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Microdosing: The Benefits and Challenges–What the Science Says

There are a few big reasons people are interested in microdosing psychedelics lately:

  • Are you considering microdosing psychedelics to improve your mental health, or try a new way of battling depression or anxiety?
  • Maybe you are hoping to enhance your attention and cognition, and ramp up your productivity and problem-solving at work with microdosing?
  • Or maybe you just want to start with a tiny microdose a few times a week, maybe in a natural setting to enhance creativity? 

These are some of the biggies. Read on to learn more about microdosing and how to try it to get what you want from it.

What is Microdosing?

Microdosing is taking unnoticeable or sub-perceptual amounts of a psychedelic substance. Typically, experts define microdosing as taking 5 percent to 10 percent of a full dose of a psychedelic such as psilocybin, the classic psychedelic that serves as the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to access mental health or other benefits without a hallucinogenic experience or other “high” feelings.

Clinically, research indicates that a 155-pound man generally achieves a full psychedelic experience with 20 milligrams of psilocybin. This means just one to two milligrams is typically sufficient for a microdose. At this minimal level, hallucinogens heighten creativity, improve the mood, and deliver a sensory experience that lends the world a high-definition feeling.

Benefits of Microdosing

There are many benefits to microdosing mushrooms. However, people microdose for two main reasons:

  • To limit negative outcomes or treat symptoms
  • To enhance desired outcomes or produce effects

Within those two basic areas, it breaks down a lot more.

Limiting negative outcomes and treating symptoms

When it comes to undesirable states most of the focus is on mental illness and pain, including:

  • Addiction
  • ADD/ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • PTSD
  • Cluster headaches

Psilocybin is often very effective for harm reduction and treating substance use disorders. According to research from Johns Hopkins University, 80% of smokers who received psilocybin-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy completely quit tobacco.

Microdosing mushrooms has a significant positive impact for patients with ADHD, according to research with self-reported results. Microdoses of doses of psilocybin were more effective than both full doses and standard treatments in this study.

In terms of mental health, after microdosing almost half of respondents in a large, international survey stopped taking antidepressants. More rigorous, controlled, double-blind clinical trials of psilocybin microdosing are underway.

According to research from Johns Hopkins University, very low dose psilocybin helped cancer patients cope with stress, depression and anxiety. Other psychedelic researchers have confirmed that psilocybin can have positive effects on anxiety and mood disorders in other patients.

This is why the Beckley Foundation is pushing for the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms, based on their research into the long-term positive effects of psilocybin on patients with treatment-resistant depression. In recent years, Oakland, California decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms and all other plant medicines. Denver, Colorado has also successfully decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms—both changes based on medicinal benefits.

Psychedelics also have promise for treating pain. In fact, when used to treat cluster headaches,  LSD and magic mushrooms have been found to have comparable or better results than most conventional medications and psychedelic substances offer many people extended periods of remission for their headaches.

Enhancing desirable outcomes and producing effects

There are a long list of reasons people cite for microdosing LSD and psychedelic mushrooms, including:

  • Athletic coordination
  • Cognitive and mental enhancement
  • Creativity
  • Energy
  • Flow states
  • Improved relationships/increased empathy
  • Leadership development
  • Productivity/focus

Many people microdose to enhance work performance or personal growth. Reporting from Rolling Stone profiles Silicon Valley influencers who take small doses of psychedelic mushrooms to increase focus, enhance creativity, boost energy, and improve interpersonal skills. Psychedelics may also promote divergent versus convergent thinking.

Some people use microdoses of psychedelics to produce higher levels of serotonin in the brain and induce flow states, feelings of total focus, involvement, and in-the-moment presence that can help people achieve more than they thought possible. However, unlike LSD, psilocybin seems to interact only indirectly and minimally with dopamine, like serotonin, associated with flow states. Interactions with either chemical are probably minimal with microdoses.

For some, microdosing mushrooms heightens spiritual awareness and enhances sensory experiences. Some users specifically take psychedelics in nature, and engage in the use of psychedelics in a natural setting to enhance creativity, for example while hiking (see the work of Luisa Prochazkova, doi: 10.1007/s00213-018-5049-7).

While research remains mostly preliminary at this point, most users report a very positive experience—especially from microdosing. Overall, users feel focused, present, and connected to what they are doing at the moment.

Does Microdosing Really Work?

Much psychedelic research into microdosing has been anecdotal, such as survey responses from users with anxiety and depression who experienced relief and feelings of well-being. Recent studies revealed improvements in creativity and attention and mood from microdosing psilocybin and LSD, but these were small studies that failed to compare microdoses to placebos.

