The macro view on the marvel of micro.
As outlined in the journal of Janet Chang, by 2017 there were more than 60 completed or in-progress studies around the world on the potential of psychedelics; a sign of the intense interest in this topic. While much more research has yet to be done, here’s what we know, and what you should know, so far.
What is microdosing?
Psychedelics are a hallucinogenic class of psychoactive drugs known to trigger extraordinary mental activity and experiences by mimicking the effect of the body’s naturally-occurring chemical, serotonin, which affects things like mood, learning, and memory.
Some of the best-known psychedelics are mescaline, LSD, psilocybin and DMT. Unlike other types of drugs including opioids and narcotics, psychedelics are generally believed to be non-addictive.
Here’s where the “micro” part comes in.
While the experience of “tripping” on a significant amount of say, LSD, can feel extreme and even prove dangerous, microdosing is the practice of ingesting very small (“sub-perceptual”) amounts of a psychedelic drug – 5 to 10% of a “recreational” dose – in order to experience positive psychological effects without any undesirable side effects: a happier mood, increased creativity, less anxiety, greater focus.
The most commonly microdosed psychedelics are LSD and psilocybin (the active alkaloid in mushrooms , as well as a type of truffle).
And these things are freely available?
Certain psychedelic drugs used in microdosing are legal in some countries, and illegal in others – the legislation varies broadly from country to country.
The Netherlands is considered to be Europe’s most psychedelics-friendly country but many countries around the world are markedly less so.
Here’s a helpful list of the legal status of psilocybin mushrooms by country, and here’s a map and information on the legal status of LSD around the world. Psilocybin-containing truffles, meanwhile – which we at Human Pro work with – have escaped recent legal restrictions imposed on mushrooms and are fully legal in the Netherlands.
The history of microdosing
It is quite likely that microdosing as a practice – if not as a pop-culture term – has been around for thousands or millions of years; for example, indigenous cultures on the American continent were ingesting peyote or mescaline in ancient times, often in low doses – that’s technically microdosing.
Indeed, “Anthropological reports indicate that many traditional cultures incorporated the use of psychedelic plants such as peyote, morning glory seeds and psilocybin-containing mushrooms into many aspects of daily life”.
So why have so many people only heard about microdosing recently?
Modern microdosing has actually been in use for several decades – but largely on the quiet and on the fringes of society, due to the late 20th century’s “war on drugs” including psychedelics.
Psychedelics including LSD and psilocybin were classified as illegal class A drugs in the USA in 1970 and in the UK in 1971. In the 2 000s a resurgence in microdosing began to emerge among individuals engaged in highly creative or innovative work, very cerebral work; and individuals who were open to experimenting with new things – Silicon Valley, in the USA, for example.
Fadiman and Ferriss: microdosing envoys
The origins of today’s widening awareness of “mainstream” psychedelic microdosing are widely attributed to American psychologist and writer James Fadiman’s 2011 book
“The psychedelics explorer guide”.
Dr. Fadiman’s initial interest in microdosing was preceded in turn by the earlier experiments and studies of Dr. Albert Hoffman (January 1906 – April 2008), the inventor of LSD, who practiced microdosing and strongly believed in the positive effects of lightly-ingested psychedelics, while decrying those who abused substances like LSD (could one call that macro-dosing?). Yet, certainly, it was Fadiman’s book which helped to bring microdosing into the wider societal conversation of our time.
So too, did the work of Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller, “The 4-Hour Workweek”, who is very active in the advancement of psychedelic medicine and has been a committed driver of investment behind advanced research at, for example, Johns Hopkins.
Additionally, the growing dialogue around marijuana legalization, curiosity from the media and the prevalence of social media and chat forums in recent years have all boosted microdosing into becoming a fast-growing trend.
Why do people microdose?
There will be a plethora of granular-level double-blind studies on microdosing in the years to come, but the science of microdosing and why people do it is still relatively nascent. However, as Dr. Fadiman outlines in this stage presentation, people have reported back that they choose to microdose for a variety of reasons. He mentions people who microdose to relieve anxiety; to feel more relaxed in social situations; to fuel their creativity – be it technological or artistic; to enjoy learning to a greater degree, and to focus better while doing so – even to improve their stuttering.
