Microdosing as a response to the meaning crisis: a qualitative analysis
Background: The use of psychedelic substances like LSD and magic mushrooms in research and to treat mental health conditions has been increasing in the last decade. In particular, the practice of microdosing – using sub-hallucinogenic amounts of psychedelics – has been increasing (Anderson et al., 2019), but large-scale systemic qualitative analyses are still scant.
Aims: This study attempted to recognize emergent themes in qualitative reports regarding the experience of microdosing so as to enrich the theoretical landscape in psychedelics research and propose future research directions for both basic and clinical research.
Methods: This study used qualitative analysis to analyze free-text responses from individuals who participated in an online survey disseminated on various social media platforms. Participants had reported microdosing at least once in the past year.
Results: Data from 118 informative responses suggested four main emergent themes: reasons for microdosing, the practice of microdosing, outcomes linked to microdosing, and meta-commentary about microdosing. Participants mostly reported microdosing for clinical reasons and to improve productivity, and mentioned that the practice is often challenging due to unknown optimal dosing regimen. The outcomes of microdosing varied widely between strong endorsement of the practice and disappointment at the lack of effect. Meta-commentary included warning against over-excitement with the practice. We couch our findings in meaning-making theory and propose that, even at low doses, psychedelic substances can provide a sense of meaning currently lacking in Western culture.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that there many of the reported benefits occur regardless of motivation to microdose and are likely due to the enhanced psychological flexibility and sense of connectedness made possible due to the use of psychedelics. Double-blind, placebo controlled experiments are required in order to substantiate these reports.
Petranker, R., Kim, J., & Anderson, T. (2020). Microdosing as a response to the meaning crisis: a qualitative analysis.
Submitted to Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
Microdosing Psychedelics: Subjective Benefits and Challenges, Substance Testing Behavior, and the Relevance of Intention
Background: Microdosing psychedelics – the practice of taking small, sub-hallucinogenic doses of substances like LSD or psilocybin-containing mushrooms – is becoming increasingly popular. Despite its surging popularity, little is known about the effects of this practice.
Aims: This research had three main aims. First, we attempted to replicate previous findings regarding the subjective benefits and challenges reported for microdosing. Second, we assessed whether people who microdose test their substances for purity before consumption. Third, we examined whether having an approach-intention to microdosing was predictive of more reported benefits.
Methods: The Global Drug Survey (GDS) runs the world’s largest drug survey. Participants who reported last year use of LSD or psilocybin in GDS2019 were offered the opportunity to answer a subsection on microdosing.
Results: Data from 6,753 people who reported microdosing at least once in the last 12 months were used for analyses. Our results suggest a partial replication of previously reported benefits and challenges among the present sample often reporting enhanced mood, creativity, focus, and sociability. Counter to our prediction, the most common challenge participants associated with microdosing was “none”. As predicted, most participants reported not testing their substances. Counter to our hypothesis, approach-intention – microdosing in order to approach a desired goal – predicted less rather than more benefits when microdosing. We discuss alternate theoretical frameworks that may better capture the reasons people microdose.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that the benefits associated with microdosing greatly outweigh the challenges. Microdosing may have utility for a variety of uses while having minimal side-effects. However, double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments are still required in order to substantiate these reports.
Petranker, R., Anderson, T, Maier, L., Barratt, M., Ferris, J., & Winstock, A.. (2020). Microdosing Psychedelics: Subjective Benefits and Challenges, Substance Testing Behavior, and the Relevance of Intention. Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Psychedelic Research and the Need for Transparency: Polishing Alice’s Looking Glass
Psychedelics have a checkered past, alternately venerated as sacred medicines and vilified as narcotics with no medicinal or research value. After decades of international prohibition, a growing dissatisfaction with conventional mental health care and the pioneering work of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science (MAPS) and others has sparked a new wave of psychedelic research. Positive media coverage and new entrepreneurial interest in this potentially lucrative market, along with their attendant conflicts of interest, have accelerated the hype. Given psychedelics’ complex history, it is especially important to proceed with care, holding ourselves to a higher scientific rigor and standard of transparency. Universities and researchers face conflicting interests and perverse incentives, but we can avoid missteps by expecting rigorous and transparent methods in the growing science of psychedelics. This paper provides a pragmatic research checklist and discusses the importance of using the modern research and transparency standards of Open Science using preregistration, open materials and data, reporting constraints on generality, and encouraging replication. We discuss specific steps researchers should take to avoid another replication crisis like those devastating psychology, medicine, and other fields. We end with a discussion of researcher intention and the value of actively deciding to abide by higher scientific standards. We can build a rigorous, transparent, replicable psychedelic science by using Open Science to understand psychedelics’ potential as they re-enter science and society.
Petranker, R., Anderson, T., & Farb, N. (2020). Psychedelic Research and the Need for Transparency: Polishing Alice’s Looking Glass. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01681
Microdosing psychedelic substances: demographics, psychiatric comorbidities, and comorbid substance use.
Rationale: Microdosing psychedelics – the practice of consuming small, sub-hallucinogenic doses of substances
such as LSD or psilocybin – is gaining attention in popular media but remains poorly characterized. Contemporary
studies of psychedelic microdosing have yet to report the basic psychiatric descriptors of psychedelic microdosers.
