Microdosing psychedelics like psilocybin may enhance your mental health and overall well-being. Here’s how.
When you think of magic mushrooms, you might think of vibrant colors, hippies, and trippy visuals. But recent research (and centuries of anecdotal evidence) indicates that psychedelics may have greater potential to help improve mental health.
What’s more, you may not have to take high doses of psychedelics to tap into their perks. Microdosing substances like psilocybin can offer mental health benefits without experiencing hallucinations. However, it still may be possible to experience hallucinations or even negative side effects — like a “bad trip“ — while microdosing.
Psych Central interviewed Oregon-based psychotherapist and co-founder of Yale Psychedelic Science Group Peter H. Addy, PhD, LPC, LMHC, who specializes in psychedelic harm reduction and integration work. Addy discussed how microdosing psilocybin can impact your mental well-being.
Microdosing describes using a psychoactive substance at a dose lower than what’s needed for recreational use. With such low amounts, the substance’s effects aren’t felt strongly enough to impair your senses.
With microdosing, approximately 1/10th to 1/20th of a recreational dose is taken, usually with the intention of improving your well-being and enhancing cognitive and emotional processes.
“For dried, well-preserved Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, a recreational dose might be 1 to 5 grams. So, a microdose might be 1/20th to 1/10th of 1 gram,” Addy explains. “It’s very small, and you need a scale accurate to 0.001 g to measure such a small amount of material.”
Microdosing can also involve participating in multiple dosing sessions.
In addition to psilocybin, you can microdose LSD, MDMA, and other psychedelics, as well.
According to Addy, microdosing doesn‘t actually feel like anything — which is ultimately the point.
“On the ‘off days’ — day 2 and 3 when you aren’t taking a microdose, you might feel more focused and productive,” he adds.
On the other hand, higher doses of psilocybin may induce the following experiences:
- visuals or hallucinations
- time and space distortion
- feeling a spiritual or universal connection
The most common way is to microdose every third day for 30 days. “You take a dose in the morning on day 1, nothing for day 2 and 3, and microdose again on day 4,” Addy explains. This is also known as the Fadiman protocol.
Another strategy is the Stamets protocol, named after the famous mycologist Paul Stamets. “[You’d] microdose 4 days in a row then take 3 days off (microdose Monday through Thursday then take a break Friday through Sunday, for example),” says Addy.
With microdosing, the substance you‘re using is typically taken in the morning on an empty stomach or with a light snack.
Addy notes that possessing and using psilocybin mushrooms in the United States is illegal (yes, even in Oregon where it’s recently been decriminalized).
To take psychedelics as safely and legally as possible, you can consider:
- traveling to a location where psychedelics are legal
- joining a clinical trial in the United States
- engaging in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy with a trained professional where it is legal and available
There may be many potential short- and long-term benefits of taking low doses of psychedelics like psilocybin.
- sense of time
- convergent thinking (problem solving)
- divergent thinking (creative thinking)
- emotional responses
- reduced rumination (repetitive thinking)
- improved mood
- reduced anxiety
- increased connection to others and the environment
- boost in creativity
- reduced anxiety
- reduced depression
- enhanced self-insight
- improved mindfulness
- improved mood and attitude toward life
- improved habits
- improved healthy behaviors
- improved social interactions and relationships
Addy adds that long-term benefits at the end of a 30-day microdosing procedure might include:
- reduced depression
- decreased stress
- less “mind wandering“
- increased absorption of imaginative and sensory experiences
Microdosing studies are limited at this time. But the research we do have suggests that it may offer relief for people who live with anxiety and depression.
A common question is whether mushrooms have placebo effects. Addy highlights the following three studies that do a good job of examining this concept:
2021 studysuggests that microdosing is no better (or worse) than a placebo.
2021 studydidn’t use a placebo, but did find that people thought they’d improve in certain ways and did, suggesting the benefits centered on expectations.
2019 studyfound positive changes that weren’t simple effects of expectation.
“We don’t know very much about microdosing, but at least some of the time it might be expectation and intention that leads to change, not microdosing,” he explains.
Whether it is a placebo effect at play, people have been known to report relief after microdosing psilocybin.
According to Addy, those who may be best suited to try microdosing psilocybin include people:
- who live in a country where it’s legal, such as the Netherlands or Jamaica
- with a baseline of stability and routine in their lives who can stick to a schedule for 30 days
- who are curious about themselves and how they react to others and the world around them
According to the same study, some participants also experienced negative side effects, like increased anxiety and a “cycling pattern“ between depressive and euphoric moods.
If you’ve never tried microdosing before, considering some safety reminders and harm reduction strategies may be helpful as a precaution.
It’s illegal (in the U.S.)
First and foremost, psychedelics aren’t totally legal — yet.
“The main risk is that psilocybin is illegal to have and use, despite having a low potential for abuse and currently accepted as medical use,” says Addy. “Being arrested, fined, imprisoned, or losing work aren’t conducive to mental health or personal growth.”
It’s important to be careful of your set, setting, and dosage. “Plant medicines aren’t like taking Tylenol,” reminds Addy. “Each dose is a little different, and you might accidentally take a little too much and then have to go to work or interact with your family.”
In terms of the potentially negative side effects of microdosing, Addy says people sometimes report experiencing:
- increased anxiety
- increased physical discomfort
- lasting visual distortions (mainly among people with colorblindness)
- the need for a higher dose to access benefits (mainly among people with autism spectrum disorder)
He notes that moving, stretching, or exercising right after microdosing can help reduce anxiety and physical discomfort. Meditating afterward can also help with focus and creativity, too.
Talk with a professional
“One survey asked people who have microdosed if they talked about it with their doctors or therapists, and only
If you’re microdosing or thinking about microdosing in the future, it can be beneficial to find a doctor or therapist you trust enough to discuss your intentions and use. However, it’s important to understand that these substances are still illegal in most countries and remain unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Studies on the therapeutic benefits of microdosing psychedelics are limited and in progress. But research suggests that microdosing psilocybin may help improve mental health and help treat some mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.
There are still potential benefits and risks to be aware of before microdosing, though.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that psychedelics like psilocybin are not legal in the United States just yet, even in places like Oregon where the substance has been decriminalized.
If you’re considering microdosing psilocybin, talking with a doctor or therapist about whether microdosing or psychedelic therapy may be right for you can be a good starting point.