Now here’s something intriguing.
Some microdosers have found that microdosing actually helps to decrease their reliance on addictive habits like cigarettes or alcohol.
Arguably, microdosing is a much safer habit than these more traditional ones – and psilocybin – which we use in Human Pro – is not considered to be an addictive substance. A number of people who have struggled with alcohol dependence report that microdosing literally changed their life – have a look at this John Hopkins study.
Breaking down the benefits of microdosing
Let’s dive a bit more deeper in the reported benefits of microdosing.
In recent studies, this was one of the three most-commonly cited reasons for microdosing, along with better focus and creativity. This study reported “a slight rebound in feelings of focus and productivity two days after dosing”.
Also, after six weeks of microdosing, “participants reported lower levels of depression and stress”. Ayelet Waldman, in her memoir A Really Good Day, writes “for the first time in so long, I feel happy. Not giddy or out of control, just at ease with myself and the world. When I think about my husband and my children, I feel a gentle sense of love and security. I am not anxious for them or annoyed with them. When I think of my work, I feel optimistic, brimming with ideas, yet not spilling over. There’s nothing hypomanic about this mood. My mind is not racing. I feel calm and content “.
May, a 64-year-old psychotherapist in Marin County, USA, says “For me, it’s just clarity. It’s like how you would feel if you had a really good, deep rest, and then woke up and were able to focus very clearly.”
If you watched Fadiman’s presentation, above, you’ll have heard that one user chose microdosing to help them concentrate better in their classes. It may be that the potential benefit of microdosing to reduce anxiety could contribute to improving focus because the latter becomes more difficult when anxiety is heightened.
Any other personal experiences in this aspect?
Yes, for example, Bernard Woods writes: “At one point during my first session, I looked up and realized I’d been totally engrossed in my work with no real awareness of anything else for an hour … I found myself more deeply absorbed in that zone we all hope to be in where the doer and the deed dissolve together into the pleasure of pure work.” Karen Geier, meanwhile, reports that “Dose two was the miracle dose for me. I took it and within an hour felt intense motivation. I spent six hours doing all the chores around the house that I had been putting off for weeks.“
During a microdosing event organized by the Dutch Psychedelic Society, the effects of psychedelic truffles (containing psilocybin) were measured on two creativity-related problem-solving tasks, one assessing convergent thinking and the other assessing divergent thinking.
The results? “both convergent and divergent thinking performance was improved after a non-blinded microdose, whereas fluid intelligence was unaffected.”
The research, driven by Luisa Prochazkova of Leiden University, and published in the Psychopharmacology journal, studied the cognitive effects of microdosing psilocybin and found that “participants also had more ideas about how to solve a presented task, and were more fluent, flexible and original in the possibilities they came up with.”
As a side note, Prochazkova mused after the study, “microdosing could be further investigated for its therapeutic efficacy to help individuals who suffer from rigid thought patterns or behavior, such as individuals with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder” – the latter being very much a condition of the author of this article.
Many microdosers have said that microdosing helps them live a healthier lifestyle – more enjoyment of exercise, better dietary habits, less reliance on other substances or habits, like alcohol.
After years of struggling with alcohol dependence Karen Shaw started microdosing psilocybin. She began in line with a pattern recommended by James Fadiman, taking a sub-perceptible dose of psilocybin mushrooms twice-weekly over six weeks. What she discovered, in time, was that “I started drinking less. I’ve not stopped. I might have a glass of wine, or some cannabis, a joint after work. But I don’t drink to excess. I don’t like getting drunk anymore. It’s not something I enjoy.”
And for the two-boxes-a-day people?
Although more research is needed, studies have also shown that microdosing can help longtime smokers kick the habit. Along with alcohol dependence, John Hopkins has been looking into this possibility with volunteers. A recent study published by Plus One noted “a perception of microdosing as a general panacea that is able to improve virtually all aspects of an individual’s life”. All 98 participants expected their benefits to be “large and wide-ranging”.
