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March 9, 2021 • read

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Is microdosing on psychedelics safe and beneficial?

Microdosing is super trendy these days. From Silicon Valley executives to your neighbours next door, it seems like everyone is doing it. Proponents of microdosing claim that it makes you more productive, creative, and open to connecting with others. Some people microdose in place of taking antidepressants, claiming the same benefits while avoiding any of the side effects. But, questions remain. Does microdosing live up to the buzz? If so, are there any risks?

What is microdosing?

Microdosing involves taking a tiny amount of a drug — somewhere between one tenth to one twentieth of a recreational dose. There’s been a lot of focus recently on microdosing hallucinogens, but you can also microdose other drugs, from cannabis to ketamine. The intent with microdosing isn’t to get “high.” If you begin to hallucinate, you’ve taken too much. Instead, proponents claim the practice makes them more alert and creative, less anxious, and more open to human interaction. Some practitioners choose to dose themselves monthly, weekly, or multiple times a week.

What are psychedelics?

Psychedelics are a class of drugs that change your perceptions. They fall into two categories. The first is “classic” and includes LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin (mushrooms), peyote, and DMT (dimethyltryptamine). The second type is “dissociative” and includes PCP (phencyclidine), ketamine, and salvia. 

Both types can cause auditory and visual hallucinations, causing you to see colours or think your furniture is breathing, for example. Dissociative drugs can also give users an out-of-body or disconnected experience, making them feel out of control.

In addition to hallucinations, psychedelics also heighten feelings, and can make the user feel euphoric and more connected to others. On the flip side, “bad trips” can engender fear and paranoia.

What happens when you microdose?

It’s hard to predict what will happen when you microdose as there are a lot of variables, beginning with which substance you take. For example, Psilocybin is a much different experience than MDMA. Your circumstances also affect your experience — everything from the mood you’re in, to the people you’re around, to where you are. Even sensory elements like smell can change your experience.

Anecdotal reports from some participants say microdosing makes them feel more creative, energetic, and emotionally open. But because there’s a lack of clinical research on microdosing, it’s impossible to accurately predict what your experience will be like. 

Is microdosing risky?

Yes. In Canada it’s illegal to buy or possess psychedelic drugs, even when they’re for personal consumption, unless you’ve been granted special permission. This legal status means that there’s no oversight in the drug production facilities. No one knows what conditions psychedelic drugs are made under. It also makes it impossible to guarantee what a drug contains.

As with pre-legal cannabis edibles, no oversight also means that the dosage of the drug is potentially inexact. One dose of acid paper could have significantly more drug on it than another, for instance. This could result in a user taking significantly more than they intended to. We know that in high doses certain psychedelics can be quite dangerous. Negative effects can include memory loss, seizures, trouble breathing, and even death. Given that drug source and concentration are unknown, users must always consider the possibility of drug overdose.

Is microdosing psychologically harmful?

The short answer is that we don’t really know. Those with existing psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia or anxiety, shouldn’t take psychedelics. There’s a link between taking psychedelics and the onset of psychosis, so these drugs aren’t safe in any amount if you’re at risk. Some individuals who use psychedelics develop Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), also known as flashbacks. Risk factors for developing this disorder are unknown, as is the amount of drug use that triggers it.

Anecdotally, some people report taking psychedelics recreationally and enjoying the experience. For those who take psychedelics and have a bad experience, however, it can be really bad. In one study, almost 40% of participants said that their bad psychedelic trip was one of the most psychologically difficult experiences of their life. In certain individuals, the experience correlated with suicide attempts, while in others it led to enduring psychological issues. 

Are there medical benefits to microdosing?

Microdosing psychedelics gets its fair share of good press. Research suggests that some psychedelics might be beneficial when it comes to treating depression, alcohol use disorder, PTSD, or anxiety. These studies have been in highly controlled research settings, however, with participants taking larger doses than a typical microdose.  When it comes to microdosing, there’s yet to be a single controlled research study on the effects. Doctors and scientists don’t know what microdosing does to a person on a physical or psychological level in either the short or long-term.

Favourable reports on treating mental health conditions with psychedelics have inspired some to try their own hand at it. But it’s important to use caution if you are considering this yourself. There’s a perception that taking a tiny quantity of drug avoids any of its potential side effects. To date, there have been zero research trials on microdosing. Taking minute amounts of mushrooms might seem harmless, but these are powerful drugs and the effects on your brain and body are unknown. If you’re interested in microdosing, your best bet is to wait for the science to catch up before you try it. You likely won’t have too wait long.

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