Objectives: To examine the practices and demographics of a population of psychedelic microdosers – including their
psychiatric diagnoses, prescription medications, and recreational substance use patterns – to develop a foundation on
which to conduct future clinical research.
Methods: Participants (n=909; Mage=26.9, SD=8.6; male=83.2%; White/European=79.1%) recruited primarily from
the online forum Reddit completed an anonymous, online survey. Respondents who reported using LSD, psilocybin,
or both for microdosing were grouped and compared to non-microdosing controls using exploratory odds ratio
testing on demographic variables, rates of psychiatric diagnoses, and past-year recreational substance use.
Results: Of microdosers, most reported using LSD (59.3%; Mdose=13 mcg, or 11.3% of one tab) or psilocybin
(25.9%; Mdose=0.3 g of dried psilocybin mushrooms) on a one-day-on, two-days-off schedule. Compared with
controls, microdosers were significantly less likely to report a history of Substance Use Disorders (OR = 0.17 (95%
CI: 0.05-0.56)) or Anxiety Disorders (OR = 0.61 (95% CI: 0.41-0.91)). Microdosers were also more likely to report
recent recreational substance use compared with controls (OR = 5.2 (95% CI: 2.7-10.8)).
Conclusions: Our population of psychedelic microdosers reported clinically-significant rates of various psychiatric
diagnoses, psychotropic medication prescription, and recreational substance use. Well-designed randomized
controlled trials are needed to evaluate the safety and tolerability of this practice in clinical populations and to test
claims about potential benefits.
Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C., Hapke, E., Hui, K., Petranker, R., Dinh-Williams, L.-A., & Anderson, T. (2019). Microdosing psychedelic substances: Demographics, psychiatric comorbidities, and comorbid substance use. Manuscript in preparation. Accepted to Journal of Psychopharmacology. Preprint available at osf.io/g5cwy
Psychedelic microdosing benefits and challenges: an empirical codebook
Background: Microdosing psychedelics is the practice of consuming very low, sub-hallucinogenic doses of a psychedelic substance, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or psilocybin-containing mushrooms. According to media reports, microdosing has grown in popularity, yet the scientific literature contains minimal research on this practice. There has been limited reporting on adverse events associated with microdosing, and the experiences of microdosers in community samples have not been categorized.
Methods: In the present study, we develop a codebook of microdosing benefits and challenges (MDBC) based on the qualitative reports of a real-world sample of 278 microdosers.
Results: We describe novel findings, both in terms of beneficial outcomes, such as improved mood (26.6%) and focus (14.8%), and in terms of challenging outcomes, such as physiological discomfort (18.0%) and increased anxiety (6.7%). We also show parallels between benefits and drawbacks and discuss the implications of these results. We probe for substance-dependent differences, finding that psilocybin-only users report the benefits of microdosing were more important than other users report.
Conclusions: These mixed-methods results help summarize and frame the experiences reported by an active microdosing community as high-potential avenues for future scientific research. The MDBC taxonomy reported here informs future research, leveraging participant reports to distil the highest-potential intervention targets so research funding can be efficiently allocated. Microdosing research complements the full-dose literature as clinical treatments are developed and neuropharmacological mechanisms are sought. This framework aims to inform researchers and clinicians as experimental microdosing research begins in earnest in the years to come.
Anderson, T., Petranker, R., Christopher, A., Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C., Dinh-Williams, L.-A., Hui, K., & Hapke, E. (2019). Psychedelic microdosing benefits and challenges: An empirical codebook. Harm Reduction Journal, 16(1), 43. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-019-0308-4
Microdosing psychedelics: personality, mental health, and creativity differences in microdosers
Rationale: Microdosing psychedelics—the regular consumption of small amounts of psychedelic substances such as LSD or psilocybin—is a growing trend in popular culture. Recent studies on full-dose psychedelic psychotherapy reveal promising benefits for mental well-being, especially for depression and end-of-life anxiety. While full-dose therapies include perception-distorting properties, microdosing may provide complementary clinical benefits using lower-risk, non-hallucinogenic doses.
Objectives: This pre-registered study aimed to investigate whether microdosing psychedelics is related to differences in personality, mental health, and creativity.
Methods: In this observational study, respondents recruited from online forums self-reported their microdosing behaviours and completed questionnaires concerning dysfunctional attitudes, wisdom, negative emotionality, open-mindedness, and mood. Respondents also performed the Unusual Uses Task to assess their creativity.
Results: Current and former microdosers scored lower on measures of dysfunctional attitudes (p < 0.001, r = − 0.92) and negative emotionality (p = 0.009, r = − 0.85) and higher on wisdom (p < 0.001, r = 0.88), open-mindedness (p = 0.027, r = 0.67), and creativity (p < 0.001, r = 0.15) when compared to non-microdosing controls.
Conclusions: These findings provide promising initial evidence that warrants controlled experimental research to directly test safety and clinical efficacy. As microdoses are easier to administer than full-doses, this new paradigm has the exciting potential to shape future psychedelic research.
Anderson, T., Petranker, R., Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C. R., Dinh-Williams, L.-A., Hui, K., Hapke, E., & Farb, N. A. S. (2019). Microdosing psychedelics: Personality, mental health, and creativity differences in microdosers. Psychopharmacology, 236(2), 731–740. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-5106-2