Microdosing, in its current conceptual form, started to gain steam during the late 2010’s in Silicon Valley. The truth is, that it has likely been practiced for as many millennia as humans have been interacting with psychedelic substances. The act of microdosing involves periodically taking sub-perceptual doses of psychedelic drugs, like mushrooms or LSD, to experience reported benefits such as increased cognitive ability and creativity levels with less anxiety or experienced negative emotions. Those who have integrated microdosing into their life report long-term benefits that include: improved mood, better eating and sleeping habits, and less reliance on caffeine (1).
The science is still developing on the true effectiveness, safety, and long term outcomes of many of the substances that some individuals prefer to microdose. Well established are the guidelines for full “therapeutic” doses in the clinical settings related to psychedelic substances which warrants insight into how micro doses of these same substances can create.
Drug catalogs are expanding and more people are gaining access to reliable sources of psychedelic substances. Are we on the verge of another revolution or is it just the latest millennial biohacking trend, that classically reduces extremely potent substances to a recreational tool for an enhanced life?
A Quick History
Renowned psychonaut Terrance Mckenna, and his brother Denis, developers of the “Stoned Ape Theory” argue that our early human ancestors experienced a rapid jump in cognitive abilities and overall brain size due to eating psychedelic mushrooms that were privy to grow in dung piles, particularly those of elephants. Observing how the cradles of humanity were closely intertwined with the range of elephants at the time and the subsequent close bond between our species give the theory more legs to stand on. This should all be taken with a grain of salt though as there is no hard evidence to support the theory yet, making it more of a hypothesis.
Yet, taking a look at classical cultures rich in spiritual practices, it becomes clear that psychedelic substances such as mushrooms, cactuses, and even animals such as toads, have long been used as a way to experience euphoric phenomena that can only be described as a greater subconscious communication. The Native American shamans with their peyote buttons and psilocybe mushrooms, the Sami people with the agaric mushrooms and yuletide rituals, and even the Ancient Greeks drank a psychedelic elixir called Kykeon, thought to contain ergot fungi that contain LSD like substances, all partook in the ancient traditions.
For many cultures it is respected as a ritualistic sacrament meant to cleanse, heal, or as a means to a right of passage into adulthood or one’s “true” path. This trend continued for much of history as elders and medicine shamans would generally brew, serve, and guide psychedelic experiences. Never were these substances meant to be treated lightly or eaten for pure enjoyment, but as sacred communions with spirits and the greater powers at play.
It wasn’t until the last few hundred years, as industrialization of the globe took hold, that psychedelics became left behind by the masses only to be used by pockets of people or individuals who still practiced ancient rituals. Then the 20th century rolled around and scientists and chemists began further studying nature and its compounds all while synthesizing and creating new compounds. Albert Hoffman, considered the forefather of psychedelics, was the first man to synthesize LSD while searching for stimulants to treat cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Hoffman was also the first to isolate the psychedelic compounds, psilocybin and psilocin, from magic mushrooms.
Their powerful effects were not lost to the powers that be and the CIA and U.S. Army conducted tests on LSD to determine if it could be used as a sort of psychological weapon to discredit and disempower world leaders under its influence. In the 1960’s the counterculture at the time adapted LSD as its effects were in line with their ethos. Centered in the San Francisco Bay area (Ironic right?) individuals like Ken Kessey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who participated in the governmental studies of the 60’s began hosting individuals at events called “Acid Tests”. The in-house band for these acid tests was none other than the Grateful Dead, whose sound man Owsley Stanley took particular interest in LSD and is now known as the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD.
By the late 1960’s psychedelics and recreational drugs alike were experiencing a mass crackdown from the government in response to their close association with the new wave of counterculture. Although the counterculture was one focused on peace and love, the rampant unsupervised use of drugs was bound to evolve into physiological and psychological problems for many of the individuals who were excessively imbibed. There were no elders or shamans to look to in the communities that were ingesting these substances, so they had to learn and develop their own rituals themselves, with an occasional major fuck up or two along the way.
Many modern technological developments and companies can be linked to the psychedelic use of this period and it is no wonder that Silicon valley, the hub of microdosing, is now at the center of the psychedelic world again. Today we see shamans, guides, and licensed psychologists all doing the work of guiding healing experiences, mediated through psychedelic substances, as a way to process trauma and step into a so-called new life.
