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The Beginner's Guide to Microdosing

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

So, you have heard about microdosing and want to know more before trying it. Well, look no further; we have you covered! This brief guide will give an overview of microdosing - its history and the science behind it - and cover some typical microdosing regimes and relevant safety information.


Microdosing


Microdosing is the practice of taking very low doses of psychedelics like LSD, magic mushrooms, or ayahuasca. The idea behind microdosing is that combined with mindfulness practices, these substances can subtly help us tap into our subconscious minds and access information about ourselves and the world around us that we usually wouldn't know about. This allows us to make better decisions and live more authentic lives. To someone less familiar with the benefits of psychedelics, this may sound a bit ridiculous. So it's understandable that you would have some questions.


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A History of Microdosing


The distant history of microdosing in ancient societies is controversial, with scholars disagreeing on how common it was. We believe ancient civilizations like the Aztecs employed modest amounts of psilocybin mushrooms for various purposes.


The story of microdosing as we know it now begins with James Fadiman, Ph.D. and his 2011 book, The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys, which analyses microdosing as a subculture of psychedelic usage. Fadiman had a podcast discussion with entrepreneur and author of The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss, in 2015, which introduced microdosing to thousands of his fans and piqued the interest of mainstream media.


More people than just Ferriss noticed Fadiman's work. Ayelet Waldman, inspired by The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide, turned to microdosing to control the mood swings that were wreaking havoc on her profession and relationships. Her experiences were favorable, and they formed the basis of her 2016 book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Massive Difference in My Mood, Marriage, and Life.


Mycologist Paul Stamets has also popularized Microdosing. Stamets has dedicated his life to the study of medicinal and psychedelic fungi. His most recent patent application is for a nootropic stack (a combination of cognitive enhancers) that contains a microdose of psilocybin, Lion's Mane mushrooms, and niacin.


Now, microdosing has hundreds of thousands (or maybe even millions) of proponents worldwide. The subreddit, r/microdosing, has 216 thousand members alone!



The Science of Microdosing


The science around microdosing is in its early stages. Due to the illegality of psychedelics, researchers have conducted very few clinical trials, especially on microdosing.


Research has found that low doses of LSD, as little as five micrograms, increased the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) detected in participants' blood, with 20 micrograms producing the most significant and longest-lasting change (Hutten et al., 2020). BDNF is a protein with many functions in the brain, but it is best known for its ability to stimulate the growth of new neurons and is linked to improved cognitive performance and memory function. While previous research had established a link between psychedelics and neuroplasticity in vitro and in animal studies, this is one of the first human studies to confirm the effect of microdoses of LSD.


Everything we know, from walking and talking to playing chess or meditating, is based on our brain's ability to adapt. The fact that even small doses of psychedelics can improve this may explain why microdosing is so effective at assisting people in developing new and healthier habits, feeling more creative, and generally improving their lives.


Outside of limited examples like this, the research on microdosing has produced mixed and sometimes contradictory results. An exploratory study that used the reports of thousands of microdosers from over 59 countries found improvements in negative moods, particularly depression, and increases in positive attitudes were observed after repeated microdoses (Fadiman & Korb, 2019). In both clinical and non-clinical populations, microdosers observed increased energy, improved work effectiveness, and improved health habits.


A more recent systematic study found that microdosers experienced less depression, anxiety, and a greater ability to concentrate compared to a placebo group (Polito & Stevenson, 2019). But this same study also showed that people could often not tell whether they had received the placebo or not and that they were generally inaccurate in predicting the effects of microdosing on them. Specifically, many people predicted that microdosing would make them more creative, which was not reflected in the results.


Other research suggests people can tell if they are taking a placebo or a microdose of psychedelics, implying that the positive effects are at least partially due to people expecting to experience them (Szigeti et al., 2021). Analysis of the 2019 Global Drug Survey data suggests that while microdosers experience enhanced mood, creativity, focus, and sociability, it also found that setting an intention for microdosing did not necessarily lead to more benefits (Petranker et al., 2020).


