Microdosing Psychedelics Is More Than Just A Placebo
Microdosing psychedelics refers to the practice of taking tiny doses of a variety of substances. These doses are known as “sub-perceptual” doses, because they don’t distort perceptions. People microdose with the hope of improving their life in some way, and many claim that the benefits are significant. We aim to highlight what the real benefits of microdosing are, and why it’s more than just a placebo.
Contents of this article
The Microdosing Trend
Microdosing became popular around 2015 when major media outlets were reporting on Silicon Valley leaders taking small hits of LSD. This was believed to help enhance their productivity and creativity. Since then, however, the microdosing trend has grown, extending well beyond just the San Francisco Bay area.
In online communities like Reddit, people discuss how microdosing psychedelics has benefited their life. This extends beyond just productivity and creativity, and also overlaps into mental health benefits. Many people find that microdoses act as an effective antidepressant, making it unnecessary to take traditional antidepressant medication. The latter tend to take weeks or months to start working, and may include a host of common side effects.
When microdosing was first starting to gain widespread public attention, there was little evidence about their effectiveness. This meant it was possible that any benefits users were experiencing could have been down to the placebo effect. A microdose is about one-tenth of a standard dose, so 10 micrograms (mcg) for LSD and 0.2g for psilocybin mushrooms. Given how small a dose is, it seems entirely possible that, for those microdosing, the drug was acting as a placebo. In fact, it could have easily just been a sugar pill.
Rigorous Research on Microdosing Psychedelics
In the past few years, researchers of psychedelics have started to study microdosing in a rigorous way. This has shed light on what it is — and isn’t — doing. Some studies are showing that microdosing is more than just a placebo.
These studies tend to be double-blind randomized controlled trials (RCTs). That means they’re controlled because the researchers are comparing the effects of a microdose with those of a placebo. The studies are double-blind since neither the participants nor the researchers know who is receiving the microdose or the placebo. Participants also randomly assign either a placebo or one of the doses to participants.
Researchers generally consider RCTs the “gold standard” of research. It’s because they aim to eliminate the effects of bias, generating the highest quality evidence possible.
Let’s take a look at what these studies have so far revealed about the effects of microdosing.
The First-Ever Controlled Study On Microdosing
In 2019, the journal Biological Psychiatry published the results of the first-ever RCT on microdosing. This research confirmed that the effects of taking microdoses of LSD are not just due to the placebo effect.
In the trial, participants received either 6.5, 13, or 26 mcg of LSD, or a placebo at random over the course of four laboratory sessions. The results showed that LSD produced subjective effects in all three of the doses. The subjective effects were dose-dependent, meaning that they increased as the dose increased. At the 26 mcg dose, participants felt an increase in vigor and a slight reduction in their positive rating of positive images. For many who microdose, 26 mcg of LSD would be too high, going far beyond a microdose.
Researchers also found that microdoses of LSD increased blood pressure, but did not significantly affect heart rate or body temperature. The LSD microdoses also did not have any significant effect on working memory or cognitive functioning. This is more impressive when considering that anecdotal reports say microdosing offers a cognitive boost.
Another surprising finding was that microdosing increased the number of attempts on a creativity task. In this study, at least, microdosing did not benefit the creative process. Measures of mood were also unaffected. It may be possible, however, that the benefits of microdosing emerge only after repeated use, like with traditional antidepressants.
The study concluded that 13 mcg may be the optimal dose for future research. In other words, users can repeatedly take this dose without experiencing any subjective or physiological effects. Also, this dosage would not impair day-to-day functioning.
How Low Can A Microdose Be?
The journal European Neuropsychopharmacology published a study looking to establish the minimal dose of LSD; specific to mood and cognition. The researchers studied 5, 10, and 20 mcg doses. They discovered the following:
- Increased positive mood (20 mcg)
- Friendliness (5, 20 mcg)
- Arousal (5 mcg)
- Enhanced sustained attention (5, 20 mcg)
- Increased confusion (20 mcg)
- Increased anxiety (5, 20 mcg)
The researchers discovered that the minimal dose at which you can notice subjective and performance effects is 5 mcg. The most significant effects occur with the 20 mcg dose.
Microdosing Psychedelics And Pain Perception
Another 2020 study explored the effects of LSD microdoses on pain perception in healthy volunteers. Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, this study looked at 5, 10, and 20mcg doses of LSD compared to a placebo.
The researchers found that 20 mcg significantly increased the time that participants could tolerate exposure to cold water. They also noted that this dose decreased their subjective levels of pain and unpleasantness. This dose elevated blood pressure but within the normal range. It also slightly increased ratings of anxiety and dissociation. The researchers deemed that 20 mcg was low enough that no psychedelic effects would occur. However, it was high enough to offer people significant analgesic (pain-relieving) effects.
This study underscores that 20 mcg of LSD could deliver similar analgesic effects as opioids like oxycodone and morphine. Many people abuse — and become addicted to — prescription opioids like oxycodone. These drugs are significant contributors to the opioid crisis, which has seen worrying spikes in the number of people abusing, becoming addicted to, and dying from opioid use.
These studies have demonstrated that the effects of microdosing can’t be completely down to the placebo effect. But as we have also seen, these studies have not necessarily confirmed the many benefits that people report from microdosing. Further research is necessary. But the future of psychedelic therapy could bring exciting no benefits to people worldwide.