Silicon Valley tech execs vow to take a lotsmall doses of magic mushroomsevery few days, also known as microdosing, as a means of increasing creativity and productivity. Redditors report thatmicrodosing relieves anxiety and depression, and even mothers praise their productivity - andskills to improve relationships🇧🇷 In June, Oaklanddecriminalized magic mushrooms, becoming the second US city to do so, less than a month laterdenver, while efforts tolegalize psilocybin, the psychedelic compound from mushrooms, are underway in Iowa and Oregon. There's also an effort to decriminalize psilocybin in California after a failed attempt in 2018. In other words, it's official: Magic mushrooms have moved from the realm of hippies and Burning Man into the mainstream. But does microdosing mushrooms really work?
Mic contacted medical experts to help separate the hype from reality and determine if the claims made by microdosing evangelists hold up at the scientific meeting.
First things first: how do magic mushrooms work?
Psilocybin binds to receptors for the neurotransmitter (which is achemical messenger, more or less, in our brain) serotonin, specifically a type of receptor known as the 5-HT2A receptor, says Charles Grob, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Serotonin is more commonly known to be associated with feelings of happiness.) These receptors are found throughout the central nervous system, particularly near brain regions involved in so-called higher-order functions, such as spatial reasoning and sensory perception, as well as the reward system. A full dose of psilocybin "facilitates entry into a very deep altered state of consciousness that lasts between four and six hours," Grob tells Mic.
5-HT2A is "essential in the classic psychedelic response," that is, the "high" triggered not only by psilocybin but also by LSD and other psychedelic compounds, says Andrew Penn, an associate clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Francisco Nursing School of Medicine. But while we know that full doses of these compounds bind to the 5-HT2A receptor, "it's not clear whether microdoses affect the 5-HT2A receptor," he says. In other words, the theory is that a small dose can trigger a mild reaction, but there is no evidence yet that this is exactly the case.
What counts as a microdose of psilocybin?
A full dose equals roughly 0.2 milligrams of psilocybin per kilogram of body weight, or about 14 milligrams for a 150-pound person, Grob says. Although there is no standard for what constitutes microdosing, many people use the regimen popularized byJames Fadiman, psychologist and author ofThe Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys:about one-tenth of a normal dose, or 1.4 milligrams for a 150-pound person, once every three days for about a month. (Many people weigh mushrooms that have been ground into a powder, Penn says.) Furthermore, Fadiman discovers that most people microdose only once in a while or as needed.
But precise microdosing is virtually impossible for the average person, Grob says. The problem is that psilocybin concentrations can vary widely not only between different mushroom species, but also between different batches of the same species. And Penn says that psilocybin concentrations can even vary between different parts of a single mushroom. In other words, that 1.4-milligram microdose you take every three days could contain a different concentration of psilocybin each time, Grob says. The only way to accurately measure the concentration is through laboratory analysis.
With that said, you will be able to tell if you have taken a full dose or a microdose of psilocybin. While the experience can vary by person, a full dose can generally change your sense of time, increase introspection, and make problem-solving easier, Grob says. Higher doses can lead to "a powerful psycho-spiritual experience."
A microdose, on the other hand, has much more subtle effects. "Somehow it enhances sensory perception," Grob explains. “The colors are a bit brighter. There is a greater appreciation of nature. One can delve into psychological and interpersonal issues.” Importantly, a microdose would allow you to function on a day-to-day basis, while a full dose would require you to be in a protected and monitored environment for safety.
What does the research say about psilocybin microdosing?
Not much, yet. Most of the reports on thebenefits of microdosingpsilocybinthey were anecdotal, according to experts interviewed by Mic. A search for "microdosis of psychedelics” in the US National Library of Medicine PubMed database of scientific articles yields only 12 results, whereas a search for “microdose of psilocybin” produces only seven.
There are some observational studies or studies that do not assign participants to a microdosing regimen, but rather survey people who are already microdosing about their experiences. In one of these surveys with people whopsychedelics in microdosis, published on July 10, 26.6% of people reported an improvement in mood, while 14.8% reported increased concentration.