Despite these contradictions, it is clear that people who microdose overwhelmingly experience and report positive impacts in their lives, even if science can't yet explain exactly why or how this happens.



Microdosing Regimes and Practices


The two most popular drugs used for microdosing are LSD and psilocybin mushrooms ("magic mushrooms"). Based on his research into microdosing that he has done since 2012, James Fadiman, Ph.D., has provided a basic overview of the microdosing protocol. LSD or psilocybin mushrooms can be microdosed using this method.


Dr. Fadiman's protocol calls for one day on and two days off. If the first dose is taken on Monday, the second dose should be taken on Thursday. After microdosing for 6–8 weeks, pause your protocol for at least a week to assess the impact of the experience and adjust as needed. Breaks are also important to avoid developing a tolerance to microdosing.


Dose:


Although this varies per person, a true microdose (or low dose) whose effects are sub-perceptual is roughly equal to one-tenth of a standard dose. The typical LSD dosage is 100 micrograms, making a microdose equal to 10 micrograms. A regular dose of psilocybin is 3.5 grams of dried mushrooms. So, 0.1 to 0.3 grams of mushrooms constitute a microdose. Both substances are potent enough so that figuring out an appropriate dose isn't something you can do with standard kitchen scales or visually.



Mushrooms


If you are microdosing mushrooms, you will need scales that are accurate down to 0.01 grams. Since all psilocybe mushrooms have natural variations in the amount of psilocybin they contain, you will get more consistent results if you process your dried mushrooms in an electric coffee grinder. You can measure the resulting powder into gelatin or vegan capsules, meaning that you can weigh out and store doses in advance, which is more convenient than breaking out the scales every three days. Powdered mushrooms, like whole dried ones, should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.



LSD


Measuring a microdose of LSD or similar analogs such as 1-PLSD is best achieved using volumetric dosing. This will be more accurate than trying to cut a paper tab or gelatin "window pane" dose into ten pieces. I will also be more consistent as the LSD is not always evenly dispersed on the paper blotter. Luckily, volumetric dosing is straightforward. Take your single dose of LSD, and put it into a precisely measured amount of distilled water. Leave for at least a day. Now, 1/10th of that water will equal a microdose of LSD! If you have access to a 1 mL syringe, you could do this in as little as 10 mL of water. But if you don't, scaling the amount up to 100 ml would mean you need only measure 10 ml accurately.


It is important to use distilled water as tap water will degrade the LSD. Clear liquor such as vodka or white rum also works; some feel the alcohol preserves the LSD for longer. Store your bottle of microdose-ready water in the fridge, as heat will degrade the LSD. Always make sure to label the bottle clearly to avoid accidental dosing.


Dr. Fadiman's protocol calls for one day on and two days off. If the first dose is taken on Monday, the second dose should be taken on Thursday. After microdosing for 6–8 weeks, pause your protocol for at least a week to assess the impact of the experience and adjust as needed. Breaks are also important to avoid developing a tolerance to microdosing.


Awareness:


Keep a journal to record your experiences throughout the day. On the day of your microdosing, take note of any changes in your feelings, perceptions, mood, or other characteristics. (There's actually a lot more to this that we cover in this short paragraph. It's the key to making microdosing work for you, so keep reading for more details on this vital step.)


Adjustment:


Many factors contribute to the proper dose level, including body composition, mental state, and previous experience with psychedelics. When calibrating what works for you, make small changes in the amount you take. You may find you need slightly more or less than 1/10th of a dose. This will help to improve the overall experience.



Microdosing and Mindfulness


Many people who microdose report that it helps them feel better in various ways, just by itself. In particular, microdosing can help you to be more conscious of your thoughts and emotions and generally be less judgemental of what you're doing and how you're feeling. Non-judgment—not categorizing things as good or bad—is an essential aspect of mindfulness. However, the first step is to be aware of our surroundings, thoughts, and feelings.