O.K., so again, research into the many possible benefits of microdosing is nascent – often we must go by individuals’ blogs, rather than ‘hard science’ (whose findings take time to be tested, reviewed and accepted) – but Dutch graphic designer Dennis van der Meijden – and by most accounts, the Netherlands appears to be the world leader in terms of individuals trialing and reporting back to their online followers on microdosing – has this to say about energy: microdosing makes him energetic enough to skip coffee – “as if I’m kicked in some sort of orbit for that day”.
That could be a help at the gym.
Well, Ross Stevenson, on Medium, has this to say about his workouts: “I’m able to workout smarter in a shorter time frame; I have more energy in my day to day and don’t feel like I’m as broken as usual; My conditioning and muscle mass has improved not diminished; I’m actually excited and look forward to my workouts more than ever. My sessions have become more like a physical meditation which allows me to calm my mind and body.” Here’s an ongoing discussion about microdosing for better workouts.
Better social skills
What has been your experience of social anxiety/social phobia? Have you ever had intense feelings of anxiety, fear, and discomfort in social settings? It can be a crippling experience for those who find themselves agonizing about going or not going to weddings, lunches with friends or meetings with colleagues (even on Zoom) – or agonizing over “how it went” afterward, if they did brave the occasion in question.
Until now professional therapy, in tandem with prescribed antidepressants containing SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) has mostly been used to help individuals with serious anxiety conditions.
You may well know people who try to destress with alcohol.
Millions of people around the world rely on alcohol to quell their social anxiety but microdosing psychedelics is arguably a healthier and less addictive option. Globally, every year, 3 million people die as a result of alcohol abuse.
On the other hand, the potential of psychedelics to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses has been the focus of specialists including psychologist William Richards for over half a century, and his feeling is that these substances are “ not toxic. They’re not addictive … And they can be profoundly helpful.”
It’s all about the serotonin
As wholecelium.com reports, a Swiss study put participants who had microdosed psilocybin into a game involving selective participation and exclusion and found that “the psilocybin was blocking the process of social anxiety as well as increasing serotonin levels” (low levels of serotonin in the brain have been known to cause depression or anxiety).
Psychedelics of various sorts including psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA have been used in the “hippie” or counter-culture for decades but today their potential effects on anxiety and depression are being studied at reputed institutions.
Reduced symptoms during period for women
A number of women who have had difficult periods report that their periods are now normal. We got a note from a woman in her 20s who said that during the month she microdosed, her periods, which are usually extraordinarily difficult and painful, were now normal.
Other potential benefits of microdosing
The potential of the substance psilocybin to help cancer patients is receiving ongoing scrutiny. A study was run on its effects in cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses, who were understandably going through depression and/or anxiety.
The randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial investigated the effects of a low (placebo-like) dose vs a significantly higher dose. The research showed that the latter resulted in the “decrease of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety.”
Other research, meanwhile, showed that cancer patients who were treated with just a single dose of psilocybin, combined with psychotherapy, showed improvement in levels of emotional and existential distress nearly five years after receiving the therapy.
Microdosing Pro has found that more of its customers are women than men. What are the possible reasons for this?
As reported on The Cut, here’s an insight from Dr. Fadiman:
“A number of women who have had difficult periods report that their periods are now normal. We got a note from a woman in her 20s who said that during the month she microdosed, her periods, which are usually extraordinarily difficult and painful, were now normal.” Many people think women are more inclined than men to pursue a healthier lifestyle, meaning they could look to microdosing to help with their exercise routine, or to help them quit unhealthy addictions. Women are also known to have higher empathy levels than men, and the possible benefit of microdosing to improve interpersonal relationships should not be overlooked.
Janet Chang, again: “I became more tolerant and compassionate towards people. I would chat with convenience store owners, give smiles to strangers walking down the street, and once had a 4-hour conversation with my coffee shop baristas while I waited in an airport.” And later she writes, “Over the years I microdosed, I became a more empathetic, compassionate, and affectionate person. I began to live with more acceptance, gratitude, and presence of mind.”