However, a 2018 study assigned participants at a Netherlands Psychedelic Society event to microdosepsychedelic truffles, which contained psilocybin. They did tests that measured two ways of thinking that play an important role in creativity before and after swallowing the truffles, and they did better on those tests after eating the truffles. But as the researchers themselves pointed out in their study, since they didn't compare the participants to people who took, for example, truffles that did not contain psychedelics, there still remains the possibility of a placebo effect, or the possibility that the participants' expectations were affected. Its performance.
This summarizes the main limitations of the research so far. "No one has done a placebo-controlled trial" of microdosing psilocybin, Penn says. Without such a trial, ideally one in which neither the researchers nor the participants know whether the participants received psilocybin or a placebo, "it's very hard to know if this person is getting a benefit because they expect to get a benefit" or because microdosing of psilocybin really had an effect. Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, adds that the very subtle benefits microdosers are said to enjoy, such as being friendlier and more focused, "are really ripe for a placebo effect." .
Johnson and other researchers noted that while studies, some of which they helped conduct, showed psilocybin had promise foranxiety and depressionin treatment-resistant cancer patientsmajor depressionmiQuit smokingFor example, participants took high doses of the compound. While these studies are "impressive," Penn notes, we can't simply conclude that a microdose has a similar effect to a large, but more subtle, dose. After all, if two aspirins relieve your headache, that doesn't necessarily mean 1/16 of a pill will relieve a minor headache, she says.
So if I feel better when I microdose, does that mean I'm just experiencing a placebo effect?
Not necessarily. “It seems very likely that a good part of what we're seeing is a placebo effect, but it's quite possible that part isn't,” Johnson says. Penny agrees. "It's quite possible that these small doses have an effect," he says. But until researchers conduct a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of microdosing psilocybin as described above, "we don't know."
For which conditions might microdose psilocybin have the greatest therapeutic benefit?
If psilocybin microdosing shows benefit in double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, Penn can envision it being used more for "a general ability to feel good," making people feel more sharp and alert, for example. . Perhaps large doses of psilocybin could be used to treat conditions likemajor depression, while microdosing can be helpful in maintaining general well-being, just like yoga or meditation.
"I've been told some compelling cases of antidepressant effects," says Johnson. It makes sense because, like many existing antidepressants (such as Lexapro, Zoloft, and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), psilocybin and several other psychedelics act on the serotonergic system. "I wouldn't be surprised if microdosing was helpful for depression," says Johnson.
How can I microdose psilocybin safely?
First, "it's probably not a good idea to take psychedelics" if you have bipolar disorder, Grob says. He also does not recommend psychedelics if you have a psychotic illness or an immediate family member with a psychotic illness, as they can trigger a psychotic episode. You should also avoid mixing psychedelics with other drugs or alcohol and, of course, driving under the influence of psychedelics.
Johnson doesn't recommend using psychedelics, microdosing or otherwise, but encourages those who do to carefully weigh the risks. While microdosing on psilocybin is unlikely to cause a panic-inducing trip, it is possible that he would react strongly to even microdosing or accidentally consume a higher dose than he thought. "It's hard to measure some of these doses," says Johnson. “Some people told me they were testing microdosing, and it was working, and a complete psychedelic experience started to happen.” Such experiences can be not only distressing but also dangerous if they happen to him, for example, while he is driving or caring for his elderly relatives.
"Science moves slowly," says Penn. “This is clearly a case of 'I'm not waiting for the studies. I'll do it myself'". Microdosing, especially with its do-it-yourself approach, can give people dissatisfied with conventional mental health treatment options a sense of agency. The problem is that the efficacy of microdosing and its long-term effects on the brain are still unclear. There may be a grain of truth in themicrodosing subredditpublications, but until scientists do more rigorous studies, it's still too early to tell if the Silicon Valley trend lives up to all the hype.
This article was originally published on