Measuring a microdose of LSD or similar analogs such as 1-PLSD is best achieved using volumetric dosing. This will be more accurate than trying to cut a paper tab or gelatin "window pane" dose into ten pieces. I will also be more consistent as the LSD is not always evenly dispersed on the paper blotter. Luckily, volumetric dosing is straightforward. Take your single dose of LSD, and put it into a precisely measured amount of distilled water. Leave for at least a day. Now, 1/10th of that water will equal a microdose of LSD! If you have access to a 1 mL syringe, you could do this in as little as 10 mL of water. But if you don't, scaling the amount up to 100 ml would mean you need only measure 10 ml accurately.


According to research, microdosing increases our absorption in whatever is occupying our attention and decreases how much our minds wander when concentrating. By assisting us in paying attention when we observe, microdosing can increase the depth of our conscious experience of the present moment. That is especially true when we look at microdosing through a scientific lens. Microdoses of psychedelics like LSD can improve our brain's ability to adapt by forming new connections. Many mindfulness practices induce neuroplasticity in the brain, implying a potent synergy when combined with microdosing.


This synergy is why mindfulness practices such as body scan meditations, mindful walking, or just pausing to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings can enhance the positive results of microdosing. Since psychedelics can increase our neuroplasticity (our brain's ability to grow new neural pathways), combining microdosing and mindfulness gives you the best opportunity to learn and cultivate new positive habits and behaviors.



Microdosing Safety and Legal Considerations


Microdosing is generally thought to be relatively safe. However, some essential cautions are:

  • Avoid driving or operating machinery on microdose days.

  • Have a plan for what to do if you take more than you intend to. (Don't feel bad - everyone who microdoses has done this at least once.)

  • Ensure your mushrooms are correctly identified, and your LSD has been tested.

  • While psychedelics are illegal in most places, there is a great deal of variation on which substances and what the potential penalties might be. This is especially true as decriminalization spreads across the US. We don't advise that you break the law where you are, but you should always know the legal implications of


The Beginning of a Journey


Microdosing is simple in some ways; take about 1/10th of a regular dose of a psychedelic substance once every three days. But it can be complex and involved as you work out dosages, learn what mindfulness or meditative practices work for you, and generally deal with whatever is coming up for you as part of this process. So while we've covered the basics here today, if you get into microdosing, you'll find yourself on a path of lifelong learning as you discover more about your practices and yourself.



Do you want to learn more about microdosing? Perhaps you'd like expert help developing an individualized microdosing practice that fits your aims and needs. If the answer to either question is yes, click here to learn more about the Microdosing coaching services Shelley offers.


References


Fadiman, J., & Korb, S. (2019). Might Microdosing Psychedelics Be Safe and Beneficial? An Initial Exploration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51(2), 118–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1593561


Hutten, N. R. P. W., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., Liechti, M. E., Varghese, N., Eckert, A., Feilding, A., Ramaekers, J. G., & Kuypers, K. P. C. (2020). Low Doses of LSD Acutely Increase BDNF Blood Plasma Levels in Healthy Volunteers. ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science, 4(2), 461–466. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsptsci.0c00099


Petranker, R., Anderson, T., Maier, L. J., Barratt, M. J., Ferris, J. A., & Winstock, A. R. (2020). Microdosing psychedelics: Subjective benefits and challenges, substance testing behavior, and the relevance of intention. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 36(1), 85–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120953994


Polito, V., & Stevenson, R. J. (2019). A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics. PLOS ONE, 14(2), e0211023. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211023


Szigeti, B., Kartner, L., Blemings, A., Rosas, F., Feilding, A., Nutt, D. J., Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Erritzoe, D. (2021). Self-blinding citizen science to explore psychedelic microdosing. eLife, 10. https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.62878



 

About the Author

Samuel Douglas, Ph.D. is a writer, philosopher, and drug law reform activist. Drawing on his academic background and lived experience, Samuel writes about current events in psychedelics and what they might mean for therapy, society, and the ordinary person just trying to make sense of it all. In 2021, he founded Psychedelic Overground, a business dedicated to providing psychedelic content and copywriting services that are authentic, accurate, and ethical. When not writing, teaching, or volunteering with the Australian Psychedelic Society, Samuel likes to garden and spoil his cat.



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