Psychedelics act like social media for the brain, allowing for widespread communication.
A sheet of LSD tabs in 2004. (Photo by Paul Faith/PA Images via Getty Images)
A new study conducted by researchers out of York University, the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto suggests that microdosing psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin (the primary psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms) could increase well-being and creativity.
The study, which co-author Thomas Anderson calls the first of its kind, was conducted online among 1,390 participants who were recruited from Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. About two-thirds of the participants in this online survey were current microdosers or had microdosed in the past. The rest were either interested in microdosing or had never tried it and expressed no interest in trying it.
Microdosing, which has reportedly become widely accepted among tech industry employees in Silicon Valley, is the practice of self-medicating with the use of minimal doses of psychedelics – enough to allegedly increase productivity without hallucinations.
In a field of study that is relatively new, researchers aimed to establish a baseline for future studies and asked participants basic questions like how much of a substance constituted a microdose and how often they medicated.
Most reported microdosing once every three days with a typical dose between 10 to 20 micrograms of LSD and 0.2 to 0.5 grams of mushrooms, both minimal fractions of a recreational or ‘threshold’ dose.
Researchers found that those who microdosed exhibited higher levels of focus, creativity, and wisdom, while also experiencing increased self-esteem and lowered anxiety.
To gauge arbitrary measures like ‘wisdom,’ researchers asked participants to respond to statements like, “At this point in my life, I find it easy to laugh at my mistakes.”
Though very few modern studies have been conducted on microdosing, since these substances were made illegal in the 1970’s, a wealth of research conducted by respected psychologists exists from the pre-prohibition era. As attitudes toward psychedelics have relaxed in recent decades, researchers have been able to return to the field of psychedelic science with the use of refined methods and technology that was not available in earlier studies.
Since then, researchers in the UK have found that psychedelics increase openness and connection to nature, while researchers in the United States have found that those who use psychedelics are less likely to engage in criminal activity (outside of the illegal drugs they just took).
The first ever fMRI brain scans conducted by the UK’s Beckley Foundation and Imperial College in 2016, discovered that psychedelics alter the way in which something called the Default Mode Network of the brain works. In other words, the reason psychedelics are often associated with greater creativity and perspective-altering experiences (as well as the intense visual experiences) is because they allow parts of the brain which normally don’t communicate to connect.
Beckley, which has studied the effects of psychedelics on depression and alcoholism, is also currently investigating the effects of microdosing.
While many in the U of T microdosing study expressed positive results, a smaller portion of the participants said that they experienced the opposite effects of increased anxiety. But the main concern for participants was the difficulty in obtaining these substances and ensuring accurate dosage from the black market.
“If you’re buying what your dealer says is LSD, it could very well be something else,” Anderson told the University of Toronto.
Compared to other illegal substances like heroin and cocaine, psychedelics are considered by researchers to be on the safer side with minimal possibility of overdose. According to the most recent Global Drug Survey, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms resulted in the least emergency room visits of any illicit substance.
Still, the authors of this microdosing study cautioned that more research is needed before doctors will begin prescribing psychedelics as medicine.
“What this truly means is that we need to study it further in a lab setting,” Rotem Petranker, a co-author of the study told the CBC, ”so we really get an idea of how much of these reports truly are caused by the substance.”
Having presented their findings at academic conferences, the authors plan to publish their results in an upcoming research paper on microdosing.