March 07, 2022 2 min read

Scientists are split over whether the benefits some microdosers experience are a placebo effect or something more

Joseph started microdosing psychedelics five years ago to try to improve his mental health. “I was just kind of in this depression, in this rut,” he said. “I was unhappy and angry and agitated all the time, and it went against the way that I saw myself.”

Depression and anxiety run in Joseph’s family, and he’d been prescribed Prozac as a kid. But when symptoms of depression returned in his early 30s, he didn’t want to go back to a prescription drug.

Joseph, an Austin-based designer came across research from Johns Hopkins University about psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic, or “magic,” mushrooms. In a small study, full doses of the drug helped cancer patients cope with depression and anxiety. Then he read anecdotes of Silicon Valley influencers claiming increased energy from taking tiny doses of psychedelics. So he decided to start microdosing a few times a week, eating a “small nibble” — about half an inch — of mushrooms to see if it would improve his mood.

Almost immediately he started seeing a benefit. “It just kind of boosted my morale,” he said. “I was in a little bit better mood. I had a little bit more pep to my step. I was having a little bit more fun, feeling a little bit more excited about things.”

Microdosing is typically defined by experts as taking 5 percent to 10 percent of a full dose of a psychedelic, usually LSD or psilocybin, as a way to get the supposed mental health benefits of the drug without the hallucinogenic high. For instance, in a clinical setting, a 70kg man might take 20 milligrams of psilocybin for a full psychedelic experience. For a microdose, he’d take only one to two milligrams. At that level, taken several times a week, some claim the drugs improve their mood, boost their creativity and give the world a brighter, shinier quality, like it’s in high-definition.

“It’s akin to walking outside and the sun is suddenly out,” said Erin Royal, 30, a bartender who microdoses one or two times a week with mushrooms she forages from nearby forests. “It reminds you that you are a person who can feel positive things and notice things that are beautiful.”

Research into the mental health benefits of full doses of psychedelics is promising, and one early-phase study even found that psilocybin, at high doses, may be as effective as a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor for treating depression. Full doses of psychedelics help the brain develop new cellular connections, a process called neuroplasticity, and there’s some evidence that microdoses produce similar changes.

So many of the scientists who pioneered research into full doses of psychedelics have started studying whether a microdose might also be beneficial. But evidence is limited, and experts are divided about how microdosing helps people — or if it does at all.

Originally published here by Dana G Smith


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