Which substances do people microdose?
Now that we are aware of the benefits of microdosing, let’s dive a bit deeper into the various substances that are being used for microdosing.
Psilocybin or “magic” truffles have become increasingly popular since 2008 when the Netherlands outlawed psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms – but somehow not psilocybin truffles.
The truffles are hard nodules called sclerotia that form on the magic mushrooms’ mycelia; think of them as underground extensions of the mushroom, which are hard and dense and have much less moisture content than the stems and caps you see above ground.
That kind or truffle belongs to the genus Tuber. Meanwhile “magic” truffles are storage spaces for nutrition for the magic mushrooms during difficult growing conditions. They contain the same psychoactive compounds responsible for inducing a psychedelic effect, just as “magic” mushrooms do, but with less powerful potency than the stems and caps (note: people debate whether this is indeed true).
The effects of responsibly microdosing psilocybin truffles can include heightened senses, increased focus, mood changes, amplified creativity and more energy and motivation.
There are more than 180 species of mushrooms containing psilocybin or the derivative psilocin, and, as mentioned, earlier, many have been used by indigenous cultures in their spiritual and religious rituals since ancient times.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic compound first isolated in 1958 by Albert Hofmann. The mushrooms containing psilocybin look a lot like ordinary mushrooms with their long, slender whitish-gray stems and dark-brown caps.
A word of caution: It is slightly possible to confuse magic mushrooms with some toxic types of mushrooms, although most of these look quite different. One type, called Pholiotina rugosa, does look a bit like the magic mushroom – although it has a tell-tale ring around the middle of the stem; psilocybin mushrooms do not. The effects of taking too much psilocybin can include disorientation, lethargy, giddiness, and severe anxiety.
LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a mind-altering psychedelic drug that is manufactured from lysergic acid found in the ergot fungus growing on rye or other grains. In its pure form, LSD is clear or white in color, has no smell, and is crystalline.
Often just called “acid”, it is usually sold in the form of small tablets, capsules, or squares. The psychological effects of an “acid trip” usually begin within half an hour and can last for up to 12 hours.
A worrying factor about LSD is that these trips can be either very “good” or very “bad”- ranging from euphoric to nightmarish. LSD users have been known to develop long-lasting psychoses or depression. Albert Hoffman was the first person to make LSD in 1938 – but he only discovered its hallucinogenic properties in 1943.
Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is a naturally occurring psychedelic protoalkaloid found in certain succulents – the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi), Peruvian torch (Echinopsis peruviana) and others.
Peyote has been used for nearly 6 000 years by Native Americans. Mescaline was identified in 1897 by German chemist Arthur Heffter and first synthesized in 1918 by Ernst Späth. The effects of ingesting mescaline can include altered consciousness, a perceived slowing of time, dilated pupils, and dream-like states.
Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) is a rainforest shrub native to West Africa, Apocynaceae. In the Central West African rainforest, iboga has been used in healing rituals and traditional practices for thousands of years. It was first discovered by the region’s pygmies or forest people. The primary use of Iboga is to treat addiction to opiates and other highly-addictive drugs.
The effects of iboga, including the sensations of having a “waking dream”, can last for many hours. Iboga is very potent, however, when it is microdosed, the effects are far gentler and include phases of introspection and heightened mental activity. The Netherlands does not prohibit Iboga.
Cannabis – also called hemp, marijuana, MJ, ganga, dagga, and hash among a host of other traditional and slang names – is the generic term used to refer to various psychoactive preparations of the plant Cannabis sativa.
The active ingredient in cannabis is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). According to the World Health Organisation, half of all drug seizures worldwide are cannabis seizures and about 147 million people – 2.5% of the world population – consume cannabis. The most common way to ingest cannabis is by drying and smoking the leaves of the Sativa plant; but it can also come in powdered form, as tea, as oil or as a tincture.
Cannabis must be fairly harmless if it’s so widely used?
