As of one month ago, I knew of just one friend who microdosed; my friend, who is a musician, said he was taking 0.1 grams of mushrooms a few mornings a week so he could finish up an album that had been taking him years. Then, a few weeks later, I was at a different friend’s house when he walked into his kitchen, took a teeny-tiny, shriveled-up mushroom stem out of the freezer, snapped off a minuscule amount, and popped it into his mouth, a thing he now does regularly to feel “more open” while on the many work calls he has throughout the day.
This was while telling me about another friend, who’s devised a way to, as precisely as possible, dilute liquid LSD into 10-microgram doses. That guy uses it for painting.
It’s been quiet but also quick: Microdosing, which usually means taking tiny amounts of psychedelics (one-20th to one-tenth of a recreational dose) has spread from San Francisco to New York and around the country. People say they are using it not to escape their everyday lives but to enhance them: If you’re microdosing, you might even forget you’re doing drugs in the first place. The amounts are sub-perceptual, without the seeing-stuff side effects. They’re still themselves, users say, only a little better.
Recent reports show that millennials are drinking less and less interested in drugs like cocaine. But in a strange turn of events, they’ve taken up LSD and mushrooms in the way someone else might pop an Adderall. The most common self-reported benefits include improved mood, better eating and sleeping habits, and less of a need for caffeine. And, really, what could be more millennial than rebranding some of the most potent drugs out there as illegal vitamins that combine the feel-good-ness of self-care with the possibility of gaining a competitive edge on colleagues?
Drug dealers I surveyed have reported an uptick in microdosing requests: “Maybe 10 to 15 percent of my clients plan on microdosing, which is definitely up from when I first started selling mushrooms,” says one Brooklyn dealer. Another says that while she’s noticed more people buying mushrooms and LSD, return customers are consuming them more slowly. One dealer even brings around his scale for microdosers who want to measure out smaller amounts; another creates tinctures of diluted LSD. And a growing number of posts on Reddit devoted to the subject indicates that people are microdosing all sorts of things, from ketamine (for depression) to cannabis (for pain management).
Between 2010 and 2013, microdosing began to gain steam in Silicon Valley coder circles, thanks in part to the preachings of LSD researcher James Fadiman. The appeal of a drug regimen that allows for hours of uninterrupted focus and concentration was not lost on this crowd. Fadiman thinks microdosing caught on so quickly because “it has a small positive effect and it’s not scary,” though, as is the case with all drugs, fear is subjective. Particularly because microdosing is both highly unresearched and incredibly imprecise, and therefore prone to all kinds of dosage mix-ups and unintended trips. In fact, there have been zero controlled clinical trials related to microdosing. In England, Amanda Feilding of the Beckley Foundation is close to beginning a study that will involve hooking up microdosers to an EEG while they play the strategy game Go in an attempt to measure both creativity and cognitive function. For now, that’s it.
Anecdotal accounts already suggest that microdosing is not for everyone. For those who have any sort of bipolar or psychosis history, there is the possibility of overstimulation. It also doesn’t seem to agree with those with existing anxiety, says Fadiman. And, of course, it is illegal.
Yet the curiosity only grows, in part because of renewed interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics taken in traditional doses. In Michael Pollan’s new book on the subject, How to Change Your Mind, out in May, he goes deep on the science from professionally guided, federally approved studies that looked at the effects of psilocybin (that’s the psychoactive part of mushrooms) on cancer patients in significantly lessening signs of anxiety and depression.
Which is why some people are ignoring the risks and microdosing to get in on some of the reported benefits. “Eventually, people take things into their own hands,” says Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a Charleston psychiatrist involved in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. “Certainly not the ideal way to do it, but that’s one of the problems that happens when the regulatory and scientific community isn’t responding to the need for better medicines.” And perhaps the science will catch up with the culture. “It’s a very plausible question whether microdosing has antidepressant activity,” says Matthew W. Johnson, a Johns Hopkins psychologist who has published psilocybin studies. “If that was true, that could be a novel treatment to one of the world’s biggest medical disorders.”
