In the first published study looking at effects on users over time, Australian researchers discovered that regularly taking very small amounts (called “microdosing”) of psychedelic drugs may improve some aspects of psychological functioning — but not necessarily what users were expecting.
As reported in the journal PLOS One this week, there may be a downside as well for some people.
Microdosing of substances like LSD and psilocybin (found in ‘magic mushrooms’) has had a recent surge in popularity, with proponents claiming wide-ranging benefits, including enhanced productivity, concentration, creativity, mood and well-being, all without the typical high of psychedelics.
Researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney recruited 98 people who microdosed from online forums and tracked their experiences over a six-week period. Because many people who experiment with microdosing hold strong beliefs about its benefits, the researchers conducted an additional study comparing both new and experienced microdosers’ expectations to the actual effects experienced by participants in the main study.
“Glowing media reports have presented microdosing as a panacea, able to improve virtually all aspects of life, so it is not surprising that participants have strong expectations,” said lead author Dr. Vince Polito of the university’s Department of Cognitive Science.
Polito said that while some of the anticipated effects of microdosing were supported by the study, many were not, and there were some unexpected negative experiences.
Participants reported significant decreases in depression, stress and distractibility, and increased feelings of connection to their experiences. Many felt a boost in positive attitude, but this did not generally linger past the first day of taking the substance.
The drop in depression and stress was an exciting finding, Polito said.
“But we don’t have enough evidence to recommend in any way that microdosing is something people should go out and try,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“While there were clear positive impacts on depression, stress and concentration, we saw no evidence of expected improvements to creativity, well-being and mindfulness. Participants also experienced increased neuroticism, which is a risk not generally discussed by supporters of microdosing.”
In fact, microdosers in the study expected it would relieve neuroticisim, a “Big 5” personality trait usually defined as a tendency towards negative emotions such as anxiety, self-doubt, depression, shyness and the like.
“This is an important finding because it tells us that microdosing wasn’t all positive experiences, which conflicts with those glowing media reports,” Polito told the Herald.
Co-author Dr. Richard Stevenson noted that regulatory restrictions around psychoactive substances such as LSD and psilocybin make it very difficult to systematically study their effects.
“However, as interest in microdosing grows, including its possibilities for people’s productivity at work, this study is an important first step in exploring users’ varying experiences,” he said. “It clearly indicates the need for further, carefully controlled studies of microdosing’s potential benefits and risks.”