First Ever Trial to Study the Effects of Microdosing LSD Began This Month

Microdosing LSD (or magic mushrooms or other hallucinogenic drugs) is the practice of administering doses so low that they don’t have any major effects on the whole body, but they still have an important localized effect. Proponents of this method say that it has many of the drug’s benefits without any downsides, while scientists… don’t really say anything, because the technique hasn’t really been studied.

Microdosing psychedelics has received growing attention in recent years, as it’s been said to enhance creativity, increase focus, and lift the weight of depression. Now, scientists want to figure out whether using small amounts of these substances lives up to the hype. On Sept. 3, researchers from the Beckley Foundation and Imperial College of London launched a first-of-its-kind study to investigate the potential benefits of microdosing LSD. If the study goes well, it could provide powerful insights into the realm of diverse psychedelic-use.

Microdosers tend to use either tiny amounts of LSD – as little as one-fifteenth of a tab – or of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The study is recruiting just those who use LSD, because of the difficulty in disguising even ground-up mushrooms in a capsule.

But it’s illegal. So how many people are microdosing is unknown and there is only anecdotal evidence of the effects and any downsides. In a bid to learn more, the Beckley Foundation, which was set up to pioneer research into mind-altering substances, and the unit it funds at Imperial College London, will launch the first ever placebo-controlled trial of microdosing on Monday, 3 September 2018.

The aim of the study, known as the “self-blinding microdose study,” is relatively straightforward: scientists want to know whether or not microdosing psychedelics produces verifiable, positive results in users.

When a person microdoses with psychedelics, they generally take a tiny dose of LSD or mushrooms. The concept is that these tiny doses are too small to produce a full-blown, out-of-body psychedelic experience, but large enough to activate and energize the brain. Many microdosers claim the practice improves their day-to-day lives and has a positive impact on workflow.

The scientists on this project are, thus, looking to see if people who report positive effects from microdosing are actually experiencing benefits from the drugs or if they’re experiencing the placebo effect.

Because it would be prohibitively expensive to carry out a regular trial with illegal drugs (not to mention it would be nigh-impossible to get approval for it), Balázs Szigeti, the study leader, devised a “self-blind” setup — inviting people who already microdose to either take a microdose capsule or an identical dummy capsule instead. Without knowing which is which, they will then play cognitive games and complete questionnaires and tests.

“The people who microdose right now are not an average random set of people from the street,” he said. “They are very likely to have used psychedelics before and have preconceptions about them.

“You are doing something novel and exciting and that you believe in – and you know you are doing it. It is absolutely no surprise that you are getting a positive effect.”

How the Study Works

Those who volunteer to take part will be sent a manual which describes in great detail how to set up the gel capsules – some containing the tiny piece of blotting paper loaded with a small dose of LSD that they normally use and others that are empty – and then randomly assign them over four weeks. All of the capsules are opaque to keep subjects from seeing what mini-tabs are inside.

After creating the doses, the subject will place each one into an envelope along with a special QR code used to track which days the subject took LSD or a placebo pill. Then, all envelopes will be sealed and shuffled up. At that point, test subjects will not know which envelopes contain psychedelic or placebo capsules. This effectively randomizes the study and keeps the subject clueless about when they’re taking a microdose.

The Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, who first synthesised LSD in 1936 and began taking it years later, was said to have microdosed in his old age. Those who do it talk of a sense of flow and focus with none of the extreme hallucinogenic sensations associated with the drug. “It has become popular in Silicon Valley as a way to increase creativity and productivity,” said Szigeti. “I was interested in this and looked at the scientific literature. To my great surprise I found there were zero studies on microdosing. If you go online there are hundreds and hundreds of people expressing very positive outcomes but this is completely novel terrain in scientific literature.”

Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation, has spent her life supporting research into psychedelic drugs. “Since I first learned about LSD in 1966, before it was made illegal, I became aware of its great potential value for health and cognitive enhancement,” she said.

She gets a lot of correspondence on microdosing from San Francisco, she said. “I think it is spreading but it is impossible to tell how much it is happening because no one knows. There has been a lot of talk about it in the last few years.” At low doses, she says she thinks of it “almost as a psycho-vitamin”.

“I think it could give a boost to vitality, an improvement in mood possibly.” People have reported that it has lifted their depression, while others say it makes them feel more excited about their work.

“One can’t and doesn’t want to encourage people to microdose, but it is interesting to try to gather data in a slightly more scientific way from people who are doing it,” she said.

David Erritzoe, who is working on the study with Szigeti, said it is “in all ways an unusual project” piloted with a small group of people. They found the self-blinding feasible. “They could do it and they found it fun and stimulating,” he said. Those taking part could break the blind themselves if they so wanted but, he said, “hopefully they will be on board and try to get it right by following the manual.” He and Szigeti say if the results are interesting, more conventional trials ought to be carried out.