“The ingestion of a substance, typically considered psychedelic in nature, at such low doses that they don’t trigger hallucinations or altered states of consciousness.”
A typical microdose is considered to be one tenth or one twentieth of standard dose. Ex. If you would consume around 2 grams of mushrooms for an enjoyable “trip”, a microdose in relation to that microdose would be considered 100 or 200 mg.
Many individuals who choose to microdose will follow a regimen for about a month which includes taking a microdose one day and taking a few days off before taking another. This gives the body a chance to reset itself between doses to maximize beneficial effects.
These doses, although miniscule, are still potent enough to trigger cellular responses, most notably in the brain, slowly altering neural network patterning, neurotransmitter balance, and overall nervous system activity. Individuals who regularly microdose commonly report feeling more energized, focused, creative, open, and tend to have a more positive affect and outlook on life during their microdose.
Microdosing is not for everyone though. Genetic predispositions, mental illness, and even generalized anxiety don’t seem to generally agree well with microdosing. Some microdoses can be overstimulating or enhance predisposing moods and patterns that may result in a less than ideal outcome.
How To Microdose
The most common barrier individuals will face when looking to begin experimenting with microdosing is a lack of a trusted source.
Of course there’s certain equipment such as a milligram scale, capsules, and grinders one may need in order to make a microdose once they get some psychedelic substances into their possession. Sometimes you may get lucky and find pre-made products, but as people rush to capitalize on the emerging market it may be preferential, and safer to make products for yourself so you know exactly what’s in it.
To get started, reach out to friends you trust, who may have experience with psychedelics, or talk to a mental health professional about getting involved in a research study. A casual conversation can always go a long way, but talking with your doctor about finding a licensed practitioner or clinical trial may be another way to go about it. If you have the time, mushrooms can be grown on a small scale at home with relative ease due to the abundance of materials in the marketplace today. Follow this guide for more tips on how to grow mushrooms.
Now that you’ve got your mushrooms or LSD, you may be wondering when it’s appropriate to take a microdose. First and foremost, we always recommend tuning to your body and its inherent intuition before ingesting any medicine for the first time from a new source. Are you in the right set and setting? Does your mind feel free and clear of racing thoughts? Is there tension that you notice anywhere in your body? Take note of all these things to bring presence and awareness to your experience. In this way we can maximize the healing potential of this bountiful medicine.
If you are feeling nervous about your first time. Have a friend around for the day or go out on a hike to get away from all the clutter of civilization that can become quite stimulating for one’s first experience with a microdose.
How Much To Dose:
Most people feel safe starting with about 100 mg of dried mushrooms or about 5 mcg of LSD. These doses typically do not produce any overstimulating or overwhelming experiences, and most people will be able to find that they can go through their day in a relatively normal manner. Depending on the response this dose can be increased or decreased based on desired end user effects.
Mushroom microdoses can vary from about 100 mg of powdered mushrooms up to 300 mg.
LSD microdoses typically have a range of 5-20 mcg for a comfortable microdose. It’s always good to inquire on the strength of the LSD you are purchasing as it could be more concentrated in liquid form.
When To Dose:
The agreed upon standard is 1 on, 3 off. That means taking a micro dose one day and waiting 3 full days before another. Some people prefer alternating every day or doing a few days in a row and taking a few off.
How To Support A Microdose
Eat Wholesome Organic Foods.
Fresh fruits, berries, and leafy greens are our personal favorites. Even if you don’t feel hungry at times, your body is craving vibrant, living foods to fuel all the new processes that have been triggered by the microdose. Give your body the nutrients it deserves.
Hydrate With Quality Water.
Your water source matters, reach for local spring water or mineral water if it’s available. Purified water with trace mineral drops added is always a great back up. Staying hydrated keeps us feeling fresh and eases the load on all the major organ systems of the body.
Starting the day off with a bit of mindfulness and awareness can easily shape the rest of our day for the better. Taking time to check in with yourself and clearing the clutter before setting out for the day with your microdose will allow you to experience it’s full potential.
Get Outside Into Nature.
Nature is our best friend. Psychedelic substances are rooted in nature and thus it only makes sense that reconnecting with it, will bring ease and calm to any difficult process. Fresh oxygen, vibrant soil, and the sounds of nature instantly help reduce blood pressure, racing thoughts, and tension in the body. If you aren’t close to any open expanses, find a local park that you feel familiar and comfortable with.