Well, the effects of having too much cannabis can include intense anxiety, paranoia, impaired judgment, shaking, and chest pains. Then there are the laboratory-cultivated synthetic cannabinoids – called X, Spice, Devil’s Weed, and many other names – which can have powerful and unpredictable effects, both physiological and psychological.
However, when microdosed, naturally-grown cannabis is effective in alleviating certain types of medical pain, reducing anxiety, and increasing focus. Think of it as a “relaxed, yet focused high”.
In the Netherlands, medical marijuana use is legal with a prescription from a physician. Recreational use of cannabis is not currently legal, contrary to what many people think, although that status is not aggressively enforced in many places. Cannabis use goes back to at least the third millennium BC, but probably even further. In the medical field, in textile manufacturing, in cooking, the widespread possible applications of cannabis continue to be discussed and explored around the world..
Considered the world’s most powerful psychedelic, DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a crystalline powder sourced from plants found in Asia and middle and south America. It is sometimes inhaled, but can also be mixed into brews such as Ayahuasca.
Some of the serious effects of DMT ingestion can include hallucinations, nausea, anxiety – even muscle rigidity, migraine headaches, seizures, irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness and death. The effects of microdosing DMT have been explored in rats, with the research showing that DMT, when given to rats at low doses, improved their depression and anxiety score.
But I’m a human…
Matthew Korfhage writes that, when, microdosing DMT, “ the effects were both mild and pleasant, euphoric without attendant spaciness, an open window on a slightly more beautiful and less threatening world. I felt, primarily, interest – a proactive curiosity that is the polar opposite of depressed apathy.”
4-acetoxy-DMT also called 4-AcO-DMT, O-acetylpsilocin, psilacetin, or “synthetic mushrooms”, is a semi-synthetic chemical closely related to the compounds found in magic mushrooms – psilocybin and psilocin.
It was first synthesized in the1960s by Albert Hofmann. It was patented but largely disappeared from the annals of psychedelic experimentation, until the rave culture of the 1990s, when it re-emerged.
By all accounts, the effects of 4-AcO-DMT appear to mimic the effects of psilocybin. When microdosed, such effects reportedly include increased empathy and sociability, enhanced mood, more motivation and energy, and increased mental clarity and focus.
Having a schedule is important because it is not recommended to microdose every day, or continuously. For one thing, the effects of a microdose can last for two or three days – “the afterglow” – making it unnecessary to microdose every day.
Doing so could also result in a build-up in tolerance to the substance being microdosed, making it become less effective. Finally, it’s good to be able to objectively compare how you feel on “on” days (the day you microdose) as opposed to “off” days (the third day of the cycle, before your next “on” day.
Developed, of course, by James Fadiman, this protocol was initially developed for research purposes and is now widely followed by the microdosing community. In this protocol or approach, people microdose once every three days over the course of a month. The protocol suggests taking smaller microdoses initially in the first two weeks, then increasing the dose in the next couple of weeks.
Is there any special time of day for microdosing?
Fadiman advises taking each microdose before 10 a.m – “Taking it later may make it harder to fall asleep.” After the month, people can continue to microdose periodically instead of habitually, on an “as-needed” basis – for example, when seeking to reduce anxiety or increase focus in the run-up to a big exam.
Paul Stamets is one of the most reputed mycologists in the world. He has written six books on mushrooms, delivered an eye-opening TED talk, and created a different protocol from Fadiman’s advising a dosing protocol of five days on, two days off; again so as not to build up a tolerance.
Stamets’ Protocol revolves around a specific blend of substances which he developed – niacin, lion’s mane mushroom, and psilocybin. Stamets calls this “the stacking formula for epigenetic neurogenesis”.
It should be mentioned that neither Stamets’ nor Fadiman’s protocol is immovable – microdosing affects different people in different ways and, ultimately, a microdoser should figure out what kind of microdosing pattern works best for them, based on ongoing observation.
The best intention to take with these protocols is primarily to avoid the scenario of microdosing too often, which is both unnecessary and contradictory to the very nature of microdosing. It’s also important not to have too much, per individual dose.
