COVID has turned the world upside down, and you may be spending most of your time at home now. Being at home can lead to a better work-life balance, but it can also increase feelings of anxiety, a lack of focus, or even leave you feeling isolated and depressed.
The mental health effects of COVID are trending in the wrong direction. More people now report difficulty sleeping, have more feelings of stress, and anti-depressant use is sharply rising – jumping a whopping 21% in the post-COVID era. According to new data from Census Bureau statistics, 24% of Americans now report feelings of depression, and these feelings of anxiety and depression are effecting people from ages 18 to 29 the most.
Microdosing, or the practice of small quantities of psychedelic substances, such as cannabis, LSD, or psilocybin, has exploded in popularity over the past few years. From your friendly neighborhood dog walker to leading execs at Silicon Valley giants, the word on the street – microdosing helps cure a myriad of modern-day lifestyle ailments.
Today, there’s increasing anecdotal and some research-based data, which does indicate microdosing may increase a sense of well-being, lift anxiety or depression, and even stoke the fire of creativity. Some have even called microdosing a "productivity hack".
What is Microdosing?
Microdosing is the practice of taking tiny doses of a psychotropic or psychedelic substance at "sub-therapeutic" levels. Typically, 5 to 10 percent of a standard dose of any drug is considered a microdose. A microdose intends to not have you experience things like visual hallucinations or altered perceptions of reality. Ideally, you take a small enough amount to not have a noticeable full-body effect, but enough to create a cellular response. While microdosing, you may often forget that you consumed a substance but may feel calmer, happier, or more focused.
Microdosing preferences, from which substance to consume, to correct dosage, varies from person to person. Everybody is different, so a microdose for one person may feel like a macrodose for others. As we are all different, successful microdosing requires some trial and error to find what works best, if at all. For many, the experience is extremely positive, and for others, the adverse effects outweigh any positive benefits – microdosing is highly individual.
Marilyn takes a microdose of cannabis every night before bedtime. She says, "My mini mints are tiny but mighty. They are 2mg of THC, but they allow me to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night." Marilyn’s experience is not an isolated one, as many people consume cannabis to get a better night’s sleep, and more.
At lower doses, cannabis can reduce inflammation, ease insomnia and pain, lift anxiety, boost a workout, or create a sense of well being. Microdosing marijuana may also help you avoid uneasy feelings, such as paranoia or dizziness, associated with larger THC doses.
A microdose of cannabis is typically between 2mg to 5mg of THC, but some consider 10mg a microdose. However, every person reacts differently to cannabis strains, consumption methods, and dosage. This is due to the endocannabinoid system and how THC and CBD bind to receptors within our bodies.
New clinical research indicates that lower doses of cannabinoids may be more effective at treating specific conditions, such as pain or PTSD. Well- known cannabis physician, Dustin Sulak says, "When you raise the cannabis dose sometimes you get diminished benefits, and sometimes you get the opposite of what you are looking for…The goal is to use the dose that gives the most minimal noticeable effect." So, while a microdose may reduce anxiety, a macrodose of marijuana may actually increase or cause it.
We are in the middle of a psychedelics renaissance, and plant-based psilocybin is one of the psychedelics taking center stage. Mainstream research institution, Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, is leading the charge publishing groundbreaking studies regarding psychedelics and psilocybin in more than 60 peer-reviewed articles within multiple scientific journals.
The social media platform Reddit is a popular forum for people who microdose, (with 40,000 users subscribing to the /r/microdosing subreddit). People often report microdosing psilocybin so that they might increase creativity, calm anxiety, decrease the need for caffeine, and reduce depression. Roland Griffiths, Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins says, "Psilocybin currently is being evaluated as a treatment for various psychiatric conditions, and there is increasing interest in developing related psychedelic drugs."
"Ego dissolution" and the feeling of being connected to the world around us are often associated with psilocybin. Studies indicate that after psilocybin (or LSD) is consumed, the brain’s claustrum area becomes less active. The lower activity in this area is associated with "stronger subjective effects of the drug, such as emotional and mystical experiences." Researchers believe this may be why psychedelics have the power to shift our perceptions and even our consciousness.
Timothy, a family therapist, tried microdosing psilocybin for a few weeks for a chronic pain condition. He says, "I found the overall effect of taking the drug to be positive and a slight reduction in my pain. That said, I felt a little jittery and anxious, so I chose to stop and try an alternative path." Some people choose psilocybin because they feel a plant-based psychedelic is more natural than its synthetic counterpart, LSD. While Timothy may have felt jittery and anxious, others may feel the opposite. Note that plant-based medicines differ from batch to batch, so the intensity of dosage may also vary.
Microdosing LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, has become popular with the tech set of Silicon Valley and peppered into West Coast conversations the way people might discuss wine. Paula, a tech exec, says she microdoses LSD to "increase focus and creativity. I maintain a higher level of sustained energy, it’s like having a matcha green tea. I also notice when I think back on the days I microdose that I was in a happier mood throughout the day."
Harriet de Wit, is an experimental psychologist at the University of Chicago. She’s helping run the first double-blind trials to see how LSD microdoses affect emotional states in people with impaired mood. De Wit says, "People have claimed so many different effects from these low doses of LSD — increased creativity, energy, productivity, focus, empathy, spiritual awareness, enhanced senses, wisdom, and open mindedness." Along with other researchers, De Wit hopes that new trials will show if microdosing is worth all the hype.
Although initial research varies on the effectiveness of microdosing, there is some evidence as to why people feel positive effects, especially from psilocybin and LSD. Professor Johannes Ramaekers from Maastricht University collaborated with UK-based Beckley Foundation to investigate the effects of microdosing LSD. He says, brain images indicate that "the crosstalk between these brain networks actually increases. So that seems to indicate that there’s a lessening of the boundaries that are put around these networks. That enables more crosstalk and more communication between these networks, which suggests that there’s increased flexibility within the brain processing of stimuli and information that comes in."
Should You Microdose?
In the era of COVID, microdosing cannabis or psychedelics is a hot topic. Not enough clinical evidence exists, but anecdotal evidence may provide some hope for people looking for relief from anxiety or mild depression. For others, microdosing may simply help give a change of perspective during challenging times. Whether you choose to microdose or not is highly individual and largely based on trial and error. What works for your friend may not work for you.
If you are experiencing severe depression or are feeling suicidal, do not turn to microdosing; seek professional help by calling the National Suicide Hotline.
There’s plenty of anecdotal information on microdosing online, but respected institutions such as MAPS, The Beckley Foundation, and others are now conducting clinical trials on psychedelics. Books and resources, such as the website Third Wave or the now-famous book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman, PhD., are also available for purchase.