The Pros and Cons of Microdosing
Understanding the pros and cons of microdosing is vital in the face of reports like “microdosing saved my marriage” or assurances that popping a pill makes creative breakthroughs possible. But the reality is that the vast majority of microdosing hype is still anecdotal.
In 2022, research supporting these claims isn’t as solid as we might think and the long-term side effects of microdosing psychedelics are not well established. In this article, we review existing research and trends from the microdose community to better understand what expectations we can have about microdosing.
Microdosing is a sub-perceptual dose of psychedelics. Microdosing on planet earth is mostly illegal and therefore hard to study, so the science is new, and there isn’t a lot of agreement in the scientific community around how or even if it works. However, there is currently a ton of information to sift through regarding microdosing (for additional background be sure to read Frshminds’ Guide to Microdosing and mushroom microdosing products). Before getting into the nitty-gritty of stories we found on Reddit or scientists giving acid to rats, a few points need to be made clear.
Different Substances, Different Effects
Psychedelics are a pretty broad category. The most popular substances to microdose are psilocybin, the active ingredient in mushrooms, and LSD. These are the most studied, but others like DMT and mescaline are growing in popularity, along with a range of legal analogs to substances like LSD. For the sake of clarity, the information in this article uses information primarily based on LSD and psilocybin.
Taking the Proper Amount
As a general guideline, microdosing is typically about a tenth of a recreational dose and is designed to improve cognitive abilities or mood. Like different psychedelic substances, the amount taken is a huge effect on what people experience microdosing. If the walls are breathing at work or you’re wondering if you are ok to drive – it’s not microdosing. If you want a deeper understanding of how to microdose with psilocybin mushrooms, check out our guide here.
Psychedelics are illegal in much of the world. This is the biggest complaint official microdosing research receives about microdosing. However, laws are evolving fast, and dispensaries already provide quality products in many regions. But bear in mind, it is a new market, with many scams, particularly online. Navigating this emerging space can be confusing but check out the FrshMinds directory for reviews of vetted dispensaries.
Microdosing Benefits – Are They Real?
Let’s start off with the “Pros” side of the pros and cons of microdosing equation. The list of potential benefits to microdosing is long, making it hard not to be skeptical. Almost all published scientific microdosing literature is based on self-observation surveys, which some researchers are critical of, particularly because skeptics claim the benefits are based on the placebo effect.
Could Positive Microdosing Results be a Placebo?
Maybe you don’t care how it works, as long as it works. But the placebo is a big deal to researchers and regulators. Online surveys where people self-report effects don’t hold the clout of double-blinded research where participants do not know whether or not they are consuming a microdose or placebo.
So when the largest double-blinded psychedelic study ever conducted examined microdosing claimed microdosing was “almost certainly placebo,” it made waves. The results showed participants improved indicators like focus, mood, and creativity. However, results didn’t come up with data suggesting microdosing was better than sugar pills. The data even showed participants who believed they were microdosing showed the most improvement, not necessarily those who were microdosing.
While the study makes interesting points about expectations in psychedelic culture, far more research about microdosing is necessary. Individual personal experience has been the driver of the psychedelic community far longer than double-blinded studies. Citizen science, self-experimentation, and perhaps even thousands of years of history will need far more evidence before the book on microdosing is shut.
Parallel Benefits and Challenges
What is interesting about studying microdosing, similar to large doses of psychedelics, is that the effects can be perceived as good or bad. For example, emotional amplification is often reported on high amounts of mushrooms. This is profound for some, while intense emotions are challenging for others and depend on the context of the individual’s experience. You will notice a pattern – many key features to the microdosing experience can be experienced as positive or negative and is one reason why defining precise microdosing results is tricky.
The Truth Behind Microdosing Claims
It’s important to understand where the “pros” in the pros and cons of microdosing originate from, so we put together a list of the most popular microdosing applications, what people say about it, and if we have any evidence to back up the claims.
Microdosing for Creativity
Using psychedelics to find creative solutions to problems was popularized by James Fadiman, sometimes called the Father of Microdosing. Some studies have suggested that psychedelics can improve divergent thinking and openness, common metrics used to measure creativity even in small amounts. Microdosing for creativity is very popular, and researchers conducting surveys seem optimistic about this claim. However, creativity is also tricky to measure, and while this is one of the most common claims, there are no “gold standard” studies to back up the claim.
