Although a large volume of anecdotal reports have been published over the last few years affirming the value of LSD microdosing, there has been very little scientific or empirical study on this compelling phenomenon. A fascinating new study from scientists at the University of Chicago is offering the very first placebo-controlled clinical research testing the mood-altering, physiological and behavioral effects of LSD microdoses.
The idea behind psychedelic microdosing is that tiny sub-perceptual doses of drugs, such as LSD, can confer enhancements to productivity, creativity, mental well-being and energy. These doses must be so small that the user feels no acute hallucinogenic effects, and microdosers generally take one dose every three or four days.
Although the phenomenon tracks back at least a decade in some psychedelic circles, the trend was popularized in 2015 following an influential Rolling Stone article that revealed microdosing was rife amongst young Silicon Valley professionals. Although many purport microdosing to be effective there have been literally no human trials establishing whether this is a real phenomenon or a glorified placebo effect.
This newly published study, from a team at the University of Chicago, set out to fill some gaps in scientific knowledge through the very first trial into the effects of small LSD doses in double-blind, placebo-controlled conditions. Twenty subjects were recruited, and each received one blind LSD dose a week, for four weeks.
Across the study four different dosages were administered: a placebo, 6.5, 13, or 26 micrograms (ug) - a general hallucinogenic LSD dose is around 100 to 200 micrograms. Each LSD session took place under controlled conditions with the subject remaining under observation for eight hours and completing a variety of different physiological, behavioral and cognitive tests across each dose day.
Physiologically the 26 ug dose showed increases in blood pressure, while lower doses resulted in only minor blood pressure changes. None of the doses affected body temperature or heart rate. Subjective responses from the trial suggest 26 ug produces notable drug-like sensations, implying it may be too high a dose for an ideal imperceptible microdose.
Perhaps, most interestingly, the study found all three volumes of microdoses exerted very little effect over mood and cognition. Across a number of different cognitive measures no cognitive improvements were identified when comparing the microdose sessions to the placebo. The only statistically significant change generated from the LSD microdose was an increase in the number of attempts on a creative task.
Curiously, the LSD microdoses seemed to decrease positivity ratings of positive images. This means the LSD microdoses strangely reduced the subjects positive response to images generally considered positive.
The researchers are aware of the study's clear limitations, particularly when trying to relate these results to the many positive anecdotal microdosing reports. One varying microdose every seven days does not effectively compare to a potential cumulative benefit from longer-term microdosing, and the study explicitly suggests this continuous dosing strategy should be investigated.
"The effects of low doses of LSD should be investigated when the drug is administered repeatedly, and in individuals who report negative affect," the researchers write in the study. "Individuals who report microdosing in their everyday lives take the drug every 3-5 days, and it is possible that the beneficial effects emerge only after repeated administration. This could be because of subtle pharmacokinetic accumulation of the drug, or it could be because of pharmacodynamic neural adaptations that occur over days."
The biggest, and most valuable, takeaway from this novel clinical study is the conclusion that 13 ug may be the most optimal dose for future microdosing experiments. It is noted as the highest dose recommended for regular administration without producing subjective or physiological effects that would interfere with normal day-to-day functioning.
In the end, the researchers conclude the LSD microdoses did not affect the majority of mood, cognition and physiological measures that were examined. However, it is also noted this is not at all a final determination on the ultimate veracity of LSD microdosing, either as a cognitive booster, or an anti-depressant. This is merely the first step in trying to empirically understand the acute effects of this oft-reported anecdotal phenomenon.
The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
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