Updated: May 24, 2022
Microdosing is taking small doses of psychedelics over the course of a couple days in order to experience beneficial side effects.
It's used by some to alleviate anxiety and depression, and increase perception and creativity levels.
Most people who experiment with microdosing will do one day on, and then two days off, as to not build up a tolerance and to experience next-day leftover effects.
There's a lack of scientific research to back up the practice of microdosing.
In short, microdosing involves taking very small doses of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or psilocybin mushrooms, in a semi-regular schedule in order to experience reported benefits such as increased perception and creativity levels and decreased anxiety and depression.
Currently, there is only one self-reported study that has looked into the science behind microdosing — though Amanda Feilding, the founder and director of the UK-based nonprofit Beckley Foundation, is hoping to change all this with a study documenting the effects of microdosing on a person's creative and cognitive abilities. Regarding her upcoming study, she previously told Business Insider, "We want to look to see if we see those changes in cerebral circulation and connectivity and hopefully things like the 'aha!' moment that comes with creativity as well."
Here's what we currently know about microdosing.
Microdosing is not designed to get you "high"
The dosage of a substance like psilocybin or LSD should only be approximately one-twentieth to one-tenth the regular dose designed to "trip," according to Dr. James Fadiman's research. That's 5 to 10 micrograms of LSD or 0.1 to 0.4 grams of psilocybin mushrooms. Because personal tolerances differ, the exact amount can differ person-to-person, but the ideal is to be in an increased state of perception, rather than a hallucinating state.
The general consensus from those who have tried microdosing is to not do it every day. Psychologist, experimenter of psychedelics, and author of "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys," Dr. James Fadiman recommends a three-day cycle. A dose is supposed to be taken on day one, and then not again until day four, as to not build up a tolerance and to experience day two leftover effects. There's also an emphasis on journaling and taking notice of how your body handles it.
It's important, however, to remember that extremely limited research has been done on this topic and it is still illegal to purchase magic mushrooms or LSD in the United States.
The challenges of full-dose psychedelics
While psychedelics appear to have considerable potential benefits and low physiological risks, full-dose experiences can put participants under considerable psychological risk. In a survey targeting participants that had at least one challenging experience (“bad trip”) with psilocybin mushrooms, 39% of respondents rated their full-dose experiences as among the top 5 most psychologically difficult/challenging experiences of their lives. Griffiths et al. used both “high” (22 mg/70 kg) and “low” (1 or 3 mg/70 kg) doses of psilocybin as experimental and control conditions, respectively. A dose-response effect could be seen such that in the high-dose condition, 32% of participants reported physiological discomfort whereas only 12% reported the same in the low-dose condition; likewise, 26% reported anxiety in the high-dose condition versus 15% in the low-dose condition . Delayed-onset headaches are another possible side-effect of full-dose psilocybin .
Illegality (29.5%, 178 reports): This category captures codes concerning the illegality of psychedelic microdosing substances per se, as well as codes concerning the consequences thereof. These include dosing challenges associated with unregulated substances (e.g. taking too much or too little), the availability of the substance (i.e. dealing with the black market), and cost of the substance. Also included is the social stigma surrounding the use of these substances and feeling the need to hide one’s activity from others.
Physiological discomfort (18.0%, 108.5 reports): This category concerns physically detrimental challenges including disrupted senses (visual), temperature dysregulation, numbing/tingling, insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, reduced appetite, and increased migraines and/or headaches.
Impaired focus (8.8%, 53 reports): This challenge category references codes concerning poor focus, distractibility, and absent-mindedness.
Increased anxiety (6.7%, 40.5 reports): References to increased anxiety (general, social, existential) fit in this category.
Impaired energy (7.2%, 43.5 reports): This category includes codes referencing both excessive energy (restlessness, jitters) and inadequate energy (fatigue, drowsiness, brain fog).
Impaired mood (6.9%, 41.5 reports): This category includes codes related to mood deterioration (sadness, discontent, irritability), emotional difficulties (over-emotionality, mood swings), and impaired outlook (fear, feeling unusual).
Social interference (2.6%, 15.5 reports): This category references various socially impairing challenges such as awkwardness, oversharing, and difficulties with sentence-production in social settings.
Cognitive interference (2.3%, 14 reports): This category concerns confusion, disorientation, racing thoughts, and poor memory.
Self-interference (1.2%, 7.5 reports): This category references codes concerning self-processing concerns (dissociation, depersonalization) and self-sabotaging (rumination, over-analysis).
Other perceived challenges (10.6%, 64 reports): This category was a catch-all for otherwise uncategorized codes. These include the unknown risk-effect profile of microdosing itself, the need to prepare and remember to dose, references specifically citing that there were no challenges (1.5%), and other miscellany. This category also includes reports that there were no beneficial effects (0.6%).
Furthermore, this category includes substance-related concerns regarding taste, pupil dilation, and duration of effects, and also concerns about negative drug interactions.
Increased symptoms (other) (6.2%, 37.5 reports): References to after effects (psychological dependence and concerns about potential addiction, substance tolerance, comedown or hangover) and also more concerning, but rare, adverse psychological events (0.7%).
Categories of benefit
This summary provides descriptions of the 11 categories of benefits that were distiled from participant reports (Fig. 1). As per grounded theory, the naming conventions for codes reflect the language used by respondents, but more flexibility was introduced as needed at higher orders of abstraction. Full descriptions of every code are available in the full codebook (see Additional file 1).
Improved mood (26.6%, 215 reports): This most frequently reported benefit-category captures all codes related to mood improvements: happiness, well-being, peace, calm, and reductions in depressive symptoms. Also included are reports of improved outlook, appreciation of life, optimism, spiritual and emotional insights, and being more in touch with emotions.
Improved focus (14.8%, 119.5 reports): This benefit-category references codes concerning focus and concentration, conscious awareness, mindfulness, and increased engagement and attentiveness.
Creativity (12.9%, 104 reports): This category includes creativity per se, as well as meta-creative processes, e.g. shifting perspectives, divergent thinking, curiosity, and openness.
Self-efficacy (11.3%, 91.5 reports): This category references improvements in self-efficacy (motivation/ambition, productivity, confidence, sense of agency) and self-care (introspection, meditation, and other behaviours facilitating mental health).
Improved energy (10.5%, 84.5 reports): This category includes codes referencing “improved energy” per se, as well as alertness, wakefulness, and stimulation.
Social benefits (7.6%, 61 reports): This category references various socially facilitating benefits such as extraversion, empathy, sense of connection, and verbal fluency.
Cognitive benefits (5.8%, 47 reports): This category concerns cognitive enhancement (understanding, problem-solving), clarity of thought (clear headedness, lucidity), and memory.
Reduced anxiety (4.2%, 34 reports): References to anxiety reduction and social-anxiety reduction fit in this category.
Physiological enhancement (3.0%, 24 reports): This category concerns biological processes including enhanced senses (especially visual), cardiovascular endurance, sleep quality, and reduced migraines and/or headaches.
Other perceived benefits (2.2%, 18 reports): This category was a catch-all for otherwise uncategorized codes. These include the novelty of the experience itself, the ability to control the dose, the lack of side-effects, and other miscellany. This category also includes 1 report that there were no beneficial effects.
Reduced symptoms (other) (1.1%, 9 reports): References to stress reduction, reduced sensitivity to trauma, and references to reduced substance dependence (e.g. quitting smoking) are included.