How psychedelic microdosing might help ease anxiety and sharpen focus

July 25, 2018 by Blake Eligh, University of Toronto
How psychedelic microdosing might help ease anxiety and sharpen focus
Credit: Kjpargeter/ FreePik

Tune in, turn on…and boost your focus? A new study from U of T Mississauga reveals fascinating insights into how people use small doses of psychedelic drugs for therapeutic effects. 

Microdosing is the practice of taking drugs like LSD or psilocybin (the key ingredient in "magic mushrooms") in amounts too small to produce a "high" but are anecdotally reported to quell anxiety, boost mood, or improve focus and creativity. Because the drugs are illegal in many jurisdictions, remains an underground practice and, until recently, was not subject to close scientific investigation. That has changed with a new study that examines how and why people microdose and the reported effects of the practice. According to study co-author Thomas Anderson, it is the first study of its kind.

Anderson is a PhD candidate and cognitive neuroscientist with the Regulatory and Affective Dynamics (RAD) Lab of psychology professor Norman Farb. His main research focuses on attention and meta-awareness, however, Anderson's interest in the study of microdosing was inspired by a professional literature review group where he noticed there were plenty of anecdotal reports but a dearth of scientific research into the practice.  

"There's currently a renaissance going on in psychedelic research with pilot trials and promising studies of full-dose MDMA (ecstasy) use for and of psilocybin use within healthy populations or to treat depression and end-of-life anxiety," Anderson says. "There hasn't been the same research focus on microdosing. We didn't have answers to the most basic epidemiological questions—who is doing this and what are they doing?" 

In 2017, Anderson launched a collaborative investigation with Rotem Petranker, a graduate student studying social psychology with York University's Department of Psychology, UTSC psychology student Le-Ahn Dinh-Williams and a team of psychiatrists from Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Anderson and Petranker targeted microdosing communities on reddit and other social media channels with an anonymous online survey that queried participants about the quantity and frequency of their psychedelic use, reasons for microdosing, effect on mood, focus and creativity, and the benefits and drawbacks of the practice. The survey, which ran from September to November 2017, drew more than 1,390 initial responses, with 909 respondents completing all questions. Two-thirds of the group were currently practicing microdosers, or had some past experience. "We wanted to ensure the results produced a good basis for future psychedelic science," Anderson says. 

The data yielded interesting results, including important information about how much of the drug participants were taking, which had previously been unknown. "Typical doses aren't well established," Anderson says. "We think it's about 10 mcg or one-tenth of an LSD tab, or 0.2 grams of dried . Those amounts are close to what participants reported in our data." The data also revealed information about frequency of use. Most of the microdosers reported taking the drug once every three days, while a small group microdosed once a week. 

Qualitative data from the survey revealed that microdosers reported positive effects of the practice including migraine reduction, improved focus and productivity, and better connection with others. In quantitative results, microdosers scored lower than non-microdosing respondents on negative emotionality and dysfunctional attitude. 

Microdosing respondents also reported a number of drawbacks. "The most prevalently reported drawback was not an outcome of microdosing, but instead dealt with illegality, stigma and substance unreliability," Anderson says. "Users engage in black market criminalized activities to obtain psychedelics. If you're buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else." Anderson adds a standard caveat about safety. "We wouldn't suggest that people microdose, but if they are going to, they should use Erlich reagent (a drug testing solution) to ensure they are not getting something other than LSD."

Dose accuracy was another issue. "With microdoses, there should be no 'trip' and no hallucinations," Anderson says. "The idea is to enhance something about one's daily activities, but it can be very difficult to divide a ½-cm square of LSD blotting paper into 10 equal doses. The LSD might not be evenly distributed on the square and a microdoser could accidentally 'trip' by taking too much or not take enough."

Anderson and Petranker recently presented their findings at the "Beyond Psychedelics" conference in Prague, which drew researchers, physicians, practitioners, policy makers, and technology and business participants from around the globe. The team will publish results from the survey in three upcoming research papers that will cover the survey results, psychiatric diagnosis analysis, and the benefits and drawbacks of microdosing. 

"The goal of the study was to create a foundation that could support future work in this area, so I'm really excited about what these results can offer future research," Anderson says. "The benefits and drawbacks data will help ensure we can ask meaningful questions about what participants are reporting. Our future research will involve running lab-based randomized-control trials where psychedelics are administered in controlled environments. This will help us to better characterize the therapeutic and cognitive-enhancing effects of psychedelics in very small doses."

Explore further: LSD 'microdosing' is trending in Silicon Valley – but can it actually make you more creative?

More information: Microdosing Psychedelics project page: www.researchgate.net/project/M … odosing-Psychedelics

Related Stories

LSD 'microdosing' is trending in Silicon Valley – but can it actually make you more creative?

February 14, 2017
It may seem like a doomed attempt to mix business and pleasure. But a growing number of young professionals in Silicon Valley insist that taking small doses of psychedelic drugs simply makes them perform better at work – ...

'Microdosing' trend has Americans tuning in with psychedelics

April 19, 2017
After a litany of prescriptions failed to control her stormy mood swings and deep depression, writer Ayelet Waldman finally found relief in a blue vial of diluted LSD.

Psychedelic drug use associated with reduced partner violence in men

June 5, 2018
In a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers from UBC's Okanagan campus have discovered that men who have used psychedelic drugs in the past have a lower likelihood of engaging in violence against ...

Microdosing: Updating its role in developing new medicines

January 23, 2013
One of yesterday's most promising new tools for speeding the development of new medicines—"microdosing"—has found niches in that process today, and they include uses unanticipated a decade ago. That topic, an update on ...

No link between psychedelics and mental health problems

March 5, 2015
The use of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, does not increase a person's risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 135,000 randomly chosen people, including ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Recommended for you

What social stress in monkeys can tell us about human health

December 11, 2018
Research in recent years has linked a person's physical or social environment to their well-being. Stress wears down the body and compromises the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and other conditions. ...

Using neurofeedback to prevent PTSD in soldiers

December 11, 2018
A team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. has found that using neurofeedback could prevent soldiers from experiencing PTSD after engaging in emotionally difficult situations. In their paper published in the ...

The richer the reward, the faster you'll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 11, 2018
If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Trying to get people to agree? Skip the French restaurant and go out for Chinese food

December 11, 2018
Here's a new negotiating tactic: enjoy a family-style meal with your counterpart before making your opening bid.

These bacteria may be the key to treating clinical depression

December 11, 2018
We like to think of ourselves as individuals.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jul 25, 2018
The flip-side of this practice is taking mega-dose of prescription psychoactive drugs for a high. Some medications will achieve this as the mild high from opiate pain killers partially responsible for the opioid crisis is showing.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.