In general, each microdose is just 1/10 to 1/20 of a “normal” dose or 10 to 20 micrograms. Wired has some usual figures here. Always seek out advice on dosage amounts if you are not sure how much to ingest.
The bottom line: listen to your body
It’s worthwhile following a protocol such as Fadiman’s or Stamets’, but you also need to monitor your body’s reactions to the microdosing and make adjustments accordingly.
As Dr. Jingshu Zhu related to microdosing.nl, “I first followed Dr. James Fadiman’s suggestion … However, as my body is quite small (50kg, 158 cm) and very sensitive, my sweet spot was lower than average (less than 0.1g dried truffles, or 0.3g fresh ones), and the 2-day gap was sometimes too short for me. It’s very important to listen to your body and customize the dosage and frequency accordingly.”
What tools do you need to microdose?
You will need a sensitive scale, able to measure out small gram- and microgram-level amounts of substances.
You need a small grinder, like a coffee grinder; you can also use a mortar and pestle. The grinder is used to grind the substance – for example, truffles, into a powdery form. This can be mixed into a drink, such as a smoothie, and ingested that way. Or, gel capsules are popular:
Available from Amazon, these are empty gelatine capsules into which you can deposit the powdered psychedelic. ingesting the substance in this way means not having to taste it – psilocybin mushrooms, for instance, have a very earthy taste.
What are the risks of microdosing?
According to healthline.com, a person should not microdose if:
- They are caring for children
- They have a preexisting mental health condition, such as schizophrenia or severe anxiety.
- They are on the autism spectrum.
- They are colorblind.
- They have experienced trauma.
- They are feeling generally unwell.
On our own website, we stipulate: Do not use this product or other mind-altering products in the following cases; if you are pregnant, troubled, or predisposed to psychoses or other mental disorders, if you are depressed or if you have used drugs, medicines, or alcohol. Truffles are only intended for persons aged 18 years and older.
Can you become addicted to microdosing?
As emphasised by Addiction Centre, “while hallucinogens typically don’t produce severe symptoms of physiological addiction, it is very possible to become psychologically (i.e. mentally) addicted to any drug of abuse.” What this means is that, before considering microdosing, you should consider whether you have the type of personality to become mentally addicted to microdosing, or not.
The bottom line to remember is that microdosing is not for everybody – and the long-term effects of microdosing remain unclear pending further sustained research.
As Erica Avey writes in Why I quit microdosing LSD, “Microdosing became my band-aid treatment for not only low moods but also any time I craved a lift. If I felt a little sad, I’d microdose. If I had something to write, I’d microdose. If I was going on a hike, I’d microdose. As soon as my supply was dwindling, I’d get more.”
She later stopped microdosing – “In the summer of 2019, after two years of dosing, my final few microdoses shot me into extreme anxiety and unease. I haven’t microdosed since. It could be that I needed to lower my usual 15 microgram dose, as Korb said many people do over time, but I’m glad I moved on and now have a better understanding of my relationship to microdosing.”
Some of the possible negative effects of microdosing our listed below – again, microdosing different substances will affect different people in different ways – but remember, the point of microdosing is to minimize the negative effects and maximize the positive effects of ingesting psychedelics – if using Human Pro psilocybin truffles responsibly, and if you are sound in mind and body, we believe you should only experience the latter.
- Impaired focus
- Increased anxiety
- Impaired energy
- Impaired mood
- Social interference – obstructing, hampering or undermining the experiences of those around you.
- Cognitive interference – for example poor concentration, difficulty with memory, irritability, restlessness.
Is microdosing legal?
Although we have discussed the broader culture of microdosing in this article, at Human Pro we specifically advocate only the responsible use of psilocybin-containing truffles for microdosing, where it is within the law.
Around the world, varying legal restrictions apply to psilocybin and the other psychedelic substances mentioned in this article, in different countries. Before you consider ingesting or microdosing any type of psychedelic substance, first research its legal status online for your locality.
This is a good Wikipedia overview on psychedelics and their legal status in the Netherlands. Should you need further help clarifying legal status, reach out to us for advice, or contact your local authority.