How To Track Your Progress
Keeping a microdose journal helps you track your progress, set intentions, practice gratefulness, all while helping clear lingering thoughts and emotions that may be getting in the way of healing.
You can choose to either write freely as part of a journal practice or develop a rating system to rank your mood, outlook, sleep, appetite, water intake, and productivity everyday. There are tons of great structured journals out there to help us work through our thoughts and reflect on our days.
Tracking our progress helps reward the growth and healing process as it allows us to take a step back and see how far we have come, when it may seem like in the day to day not much is changing at all. If there are other ways you choose to journal, track progress, or express yourself as a means of reflection it is completely appropriate to stick with something you think you will have an easier time committing too.
You will be changing right in front of our eyes, and we are so here to witness it!
The Benefits Of Microdosing
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the science on the benefits of microdosing is still being developed, but its most promising use seems to be that of a safe replacement for common antidepressants on the markets. Psychedelic substances themselves are generally non-toxic, have zero-to-minimal side effects, and will typically be tolerated by most when ingested as a microdose.
With larger, therapeutic doses, psilocybin has been shown to promote functional and structural neuronal plasticity (i.e., the ability of the brain to form new neural connections). Specifically, psilocybin alone (the active compound in magic mushrooms) has been shown to cause neurogenesis (formation of new neurons) in the hippocampus, a part of the brain integral to learning and memory. Brain scans after psilocybin ingestions showed that claustrum (the ego center) had marked decreased activity, meaning the area of the brain believed responsible for setting attention and switching tasks is turned down when on the drug. Researchers say that this central nervous system phenomenon is what is responsible for creating the perception of being interconnected to the world and energies surrounding an individual.
On the other hand, although subtly imperceptible, microdoses can still produce effects similar to that of full psychedelic doses (i.e. time perception, divergent thinking, convergent thinking) suggesting that they still produce increased cognitive flexibility and a sense of oneness with life. Their ability to induce feelings of awareness or mindfulness leads to less cyclical thought cycles and higher compassion for self, thereby suggesting its potential to treat depression by getting to the underlying causes of the issue.
This makes microdosing quite the conundrum for many researchers as the lack of alterations in consciousness does not seem to coincide with the significant benefits that so many individuals self report. Many accounts do report sustained benefits during a microdose experience, yet the long term benefits such as reduced psychosomatic distress and flexible cognitive constructs suggests that neural re-patterning and neurogenesis is still taking place without the need for a full therapeutic dose.
Yet, this still begs the questions. What benefits exactly can someone expect while microdosing?
In a study by Thomas Anderson et. al. 2019, 278 real respondents, who reported taking regular microdoses, reported on a survey what benefits and challenges they commonly experienced during their microdose days. The self reported benefits in this study ranked as follow:
Improved mood – 26.6%
Improved focus – 14.8%
Creativity – 12.9%
Self-efficacy – 11.3%
Improved Energy – 10.5%
Many of these benefits are what have been discussed in psychedelic circles for many decades, so it may not be surprising to some, but in the cause of microdosing the science still has a bit of catching up to do.
New Breakthroughs On The Horizon
With a lack of good science to support the beneficial self-reported outcomes of microdosing there, unfortunately, very few to minimal clinical trials that are currently studying microdosing and it’s possible benefits.
Most evidence that has been collected to date, includes surveys that participants fill out in unsupervised settings. and those studies who have tried to examine the outcomes of microdosing have not had strong scientific methods or structure for their studies. This is not to say we won’t see these studies popping up in the near future as microdosing continues to take hold as the preferred ingestion method for psychedelics.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Conscious Research has been steadfast in its determination to produce high quality, clinically relevant scientific information in relation to psychedelics as medicine.
Other studies are currently examining how psilocybin and psilocin can help treat alcohol dependence by changing regional brain activity
Other exciting science yet to be released is centered around how psilocybin affects attention, perception, and cognition. The University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland is currently using EEG and PET scans to be able to show in real time how the brain and neurological centers are acting and reacting to the ingestion of psilocybin and how that correlates to the benefits that are commonly reported.
There is still a vast unexplored scientific frontier in the psychedelic world, and as more studies develop and become published the closer we march towards proper legalization, regularization, and responsible use in our communities. As with all powerful and mind altering substances, demonizing them only enhances their ability to ruin innocent people’s lives or drive people into addictions and desperate situations they would never otherwise have ended up in if they had proper support.