Microdosing is categorised as taking regular doses of a drug or supplement to improve mental and/or physical health or wellbeing. Contemporary microdosing is most often associated with classic psychedelics and cannabis products, but can also include other substances such as research chemicals, new psychedelic substances, non-psychoactive mushrooms and cacao. In this case, we are talking solely about microdosing classic psychedelics, which most often is either psilocybin containing mushrooms or truffles, or LSD or one of it’s more accessible analogues such as 1P-LSD or 1V-LSD.
Microdosing with classic psychedelics is not new, but has been growing in popularity over the last decade during the “Psychedelic Renaissance” of the 21st century. This new trend of microdosing appears to have begun in Silicone Valley around the early- to mid- 2010s. Users reported that it helped them to feel more creative, engaged, productive, and socially adaptive. Thus, microdosing seemed like the perfect answer to the Western problem of struggling to keep up with all of life’s demands in a culture that values productivity and wealth creation over healthy, sustainable lifestyles.
High hopes meet the ground
Against a backdrop of renewed research into the potential for psychedelics in medicine and mental health, driven by the efforts of legacy research who fought for decades to make permission for that research possible, many academics honed in on the subject of microdosing. There are several pioneers of modern microdosing, who have spent years collecting anecdotal data about microdosing which amount to tens of thousands of reports from people about their experiences and the way the practice has changed their lives. On the contrary, experimental research on microsoding has had very mixed results, especially earlier studies, but the majority of these studies have faced major limitations such as poor controls, inadequate experiment conditions, short study durations, confounding factors, small sample sizes, improper assumptions about dosage, legal restrictions, and others.
Most of all, microdosing research has fallen short of its goal through trying to measure the wrong outputs, in the assumption that the practice will make the user “more creative”, “more productive”, “less depressed”, etc. This is especially true when, for example, trying to measure an effect on depression in a cohort not specifically selected for depression, because relatively few of your participants may both have depression and experience significant reduction, leaving a higher proportion of “no effect” measurements across your whole study. What’s true about psychedelics first and foremost is that the experience ultimately evades frontloading. If one were to take a person who has no particular affinity for creativity, and encourage them to microdose, and observe for an “increased creativity effect”, you will probably end up disappointed, or claim that the power of microdosing is debunked altogether. What we may not notice, however, is that this same person has been getting on top of some tasks that have been paralysing them with stress, or has felt some initiative to talk more with friends. They feel lifted from some rut, and we simply didn’t know that was what needed to be measured.
Not another productivity tool!
Ultimately, the key is in the context…why did all those Silicone Valley tech innovators report increased creativity if that’s not a statistically measurable output of microdosing? A possible explanation is that they are inherently creative people, facing pressure to perform in a fast paced industry, increasing stress and fear of failure, depletion of any sense of completion or reward, and lacking the space, time, rest, and reflection that are truly conducive to a creative life. Microdosing could be the thing that broke down the rigidity of this stress/freeze response and allowed their creativity to be renewed.
Thus we end up with a much more workable idea of how microdosing can be incorporated into an individual’s life. We need to remove assumptions about simplistic outputs. We don’t want to make people “more creative” or “more productive”, and we don’t want to make promises that we can make people “less depressed” or “less anxious”. What we can do is hand people tools and practices that help them break down those rigid brain states, thought patterns, and body responses that are inhibiting their relationship with themselves, demolishing their sense of wellbeing, and jeopardising their connection with their life and community. This also sets the stage for microdosing to be an unexpected but powerful tool to combat the repercussions of contemporary Western life, rather than another weapon in it’s artillery.
Microdosing research, like all psychedelic research, has a long way to go, and faces challenges to complex and many to name. Anecdotal evidence will never be enough to develop formal theories, yet experimental enquiry which asks the wrong questions will always produce false theories. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who have experienced first hand how transformative these practices can be cannot hand them to others, especially when there are so many people out there who are struggling in the depths. Our duty is simply to responsibly guide, inform, and give room for the other to find their own way out.