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A new trend in substance abuse has taken hold of creative professionals and entrepreneurs, especially in Silicon Valley: microdosing LSD, MDMA, and more. Reportedly, taking a fraction of what is considered a recreational dose of these drugs can improve mood, physical and mental stimulation, and – most importantly to those who practice microdosing – creative thinking. However, microdosing may also be dangerous, especially when it is unregulated or unsupervised.
Taking any illicit substance is very harmful, even if the drug is not considered addictive. Illicit substances are more likely to be laced with adulterants, including other potent drugs like fentanyl, ketamine, or methamphetamines.
As a new, trendy movement, microdosing is not understood very well. There are known risks associated with larger, recreational doses of the most popular drugs in the movement, but there is little information about taking low doses over a long period of time. Medical researchers can only infer the potential risks, which can include dependence, tolerance, abuse, and addiction.
Microdosing exposes the individual to consistent doses of potent drugs, which increases the risk of developing an addiction.
The most popular and talked-about drug abused in the movement is microdosing LSD. In the most common recreational doses, LSD causes altered perceptions of time, visual and auditory hallucinations, expanded consciousness, and paranoia. However, microdosing LSD is not intended to cause these hours-long hallucinatory experiences. Instead, a dose of 10-20 micrograms, once every four days, is alleged to heighten alertness, creativity, physical and emotional energy, and a sense of overall wellbeing.
Even though many people in high-stress workplaces are trying LSD in microdoses, this practice has no scientific backing. Anecdotal evidence, including some reports of the benefits over years of microdosing LSD, suggest that it works, but there are very few scientific studies to back this up. Other studies into LSD and other psychedelic drugs suggest that they decrease creativity by reducing activity in specific areas of the brain once the high wears off.
Microdosing LSD also fails to address potential risks with consistently taking a potent drug, including the feeling that one’s stability or wellbeing rely on consuming the substance, or chronic side effects like flashbacks or psychosis.
LSD is not considered addictive, but people who have environmental stress, genetic risk, untreated mood disorders, and other underlying conditions may be more prone to abusing drugs. In small, controlled studies, a combination of therapy and microdoses of LSD slightly improved symptoms of anxiety in some trial participants. However, too much of this drug can induce psychosis, making mood disorders worse and potentially triggering schizophrenia or psychotic disorders in those prone to these conditions.
Another drug popular in the microdosing movement is psilocybin, also called magic mushrooms or shrooms. The reported benefits of microdosing mushrooms are like those of LSD, including boosted creativity, elevated mood, and improved physical energy. Psychedelics, especially mushrooms or psilocybin, have been associated with relief from cluster headaches, an insidious form of chronic pain that is not well understood and does not yet have a good medical treatment.
Mescaline, the chemical in the peyote cactus, is also microdosed for the same reasons; however, this process, too, is little understood. Mescaline and psilocybin have been shown in small, pilot studies to improve mood disorders like anxiety and depression, but without larger studies lasting longer, it is hard to know for sure if these drugs can become potential treatments or if they will contribute to a new epidemic of substance abuse problems. The Global Drug Survey (GDS) conducted a mini-survey in 2016, which was answered by 12,300 people. Of those, 6.2 percent reported that they had microdosed LSD, between 10 and 30 micrograms, at least once in their lifetime. Of those, two-thirds reported that they guessed at how much a microdose would be for them.
Other people seeking increased energy, emotional openness, and relief from mood disorders are beginning to microdose MDMA, also called Molly or ecstasy. Like microdosing psychedelics, there is very little scientific evidence that microdosing MDMA has a positive impact. Some small studies suggest that very small doses of MDMA, coupled with psychotherapy, can alleviate symptoms from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression.
However, like other drugs abused in the microdosing movement, MDMA’s benefits are largely anecdotal. Mixed reports gathered from online forums show a range of effects, typically either very positive or very negative. Since MDMA is an amphetamine drug, unlike LSD or mescaline, it has been shown to be addictive, so taking small doses is risky.
MDMA can also harm people who have underlying heart conditions because it increases heart rate and blood pressure. Recreational doses of MDMA have been known to lead to physical harm caused by dehydration, hyperthermia, and high blood pressure.
While microdosing as a career performance enhancer is a fairly new concept, microdosing drugs to understand their effects on their brain has been an important part of medical research for years. Additionally, the creators of the microdosing movement have been engaging in this practice since the 1960s, so the concept of microdosing for improved brain function is at least several decades old.
In drug trials, microdosing involves such a low dose of a potential drug that it is not considered pharmacologically active; in other words, it should not cause any effects because it is a fraction of the standard therapeutic or recreational dose. Any observed effects from the microdose of the medication can improve how the substance is understood to interact in human subjects without risking serious harm from larger doses.
However, people without any medical training are taking microdosing into their own hands. Much of the reported consumption of potent drugs popular in the microdosing movement involves guesswork at what a “microdose” actually is, although popular literature attached to the cultural movement suggests 10 micrograms every third or fourth day, depending on the drug. Even with small doses of intoxicating substances, though, a person may develop a tolerance to these substances rapidly, leading them to increase their dose until it is a standard recreational dose or more. This practice is dangerous, and it will lead to substance abuse problems.