Microdosing refers to taking a small enough dose of a psychedelic drugs (like LSD) to improve mood, induce physical and mental stimulation, and encourage creative thinking without producing full hallucinations.
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What Is Microdosing LSD?
In recent years, a new form of substance abuse is becoming increasingly common among stay-at-home moms and CEOs alike: microdosing LSD. Microdosing refers to taking a small fraction of what is considered a recreational dose of LSD or other hallucinogen (like psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms). Reportedly, microdosing certain psychedelic drugs can improve mood, induce physical and mental stimulation, and encourage creative thinking. Emerging studies support the notion that hallucinogenic drugs, taken in small doses or under the supervision and guidance of a medical professional, can be used to treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. However, taking consistent and frequent doses of any drug, especially one as potent as LSD, is by no means safe for all individuals and may put certain people at a high risk for developing addiction.
Given many hallucinogens’ status as Schedule I drugs, it is difficult to conduct FDA-approved scientific studies. Moreover, most microdosing studies rely on reporting and statistics provided by self-proclaimed “microdosers” who would likely have a positive bias regarding the practice. Subsequently, legitimate claims made regarding mental health treatment with psychedelics remain rare.
Microdosing Origins: Shared Experiences Online
Microdosing LSD and other hallucinogens initially gained popularity among drug users sharing their experiences on the internet. Practitioners used online community forums (such as Reddit) and psychedelic information sites’ message boards (like Erowid) to boast about the “benefits” of microdosing.
While both LSD and magic mushrooms are illegal on the federal level in the U.S. and many other countries, more and more people began to claim that tiny amounts were making them feel more focused, creative, and productive. Testimonies of individual experiences with microdosing can be found from people of nearly every demographic: young tech industry employees, middle-aged parents with children, and even high-ranking corporate executives from prominent companies.
However, these testimonials don’t come from medical or psychiatric professionals, and should not be followed. LSD and other psychedelics are dangerous and illegal, and their use can cause serious medical, social, and legal complications.
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The Changing Stigma of Hallucinogen Use
These claims online, despite having no scientific backing, quickly turned the practice from niche hobby to a nationwide phenomenon. Yet, despite the claimed benefits, microdosing remains a form of substance abuse.
Of note, many users reported first trying microdosing as a substitute for Adderall, a stimulant prescribed to treat ADHD. Adderall is also referred to as a “study drug” or “smart drug” by many college students and young professionals who misuse it, either taking it without a prescription or in excessive quantities. Because of the perceived positive effects on work or school performance, many people who don’t consider themselves typical drug users may be attracted to microdosing LSD.
When it comes to the classic perception of psychedelics users, the image that typically comes to mind is one of long-haired, colorfully-dressed hippies attending Woodstock. Few would imagine that tech moguls and software geniuses in Silicon Valley have been using these drugs for years, citing their alleged performance enhancing properties. Commonly called a “miracle drug” or “smart drug,” the microdosing trend in Silicon Valley has even been the subject of articles in mainstream and notable media sources including Rolling Stone and Forbes. Catchy titles garner ever more attention from the media and readers, describing LSD as “The Hot New Business Trip”.
Are things so dire in the workplace that some persons are now turning to microdoses of psychedelics in order to reach new heights in creativity?
While some writers took on a positive tone in regard to the trend, many medical and psyciatric professionals expressed concern at the lengths people would go to enhance their productivity and creativity in today’s competitive job market.
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Microdosing and Mental Illness
There is an emerging body of research looking into the possible benefits of psychedelic drugs in treating mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even addiction to other substances. Last year, two studies found that Psilocybin could alleviate symptoms of otherwise treatment-resistant depression. These studies showed no evidence of the side-effects seen with conventional antidepressants, such as mood swings or apathy. A similar study of Ayahuasca, an Amazonian plant mixture with psychedelic qualities, had promising results and could be “a safe and promising treatment” for both depression and alcohol use disorder. Another study specifically examining the effects of microdosing LSD, psilocybin and mescaline found that participants reported heightened levels of creativity, focus, happiness, and productiveness. While long-term results showed a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, researchers also found an increase in neuroticism and unpleasant emotions in some participants.
It’s exciting, but the potentially adverse changes in neuronal structure and metabolism that we observe emphasize the need for additional studies.
Despite the results of these studies, there is still not enough peer-reviewed and validated research on the topic, making it dangerous for people to try microdosing on their own. Not only is it dangerous to consume any drug without the guidance and supervision of a medical professional, but the potential side effects are ultimately unknown. Additionally, the practice of mixing substances such as LSD or psilocybin with other antidepressants can be dangerous and even lethal. There are numerous cases where the combination of hallucinogens and antidepressants has resulted in the development of serotonin syndrome and other, potentially fatal health issues. Lithium (a medication used in cases of treatment-resistant depression), in particular, is known to put people into comatose states or induce seizures when taken in combination with LSD.
Dangers of Microdosing
There is a common misconception that hallucinogenic drugs are relatively safe because they’re not as physically addictive as other illicit drugs, such as benzodiazepines and opioids. However, while hallucinogens typically don’t produce severe symptoms of physiological addiction, it is very possible to become psychologically (i.e. mentally) addicted to any drug of abuse. Furthermore, microdosing can induce feelings of euphoria, heightened-awareness, and general well-being. The neurotransmitters responsible for creating such a positive association may put certain people at risk of developing a psychological addiction. Fundamentally, addiction is harmful because, as a chronic disease, it will grow and take prevalence over other aspects of one’s life.
Another concern with microdosing is that many of the potential harms and side effects are generally unknown. Many of the aforementioned studies are conducted by systematically tracking the experiences of people who are already microdosing using an anonymous online system. This makes it more difficult to control the substance use of participants and get accurate results. Instead, results rely on the accuracy and honesty of participants’ reports.
Too, some drugs with hallucinatory properties pose potential risks when microdosing due to other characteristics many classic hallucinogens don’t have, such as MDMA. MDMA, commonly sold on the street as ecstasy or molly, is typically associated with hallucinogens because it can produce hallucinations when taken in certain quantities. However, most classify ecstasy as a stimulant due to its amphetamine-like effects. Stimulants, including ecstasy, increase a person’s risk for developing various heart diseases and death. This is due to MDMA’s activation of the 5-HT2B receptor, a serotonin receptor, which is also activated by LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.
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Taking any illicit substance is dangerous. Given the illegality of LSD and other hallucinogens, there is a high potential for dealers to lace them with other drugs like fentanyl, ketamine, or meth. These adulterants are not only highly addictive, but may cause a fatal overdose. In addition to these dangers, microdosing exposes users to consistent doses of a potent drug that activates one area of the brain repeatedly – as opposed to less-frequent use typically associated with “tripping”. This only increases the risk of developing an addiction or dependency.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, talk to a treatment provider today.