In 2021, the two largest trials to date of microdosing low doses of psychedelics or a placebo were published. Both placebo-controlled microdosing studies appear to suggest that the placebo effect is principally responsible for the benefits people experience, in that nearly all participants experienced increased well-being. One of the microdosing assessments found that efficacy was tied to user expectations.

Still, despite no evidence that microdosing had a cognitive or emotional effect beyond a placebo in the placebo-controlled trials, there is evidence in the form of neuroimaging technology that microdosing directly affects the brain. Even single small doses of LSD produce changes in connectivity and brain activity much like high doses of the drug produce. Another study found that a microdose of psilocybin can activate the kind of serotonin receptors that psychedelics interact with to create hallucinogenic effects.

Many microdosing researchers still believe that hallucinogenic drugs in tiny amounts can enhance cognition and mental health. Different questionnaires and tests may better capture the benefits of microdosing some people experience. However, while the actual therapeutic value of any specific psychoactive substance such as LSD or psilocybin remains an open question for now, there are many clinical trials and other research into the effects of psilocybin building up. Here are some of them, linked by topic:

 What About Macrodosing?

While anecdotal evidence supports the benefits of microdosing, research is also starting to support the idea that macrodoses of psychedelics may have positive effects on anxiety and mood disorders. For example, psilocybin has long-term positive effects for non-microdosers with treatment-resistant depression and addiction. We already know that larger doses of psilocybin increases neuroplasticity, and it is possible that this benefit extends to microdosing.

Effects and Psychopharmacology of Microdosing LSD and Psilocybin

Much of what we understand about psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin has to do with research into what large doses and overdoses of psychedelic drugs do to the brain. But what does science say about microdosing mushrooms?

Psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin or shrooms are structured similarly to serotonin, among the brain’s most critical neurotransmitters. For this reason, they produce similar chemical effects.

Serotonin is related to mood stabilization, which is why serotonin levels in the brain and things like antidepressants (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs) can lift the mood of users.

Psychedelics mimic serotonin. Specifically, psilocybin stimulates a serotonin receptor in the prefrontal cortex called 5-HT2A, which stimulates learning, cognition, and memory for microdosers.

The active psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms is psilocybin. Typically 0.2-0.5g of dried mushrooms is the threshold dose range for feeling effects, with a dose of 1-2.5g in the moderate range, although it varies for each individual person. Taken orally, the effects of psilocybin typically last three to six hours. Mescaline is about 10 times more potent than psilocybin, and LSD is 100 times more so.

The human body metabolizes psilocybin into psilocin, both of which interact with serotonin receptors in the brain and produce psychedelic effects. Psilocybin and psilocin primarily have a particularly high affinity for the serotonin subtype of receptors: 5-HT2A. This is probably related to effects such as altered sensory experiences and synesthesia—mixed sensory modalities, like tasting color—during mushroom trips.

How to Microdose Psilocybin Mushrooms

what is microdosing?

Microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms is straightforward as long as you’re cautious. Source your medicinal psilocybin spores from a reliable place or grow your own (more on all of this below). Accidentally taking too much is the most commonly reported negative side effect of microdosing—so it’s uncomfortable, not dangerous.

Creating the right dose and a final dosing schedule is mostly a process of trial and error. Only about one-third of people who microdose measure out the amount of the psychedelic in their dose carefully. Effects generally start after about one hour, so for a mushroom microdose, most users take just enough to begin feeling some effects—and take more only after that one hour window. Effects last four to six hours. Mushrooms in particular can vary in psilocybin concentration.

The trickiest part of preparing psilocybin mushrooms for microdosing is estimating how much psilocybin is each mushroom.  Fresh and dried psilocybin mushrooms and different strains of mushrooms have different quantities of psilocybin, and there are even slightly different amounts in different parts of the mushroom.

Ideally, dry a batch of mushrooms, grind them into a powder, and start with about 0.1g of that powder as the starting microdose. Watch for drowsiness, which is the first effect users typically feel during a psilocybin trip, as you adjust your dose.

Any type of the over 180 different types of psilocybin mushrooms that occur in nature can be used for microdosing. Among the most popular are Psilocybe azurecens, Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe cyanescens, Psilocybe semilanceata, and Panaeolus.

Do research into how much psilocybin any given strain contains. For example, the common strain Golden Teachers tend to have a mild to moderate psilocybin content, while Penis Envy is a much more potent magic mushroom. Check out the various Psilocybe strains at Erowid.

How to take a microdose:

  • Capsules. Adding a set dose to a capsule masks the taste and ensures even distribution.
  • Psilocybin tea. Dissolve a dose of psilocybin powder in hot water (add honey if you like!).
  • Lemon tekking. This involves mixing citrus juice and psilocybin mushrooms, but this is not recommended for microdosing, because it may intensify the experience.