Microdosing in Improve Focus or Manage ADHD
If you have ever experienced a high dose of psychedelics, claims of focus may seem strange. Sections of some trips can be very confusing. Microdosing reports of improved focus or even “flow states” are common, yet, on the flip side, trouble focusing is also one of the top complaints from negative experiences. Solid science explaining these inconsistencies doesn’t exist yet. However, some groups are pushing for research into this area, citing evidence of higher success rates than current treatments.
Anxiety and Microdosing
Anxiety also is a popular application for proponents of microdosing. However, one survey found a higher percentage of reports of increased anxiety than those reporting a reduction. Others argue microdosing appears more effective than current treatments. Speculation is that microdosing will affect everyone differently based on individual mindset, environment, and dose. Most microdosing advocates recommend adjusting the dose for a reduction of anxious feelings. Like focus, anxiety also appears particularly connected to combining microdosing with substances like cannabis and caffeine.
Microdosing for Improved Mood or Managing Depression
The improved mood is the poster child of positive microdosing experiments. Yet, it is important to note that a significant percentage of microdosers report feelings like sadness, mood swings, irritability, and fear. Across published surveys, reports of improved mood often stand out. Generally, most people have a much more significant upswing in mood, but it is good to understand potential downsides.
Turning the tide on depression after nothing has worked is has been a massive topic around psychedelics after early studies showed paradigm-shifting results. But the microdosing debate hinges largely on whether or not an immersive psychedelic trip is needed to get the benefits. Psychedelics work on serotonin receptors, the current targets for SSRIs used today to treat depression. This line of thought has led one psychedelic researcher to speculate “it’s not crazy” that microdosing could have similar effects.
Another exciting application of psychedelics that is increasingly studied is overcoming addiction. For example, on the microdosing Reddit, many people tell powerful stories of beating challenging addictions. Clinical examinations of microdosing have recorded that tobacco, cannabis, caffeine, and alcohol consumption were lower when microdosing.
Psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin are not physically addictive. However, it has been pointed out that addiction to psychological benefits could emerge, as addiction to anything is possible. Classical psychedelics are not considered toxic, and tolerance builds up fast, so abuse is highly unlikely. Researchers have hypothesized that microdosing could one day be a companion to addictions programs.
Physical Side Effects and Benefits of Microdosing
Some people report increased energy, better sleep, relief from chronic pain or headaches when microdosing. An organization in the UK, The Beckley Foundation, completed a study suggesting LSD microdoses could increase pain threshold, and evidence for anti-inflammatory effects of psychedelics have been shown in animal studies, but it is unclear if this could be applied to humans with microdoses.
Yet, once again, there is a flip side. Some people experience restlessness or low energy. Also reported were digestive problems, odd bodily sensations like tingling, low appetites, increased headaches, and trouble sleeping. Experienced microdosers again suggest that many of these problems can be addressed by adjusting the dosage or simply stopping for a while to allow the body to rest. Microdoses likely last for 5-6 hours, so giving yourself at least that much time before bed can help with sleep interruptions.
Is Microdosing Dangerous?
While not looking to be a Debbie Downer, any reasonable exploration of microdosing involves looking at the “con” side of the pros and cons of microdosing debate. Although this article is not a substitute medical advice, there are a few key points to consider about the safety of microdosing. First, folks with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, severe depression, anxiety disorders, or any serious mental health issues should stay away from psychedelics of any kind, including microdoses, particularly without medical approval and professional guides.
Also, the interactions of microdoses with SSRIs have been suggested to potentially cause serotonin syndrome, and most people discontinue anti-depressants before microdosing. Again, this requires proper support from a professional. If you are interested in microdosing and taking any kind of medication or have mental health concerns, consult professionals about how to proceed.
Microdosing and Cardiac Concerns
Psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin are generally not considered to be toxic substances. However, the mechanism of action of psychedelics in our body – stimulating the 5-HT2B receptors – could affect the heart. Also worth noting is that chronic high doses of MDMA have been linked to heart disease. Some studies on rats with the active compounds in psilocybin mushrooms suggested “cardiac abnormalities.” If cardiac issues are a concern, consider that chemically similar prescription drugs with similar effects on the 5-HT2B receptor have been pulled from the market because of cardiac concerns. Again, talk to a professional.
The Pros and Cons of Microdosing: Is It for You?
After exploring the pros and cons of microdosing, we hope it is clear that there are many factors to consider before doing it. While psychedelics are ancient, powerful, and have been used safely by millions, experimenting with your consciousness is an empowering experience and a significant responsibility. Science doesn’t have definitive answers to how you will respond. The online community is inspiring and supportive but admittedly does hold bias towards success. Ultimately this individual choice you must make after examining the pros and cons of microdosing, and weighing them against your personal situations, goals, physical and mental health.