Despite their classification as a Schedule 1 illegal drug, psychedelics are inching their way back into the spotlight as a potential therapeutic drug. With every new study, it looks like we threw out the baby with the bathwater: lumping psychedelics in a category of harmful drugs without acknowledging their therapeutic potential. Today we explore the history of psychedelics and the therapeutic benefits of microdosing psilocybin and LSD.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
What is Microdosing?
Microdosing involves taking very small doses of psychedelic substances like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or psilocybin-containing mushrooms. The amounts are generally one-20th to one-tenth of a normal recreational amount, which is meant to stay ‘sub-perceptual, meaning it doesn’t induce any visual or auditory hallucinations 1.
Technically any substance can be micro-dosed, but the two most common psychedelics are psilocybin mushrooms and LSD.
Psilocybin Mushrooms VS. LSD
The two most common psychedelics to microdose are mushrooms and LSD. Both generate very similar effects, even though mushrooms grow wild, and LSD is made synthetically in a lab.
Psilocybe Cubensis is the umbrella term for over 100 varieties of mushroom species that contain psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactive properties inside these hallucinogenic mushrooms. Although classified as hallucinogens, the effects of consuming such mushrooms vary wildly depending on the individual and the situation that they take them in 2.
Unlike LSD, Psilocybin mushrooms grow wild in different climates across the world. Although they can be grown indoors under artificial conditions, many species do not make it in artificial environments because many variables come into play when growing these hallucinogens 3.
Dr. Albert Hoffman is responsible for synthesizing LSD for the first time in his lab in Switzerland in 1938 4. He made the hallucinogen by accident when trying to create a blood stimulant. The hallucinogenic properties of LSD were not discovered until five years later when Hoffman accidentally consumed some. By then, the lab had distributed LSD worldwide for others to study how the substance may have clinical relevance in other areas.
Dr. Hoffman also discovered psilocybin, the psychoactive property in mushrooms, in 1958 5.
The History of Using Psychedelics for Therapeutic Benefits
Psychedelics were studied in the top universities across the country in the 1950s and 1960s. They made significant headway in oncology and psychiatry until President Nixon declared war on essentially all drugs in the early 1970s 7.
By signing all hallucinogens as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act in 1971, Nixon effectively categorized all psychedelics as having a high potential for abuse with no medical use 8. This dried up all federal funding and put an end to the study of psychedelics in a formal university setting.
Despite remaining federally illegal to this day, psychedelics are making a comeback. Without government funding, various non-profits are raising money to study the potential therapeutic benefit of hallucinogenic drugs 9. As a result, the ball is rolling on changing the mainstream narrative of these substances, as study after study begins to demonstrate that indeed psychedelics are proving to have various therapeutic benefits in clinical settings-- something that has been said anecdotally for a long time.
What are the Benefits of Microdosing Psychedelics?
Before the criminalization of psychedelics, university-run studies explored incredibly diverse fields, including; health, creativity, and religion. The Harvard Psilocybin Project is one example of a two-year project led by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, in which they studied psychedelics in various environments.
Many of these studies were not taken very seriously at the time since Leary and Alpert were also consuming copious amounts of psychedelics. Nevertheless, based on their own experiences and reflections, Alpert and Leary claimed that psilocybin could be the solution for the emotional problems of the Western man 10.
As we emerge into a new paradigm regarding psychedelics, the studies are conducted much more rigorously and under strict protocols. However, scientists are up against classifications that condemn psychedelics to have no therapeutic purpose, so undoing this narrative is being taken very seriously.
Although illegal, many individuals have been microdosing hallucinogens anyway, so there is a large body of anecdotal evidence. The most common self-reported benefits include improved mood, better eating and sleeping habits, and less need for caffeine. Reports also suggest that the current generation uses less alcohol and recreational drugs in favor of ‘smart drugs,’ used to enhance their mood, productivity, and goals 11.
Scientifically, the research backs these claims up, both in LSD and psilocybin studies. For example, a 2019 placebo-controlled study on microdosing of LSD highlights its ability to improve mood, cognitive functions, and tolerance to pain 12.
Microdosing LSD is also associated with general brain and cognitive health due to promoting neural plasticity and development 13. This has profound therapeutic implications since those who suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder tend to have impaired neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Trauma causes brain cells to be less adaptable and grow more slowly. But whether or not you’ve experienced trauma, neuroplasticity is highly beneficial to maintaining cognitive wellbeing into old age.
Studies on microdosing LSD have shown great success in treating drug-resistant depression and other previously untreatable psychiatric disorders, which offers new hope for those who have not had success with conventional drugs or for those who may be interested in solutions with fewer side effects 14.
Psychedelics are also found to be beneficial cognitively due to their ability to increase the number of dendritic spines on cortical neurons, doubling their density in some cases. These spines form are an important site of molecular activity in the brain and are linked to higher cognition 13.
The therapeutic benefits of psilocybin parallel that of LSD in most ways. Like LSD, studies on psilocybin have yielded the reversal of PTSD symptoms by effectively diffusing the charge of negative emotions associated with the traumatic memories 15.
Studies on microdosing psilocybin have also demonstrated their therapeutic power in managing stress for those in life-threatening illnesses, including reducing anxiety and depression amongst cancer patients 16.
When psilocybin reaches the brain, it decreases the brain activity associated with the medial prefrontal and the posterior cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex is associated with obsessive thinking and is usually overactive in people with depression. Therefore, one of the mechanisms of antidepressants is actually to stifle its activity 17.
A microdosing protocol cycles through dose days and non-dose days because the human body develops a very rapid tolerance 18. No tolerance builds by having an ‘on’ day followed by multiple ‘off’ days, and the dose can remain constant and sub-perceptual.
Although there are varying microdosing protocols available, one of the most widely accepted was created by Dr. James Fadiman. His protocol involves dosing every three days, so one day on, two days off, one day on, etc.
Dr. Fadiman shares that a microdose consists of about one-tenth of a recreational dose, usually from 10-20 micrograms of dried psilocybin mushrooms or LSD. That’s 0.1- 0.2 grams, and the sweet spot is up to the individual, knowing that the goal is to avoid any auditory or visual hallucinations 18.
Precautions with Microdosing Psychedelics
Although the current studies on microdosing psychedelics suggest they are generally safe, precautions exist for those who have bipolar or psychosis history since there is the possibility of overstimulation. There is also a ‘grey zone’ in people with pre-existing anxiety, which may aggravate the problem 18.
It is important to note that psychedelic drugs are still considered a Schedule 1 illegal drug in the USA at the federal level. Various states have decriminalized them, and certain states like Oregon have even legalized them for therapeutic use, but on a national level, they remain illegal 19. As studies continue to explore and highlight the benefits of psychedelics, only time will tell if decriminalization on the federal level will follow.
The study of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes was occurring across the country until the 1970s war on drugs turned all hallucinogens into a Schedule 1 offense drug. Although the benefits have been spoken of anecdotal for a long time, a resurgence in the study of psychedelics has begun to confirm what people have been sharing for a long time. Microdosing is the act of taking a sub-perceptual dose of a psychedelic drug to reap the benefits without the high.
Studies show that both LSD and psilocybin mushrooms have a powerful impact on boosting cognitive function, mood, and pain tolerance in humans. The studies that explore their potential on neuroplasticity are in their infancy stage but show great promise. Without government support, most of these studies are being funded by private non-government organizations hoping that the taboo of psychedelics may shift and that individuals may use hallucinogens legally one day in a therapeutic setting.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Revelation Health. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Revelation Health and associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Revelation Health encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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