Why Does Everyone Keep Bringing Up James Fadiman?
Up until a few years ago, the longtime LSD researcher who published The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide in 2011 was individually responding to any would-be microdoser’s questions as to suggested dosage or possible side effects through his personal Gmail. He created a protocol based on his many emailed-in reports from users that’s pretty much become the microdosing standard. Now Fadiman is working with fellow researcher Sophia Korb as they embark on the largest nonclinical microdosing study to date (59 countries and over 400 participants).
Some Unexpected Side Effects May Include …
Five findings from Fadiman’s email in-box.
“A number of women who have had difficult periods report that their periods are now normal. We got a note from a woman in her 20s who said that during the month she microdosed, her periods, which are usually extraordinarily difficult and painful, were now normal. Others say they microdose before their period and their periods are now fine. We don’t know much, but we’re hoping to get much more conventional research going.”
“Just a few reports of this, but one example: Married 15 years, male, 38. ‘Sex is great with microdosing … my attention is at 100 percent in the bed, easily expressed in our lovemaking and sensual touching. There is no hurry and no wait.’ ”
Decreased coffee consumption
“The most common comment is ‘I just don’t feel the need.’ ”
“We do not know if anxiety goes up or if they are more aware of their anxiety, but in either case we feel microdosing is not beneficial.”
Better first drafts
“I never reveal my sources (especially if they are drug-using journalists).”
The Pretty-Much-Agreed-Upon Regimen
According to the Fadiman approach, people generally microdose once every three days for about a month — one day on, two days off. But why space it out? “After reading a lot of reports and talking to a lot of people, the effects were lasting for up to two days,” Fadiman says. “The psychedelics are actually gone within a few hours, but you have the same kind of feeling — functioning better — for two days.” There’s another reason to space it out: Psychedelics, while nonaddictive, can cause a tolerance to build. The most important thing to keep in mind: Fadiman advises taking a microdose before 10 a.m. “Taking it later may make it harder to fall asleep. From there, people should keep to their daily schedule: work, leisure, meals, medications, exercise.” After the month, Fadiman found that most people continued to microdose only occasionally, on an as-needed basis — for an exam, a presentation. Plus, like with most things, it’s good to take a break.
A Doser’s Diary
Tao Lin, whose book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change comes out May 1, has dabbled in microdosing. Anticipating questions he thought he’d get on the topic while on tour, he did a trial run.
10 A.M. Used one-sixth of a tab of 100 micrograms of LSD — a brand called Aztec Xtal, which may or may not be LSD or 100 micrograms.
11:58 A.M. Have more of a sense of humor and less despair than normal, smiling sometimes.
12:35 P.M. Feel distracted by the world instead of my thoughts, which are a lighter yet more controllable overlay than normal.
12:55 P.M. Half-consciously and pleasurably and unexpectedly biked from 25th to 3rd Street.
4:52 P.M. Attention span became lower than normal; feeling the lack of what I gained earlier.
10 P.M. Continued working — reading, writing — after temporary loss of attention. Feel like I had a day like when I used to use Adderall but with less underlying despair.
10 A.M. Four days later, used one-sixth of a tab again. I’d planned on three days, but I was meeting my editor and wanted to be in a more familiar mental space.
11:41 A.M. Have greater ability to end undesirable thoughts.
11:54 A.M. Instead of blankly gazing at nothing, as can happen normally, my focus is flitting somewhat randomly around, scanning. My memory images seem stronger.
10:38 P.M. In bed. Had another almost continuously productive day — doing a phone interview, reading, writing, drawing.
10 A.M. Two days later. Used one-12th of a tab — half as much.
4:11 P.M. Time has passed fast. The half-dose seems preferable. One-sixth felt sometimes overwhelming and disruptive to my normal routine, but this amount seems good to use occasionally and strategically.