What Microdosing Schedule Should I Follow?

There are multiple microdosing regimens to try, but James Fadiman’s system and dosing schedule is the most famous. The best way is to take a microdose every three days, according to Fadiman: microdose on Day 1; no microdose on Day 2 or Day 3; another microdose on Day 4. Continue for several weeks.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Morning is the ideal time for most people because the beneficial effects won’t interfere with sleep but will last all day.
  • Take notes in a journal in a regular way to notice the changes, observe the effects, and adjust accordingly.
  • Whenever microdosing mushrooms, follow your usual routine, except when you try it for the first time. That day, be off work and free of social commitments—wait before microdosing publicly.
  • Observe effects on the two days between microdoses, including increased feelings of energy, creativity, and flow.

Can microdosing create a tolerance to mushrooms? Yes, microdosing mushrooms can cause users to build up a tolerance for psilocybin. To avoid tolerance you might try a different microdosing protocol and wait a longer time between microdoses, four to five days. You can also create an entire neuroplasticity and well-being stack that includes psilocybin as just one component, along with niacin, lions mane, and other supplements.

Lion’s mane and psilocybin both help restore neurological damage. Niacin helps carry GABA across the blood-brain barrier, distributing the psilocybin molecules. Together this kind of stack is a powerful combination that can help  boost cognition, enhance agility, improve mental health, remove amyloid plaques, and repair neurons.

Remember, to feel the most positive effects and avoid a tolerance to psilocybin, microdosing every day is not recommended.

Risks of Microdosing

The law is generally the riskiest thing about microdosing mushrooms, so check local laws before microdosing. (Possession penalties for psilocybin mushrooms in many countries can be harsh.)

Otherwise, psilocybin and microdosing mushrooms have proven records of safe use especially in small doses, so microdosing appears to be very safe. In fact, psilocybin is safer than alcohol and potentially less sedating than cannabis.

Even so, psychedelics are potent substances, even at low doses, and can potentially cause emotional trauma or anxiety—even while microdosing. Unlike many other substances, psilocybin is neither a stimulant nor a numbing agent rather amplifies existing feelings and moods. For this reason, it is important to discuss microdosing with a healthcare provider, ideally specializing in psychiatry, if you suffer from schizophrenia, psychosis, or severe anxiety.

The biggest risk is usually a “bad trip” or psychedelic effects that are too intense. But microdosing is the best way to avoid that issue.

Legality of Microdosing

Psilocybin mushrooms are still illegal to grow, possess, and buy in many countries including much of the United States. Be aware of local laws before you decide to buy psilocybin mushrooms for microdosing. Psilocybin mushrooms and other products are legal in the Netherlands. In the US, several localities such as Oakland and New York are starting to consider decriminalizing psilocybin based on its therapeutic potential.

The History of Microdosing

Although humans have had interest in psychedelics for many years, psychedelic advocate Dr. James Fadiman renewed interest in microdosing in 2011 with his book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. The book explored the subculture of psychedelics and introduced the term “microdosing” into the mainstream.

In 2015, author and investor Tim Ferriss interviewed Fadiman on a podcast about the benefits of microdosing. This further promoted Fadiman’s basic ideals about microdosing and generated more mainstream adherents of the practice.

FAQ

What is DMT? Can you microdose it?

Dimitri, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), sometimes called “the spirit molecule,” is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug. DMT produces effects similar to psychedelics such as magic mushrooms and LSD.

Can psilocybin be detected in a drug test?

Most standard drug screens do not include psilocybin and its metabolites, although they are sometimes included in extended drug screens.

Where can I get psilocybin mushrooms?

There are several ways other than foraging (which is dangerous if you don’t really know how). You can learn to forage yourself, though again, this can be dangerous without the right expertise, which takes some effort. You can grow them yourself, including with ready-made mushroom kits. You can buy them in countries where they are legal, like the Netherlands. You can buy them from the Canadian online mail-order dispensary, Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary, which is specifically for higher doses on down to microdoses of psilocybin mushrooms.

Final Thoughts on Microdosing

We hope this guide to microdosing has been useful to you. The practice has so much potential to change your life! It’s exciting—are you ready to try it?

Author

  • Ed Markey is a former special education teacher turned psychedelics enthusiast. His goal is to help shine a light on the emerging potential of psychedelics to help improve people's lives--focusing especially on writing in-depth pieces, research based, to help educate those interested in how psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, and more can potentially help improve mental health (when taken in conjunction with medical supervision, in states where it is legal to do so).