The practice involves taking a low dose of a psychedelic drug to enhance performance or reduce stress and anxiety.
While the anecdotal accounts are compelling, significant questions remain about how microdosing works and how much of the reported benefits are due to pharmacological effects, rather than participant beliefs and expectations.
we just published a new study following two previous studies on microdosing. Our research tells us that some benefits of microdosing may be comparable to other wellness activities such as yoga.
It’s unclear how many Australians microdose, but the proportion of Australian adults who have used psychedelics in their lifetime increase from 8% in 2001 to 10.9% in 2019.
After a slow start, Australian research into psychedelics is now making rapid progress. A particular area of interest is the science of microdosing.
In a previous study by one of us (Vince Polito), depression and stress levels decreased after a six week microdosing period. Additionally, participants reported less “mind wandering,” which could suggest that microdosing leads to improved cognitive performance.
However, this study also revealed an increase in neuroticism. People who score high on this personality dimension experience unpleasant emotions more frequently and tend to be more susceptible to depression and anxiety. It was a puzzling finding and didn’t seem to match the rest of the results.
Microdosing vs Yoga
In a recent studyStephen Bright’s research team recruited 339 participants who had engaged in microdosing, yoga, both, or neither.
Yoga practitioners reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than either microdosing or control groups (participants who did neither yoga nor microdosing). Meanwhile, people who had microdosed reported higher levels of depression.
We can’t say for sure why we saw these results, although it’s possible that people with stress and anxiety are drawn to yoga, while people with depression are more likely to microdose. . This was a cross-sectional study, so participants were observed in their chosen activity, rather than assigned to a particular group.
Importantly, both the yoga group and the microdosing group had similar overall psychological well-being scores compared to the control group.
And interestingly, people who did both yoga and microdosing reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. This suggests that microdosing and yoga may have synergistic effects.
Our new research
Through a collaboration between Edith Cowan University, Macquarie University and the University of Göttingen in Germany, our most recent study aimed to extend these findings, and in particular to try to get to the bottom of the possible effects of microdosing. on neuroticism.
We recruited 76 experienced microdosers who completed a survey before undertaking a period of microdosing. Some 24 of these participants agreed to complete a follow-up survey four weeks later.
The results were published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies this month. We found that, similar to our previous work, all 24 participants experienced personality changes after a period of microdosing. But the changes weren’t quite what we had expected.
This time we saw a decrease in neuroticism and an increase in conscientiousness (highly conscientious people tend to be diligent, for example). Interestingly, greater experience with microdosing was associated with lower levels of neuroticism in all 76 participants.
So what does all this mean?
Our most recent findings suggest that the positive effects of microdosing on psychological well-being may be due to a reduction in neuroticism. And the self-reported improvements in performance, which we also observed in our previous research, could be due to increased awareness.
Taken together, the results of our research suggest that contemplative practices such as yoga may be particularly helpful for microdosers less experienced in managing negative side effects such as anxiety.
However, we cannot know for sure if the changes we have observed are due to the positive expectations of microdosers due to the glowing anecdotal reports they have seen in the media. This represents an essential limitation of our research.
Because psychedelic drugs are illegal, providing them to research participants is ethically complex — we usually have to observe them taking their own drugs. So another key challenge with this research is the fact that we can’t know for sure what drugs people are using, because they don’t always know themselves (particularly for LSD).
Microdosing has risks
Because the illicit drug market is unregulated, there is a danger of people inadvertently consuming a potentially dangerous new psychoactive substance, such as 25-I-NBOMe, which has been passed off as LSD.
People also cannot be sure of the size of the dose they are taking. This could lead to unwanted effects, such as “ball tripping” at work.
Such potential harm can be mitigated by checking your medications (you can buy home test kits) and always starting with a much lower dose than you think you need when you first use a batch.
Where to go from here?
Despite the hype around microdosing, the scientific results so far are mixed. We have found that microdosers yield significant benefits. But it’s unclear to what extent this is driven by placebo effects and expectations.
For people who choose to microdose, also engaging in contemplative practices such as yoga could lessen some of the adverse effects and lead to better results overall. Some people might find that they get the same benefit from contemplative practices alone, which is less risky than microdosing.
In a next step, one of us (Vince Polito) and his colleagues are using neuroimaging to study the effect of microdosing on the brain.
If you practice microdosing, are based in Sydney and would like to participate in this research, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.