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Microdosing | What Is It & Is This Safe for Treatment?

Microdosing is the use of small amounts of psychedelic drugs to theoretically cause cognitive changes without the tripping associated with macrodosing. However, microdosing isn’t typically used in mental health treatment, and there is little evidence suggesting it has the benefits proponents claim it has.

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Note that Boca Recovery does not recommend microdosing on psychedelics or hallucinogens to treat any mental health condition or for any recreational purpose. Research into this type of drug use is still nascent and carries many unknowns. What research is available doesn’t suggest that microdosing is beneficial.

What Is Microdosing?

Microdosing, also called sub-perceptual dosing, is the practice of taking psychedelic drugs at a low enough dose that there is little risk of “tripping,” meaning one won’t hallucinate or disassociate.[1] 

The idea behind this practice is that it might help mood, creativity, concentration, productivity, and empathy without causing any type of extreme effect like a true psychedelic trip, where a person may effectively be incapacitated for multiple hours.[1] The dose is also low enough that a bad trip is unlikely.

What Is This Form of Treatment Used For?

The theory goes that microdosing could help improve mood and cognitive function, working in a way that is comparable to some more accepted anxiety treatments. However, this type of use isn’t accepted as a legitimate medical use of psychedelics, and the available research doesn’t seem to suggest that’s likely to change. 

Modern research seems to show that microdosing has no therapeutic effect and may harm the brain’s functioning in some areas.[2]

What Drugs Are Typically Used for Microdosing?

Claims are made regarding microdosing in most psychedelics, but psilocybin mushrooms and LSD are two of the most common drugs associated with microdosing. 

Microdosing is typically associated with very small doses of these drugs, generally starting at one-tenth the amount associated with tripping (or even less). Doses are generally measured in micrograms. 

Modern Research Around Microdosing for Treatment

Modern research shows some potential for the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.[3] While still highly experimental, psychedelic-assisted therapy has shown good results in the treatment of depressive symptoms, PTSD, and addiction in some studies.[3] 

However, the doses used in this type of treatment are not the doses typical of microdosing. A patient engaging in psychedelic-assisted therapy will typically trip. At the very least, they will be taking a high enough dose of a psychedelic that it isn’t microdosing.

Limited Evidence Behind Microdosing

Evidence around the benefits of microdosing is much more limited. Studies repeatedly fail to find meaningful benefits to microdosing. For example, a 2022 study about microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms found no benefit in the areas of “creativity (divergent and convergent thinking), cognition, physical activity levels, and self-reported measures of mental health and well-being.”[4] 

Importantly, this study was a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Neither the participants in the study nor the researchers administering either drugs or a placebo knew whether what was being given was drugs. 

This is important because one way some research in this area gets distorted is if patients know whether they’re on psychedelics or not. This can cause studies to be vulnerable to confirmatory bias, even if participants and researchers aren’t actively trying to manipulate results.[4]

Ongoing Research

At the very least, there isn’t enough evidence for microdosing that people not actively participating in expert-led research trials should attempt to microdose to improve any type of cognitive function. While studies in this area are ongoing, this also seems unlikely to change soon. 

All solid evidence on the potential benefits of psychedelic use tends to involve much higher doses of psychedelics than would be considered “microdosing,” even if the specific dosing can vary. And higher doses of psychedelics or hallucinogens come with higher risks.

What Are the Risks & Dangers of Microdosing?

In the short term, the evidence actually suggests that microdosing can negatively impact cognitive function if it causes any change at all. Moreover, it’s also been found that higher doses of serotonergic psychedelics can further affect attention and decision-making.[5] 

Anecdotal reports claim microdosing can have a variety of benefits, but it’s important to note that these users know they’re microdosing and are most likely optimistic about the potential benefits of the practice. This creates a significant expectancy bias that can manipulate results. When addressed through double-blind trials, there simply isn’t evidence that these drugs can do what is claimed through microdosing.

Whether there are more significant risks and dangers associated with microdosing is unclear. There isn’t much evidence that the small changes toward cognitive impairment last long term once a person stops microdosing, although those small changes could theoretically affect a person’s performance at work or school. The changes might also increase their risk of accidents, although to what degree hasn’t been studied. 

More Research Is Needed

The use of psychedelics in medicine is only recently being researched after decades of legislation slowdowns. There may be hidden dangers to continued psychedelic use that we don’t yet understand.

Updated January 24, 2024
Resources
  1. The popularity of microdosing of psychedelics: MD PG. What does the science say? Harvard Health. Published September 19, 2022. Accessed November 27, 2022.
  2. Study of LSD microdosing doesn’t show a therapeutic effect. Loomis I. The University of Chicago Medicine. Published February 16, 2022. Accessed November 27, 2022.
  3. Psychedelic medicine: a re-emerging therapeutic paradigm. Tupper KW, Wood E, Yensen R, Johnson MW. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2015;187(14):1054-1059.
  4. Microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Cavanna F, Muller S, de la Fuente LA, et al. Translational Psychiatry. 2022;12(1).
  5. Psychedelic Cognition—The unreached frontier of psychedelic science. Bălăet̨M. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2022;16.
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