
There was no significant change in the results from the psilocybin and placebo groups, especially regarding emotional and interoception states. These findings are not in line with earlier reports suggesting that microdosing can significantly reduce negative emotional symptoms.
Exploring Research Findings on Microdosing for Mental Health
There are a lot of promising results from research into understanding the mental health benefits of psychedelics, especially in full doses. An early study suggests that high doses of psilocybin are as effective as using SSRIs for depression. Another study shows that microdosing psychedelics can help the brain develop cellular connections like full doses.
Scientists worldwide are actively studying to understand the benefits of a microdose on mental health. However, there is insufficient evidence to show these benefits, and experts have divided opinions.
Early research was majorly anecdotal, comprising different survey responses from people who have experienced relief from depression, anxiety, and enhanced cognition. Even though lab studies support the improvements from taking low doses of LSD and psilocybin, these studies are inadequate and didn’t involve using a placebo.
Research that Involved a Placebo
Two of the studies that involved the use of a placebo suggest that the purported experience is mostly placebo effects. Participants had their drugs replaced with a placebo packed in a similar capsule in these studies. After a few weeks, these participants improved their well-being and mood, even though they were on a placebo. Scientists involved in this study were disappointed as they had different expectations.
In another study by Dr. Erritzoe, users’ expectations had a role to play as even if they take a placebo thinking it was a microdose, they will feel better. The same applies to taking the active substance but thinking it’s something else. They won’t feel better in such a case.
Another placebo-controlled trial from the University of Chicago shows no difference between placebo and LSD groups.
Despite these results and findings suggesting that the effects are placebo effects, there is evidence supporting the impact of microdosing. Researchers have used neuroimaging technology to show brain connectivity and activity changes after microdosing LSD. A Denmark study was also in support of the above claim.
Researchers like Dr. van Elk and Dr. de Wit are optimistic that small doses of these psychedelics can improve cognition and mental health. According to them, these placebo trials are why there are no sufficient findings to support these benefits. Dr. Erritzoe, on the other side, thinks that even though the drug affects the brain, it doesn’t mean it’s therapeutically significant.
The main issue that microdosing research currently faces is that removing the placebo effect is challenging. For example, up to 72% of the participants in Dr. Erritzoe’s trial guess what they took, further implying full awareness of these participants. Also, studies support that the effects of low-dose psychedelics on the brain were mainly on the higher side of the microdose spectrum. This is around 3mg of psilocybin and 26mg of LSD.
Some users tend to take higher doses that almost equate to a half dose before they feel the benefit of the drugs. These preliminary findings made Dr. van Elk abandon his microdosing research. Although Joseph is fully aware of these placebo effects, he claims that regular meditation practices help his depression. He usually microdoses when he starts to feel down. According to Joseph, his most significant change was in his mindset.
Research to fully understand the effects of microdosing on mental health are still ongoing. There is more evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits that people experience.
However, there’s a need for more research to illuminate these benefits. In addition, studies should show the strength of the dose required to produce these benefits. Further research is ongoing to explore the therapeutic potentials of these psychedelics in low doses. The study also aims to understand the mechanism behind eliminating their hallucinogenic properties.