Sam Ripples
by on June 30, 2019
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“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which he tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.” --ALDOUS HUXLEY

It was a silly experiment, but it was definitely interesting, putting a tiny amount of DMT into my vape. It was a sure way to vaporize it, and it went along with the articles I’d been reading about microdosing lately. I didn’t measure the dosage, so perhaps it wasn’t the most scientific way of doing it, but I was curious nonetheless.

I wondered if it was too much until I took a hit. No acrid taste, just a sense of a subliminal buzz in my head. Interesting. I spent most of that day staring at art, wondering at the possibilities of the earth, and writing my thoughts down.

It was a revelation: I didn’t get high, but I still benefited positively. No strange visuals, just a ton of introspection and creativity, just as the anecdotal experiences I’d read about. I did find it a little bit harder to keep myself from being distracted, but the flow of my mind felt better than it had in ages--like my thoughts were dancing through silvery liquid. I had less anxiety and was more motivated to complete my everyday tasks than I normally would be.

If you’ve kept up with the most current psychedelic research, you’ll know there are quite a few recent studies that are exploring the world of microdosing psychedelics. Just one search on Google alone will bring up 330,000 results. November of 2018 shows a huge spike of interest in microdosing psychedelics on Google Trends--more than double the amount of searches have been made on this subject over the last year than in the years before.

As a reader of this site, you’re no stranger to the positive effects that psychedelics can have on our minds and spirits. Microdosing is a way to introduce that into the mainstream without all of the tangled complexities that come with having an intense trip. Microdosing is also much easier to study than full-blown experiences, because it has less of an intense mental effect.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, microdosing is defined as: “taking… very small amounts of a drug in order to … benefit from its physiological action while minimizing undesirable side effects.” In other words, taking sub-hallucinogenic doses of psychedelics to enjoy the benefits without tripping off into fantasyland. There’s a lot of argument over whether or not you should “feel” the dosage, but for the most part it should be below the surface.

For some people, it’s a good way to dip their toes into the psychedelic realm in preparation for a more intense experience; for others, it is used to harness the benefits of taking psychedelics without having to spend all day trying to put reality back together. Whatever the reasoning behind it, there’s no doubt that this has become a popular topic in recent years.

No article about microdosing would be complete without exploring the work of John Fadiman, who is arguably the first researcher to begin compiling experiences of those who microdosed on his website and in his 2011 book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. Early adopters of microdosing reported their anxiety diminishing as well an increased sense of determination and self-resolve.

Though most of Fadiman’s work was anecdotal and not specifically scientific, it paved the way for the research that has begun to follow it--for instance, he gave us the first “cycle” schedule for microdosing: a tenth of a normal dose every three days. For LSD, that would mean 10mcg or a tenth of a gram for mushrooms, the two most common ways to microdose psychedelics.

The problem with this kind of “research”, however, is that it primes users to have a placebo effect. Just reporting anecdotes may make it seem as though there are no drawbacks to microdosing, which I’ll explore later on in this essay.

Microdosing got its more mainstream start in the lives of Silicon Valley execs around 2012. It’s no secret that many of those in start-ups and tech appreciate the benefits of psychedelics, and we have them to thank for introducing microdosing into the public sphere of interest. Fascination with this topic has picked up quite a bit as of late--microdosing has been mentioned in papers such as The Guardian, The Atlantic, and The Independent, though all of them approach the subject with an air of caution.

The most fascinating part about all of this media coverage is the tone change I’ve seen throughout my life in regards to these substances. When I was a kid, it was very much taboo to take psychedelics--such a thing was relegated to renegades who enjoyed tattoos and homosexuality. I remember learning about the evils of marijuana in DARE and hearing for the first time about mushrooms; the adults tried to make psychedelics sound bad but they never made it seem scary enough to push me away. Even seven years ago, when I was first introduced to these substances, my friends would look at me strangely when I told them about my experience with LSD.

And yet now the leaders of society are advocating for its varying usages. It definitely shows a change in popular opinion on these substances, which leads to more studies and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of action in psychedelics.

Not only are the Silicon Valley execs and journalists interested in microdosing--it seems that the idea has piqued the interest of researchers recently as well. This year alone, a rash of studies are coming out with astounding results about the benefits and possible drawbacks of microdosing.

For instance, “... a study in rats by researchers at the University of California, Davis suggests microdosing can provide relief for symptoms of depression and anxiety, but also found potential negative effects.” Part of the reason the scientists wanted to study this was take advantage of the positive side effects while avoiding the hallucinogenic effects. Even at this low of a dosage, there was an increase of neuroticism, which is used in this context to mean moody, prone to anxiety, and nervousness.

Another study also found evidence for increased neuroticism, but there were positives associated with it as well: “... microdosing led to improved mental health, [and] altered attentional capacities (reduced mind wandering and increased absorption)”. It seems that there may be drawbacks to this kind of treatment, but it can’t be worse than the excessive side effects of pharmaceutical antianxiety and antidepressant medication.

There’s not a whole lot of scientific evidence out there on the positive effects of microdosing yet, but it’s been a recent study of interest so hopefully we’ll see more soon. For now, the results seem balanced--what we gain from microdosing, we lose in neuroticism. As someone who is neurotic anyway, that doesn’t seem to be a huge deal. The mental benefits seem to overwhelm the negative consequences of microdosing, at least at this early state of research.

An interesting idea was brought up in a Scientific American article on microdosing LSD: with the “real scientists” getting their hands into psychedelic research, “the era of psychedelic research that James Fadiman had a hand in creating is closing”. A part of that saddens me; my own personal discovery of psychedelics was during this era of exploration. I remember fondly seeing a post on Reddit that said, “We may not have been born early enough to explore the world or space… but at least we can explore our minds.”

The Scientific American article also highlights the best part of all this research, however: “Through straightforward pharmacology, microdoses may activate just the right amount of receptors for us to be our better selves.” In other words, no longer are these substances mystical and mysterious--we are finding out specifically how they work, unveiling the mechanisms behind these incredibly powerful medicines so that we can better treat mental illness with them.

The continued study of psychedelics can only lead to more interesting and wild discoveries in the future. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to fully understand why and how psychedelics do that amazing things that they do for our minds--it looks like we’re getting closer and closer to that point already. I hope in the future society can eventually see the wisdom in taking these substances. After fifty years of repressing this science, we are finally understanding psychedelics more scientifically.

It will be a strange day when psychedelics are no longer illegal and are being handed out as medicine, but it looks like we’re headed in that direction sometime soon. I have to say, I hope I’ll be first in line. I’ve benefited so positively from taking psychedelics, whether microdosing or having a full-blown trip, and it will be a wonderful day when the whole world can benefit from their healing properties as well.