Amidst a sea of overwhelming evidence, psychedelics are making there way back into the mental health conversation. Villainized for decades as a fringe activity for rebels and misfits, it is now becoming a tool for high performance professionals and the traditional medical establishment alike.
After thirty years of living in the shadows, psychedelics are finally starting to get medical credibility. Since the mid-2000s, universities and hospitals have used psychedelics to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even ease the pain and existential angst of cancer patients.
It was the story of Patrick Mettes, a struggling cancer patient fighting for his life, that captured a new era of psychedelic explorers. Famed food writer, Michael Pollan, discussed the story of Mettes in “The Trip Treatment”, which quickly became one of the most popular articles on the subject in the New Yorker.
The story of a suffering cancer patient easing his pain through psychedelic drugs struck a chord with millions including many popular icons like Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan.
For those of us who are not suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, treatment resistant depression, or similarly serious ailments, there are cognitive advantages of psychedelics many are starting to seek
Taking small doses of psychedelics (often called “microdosing”), is improving professional work of entrepreneurs, Wall Street traders, and other high mental performance individuals.
What is Microdosing
The idea that small doses of powerful psychedelic drugs can improve cognition is not new. Doctors and researchers worked on the same question in the 1970s and provided plenty of evidence we can relate with today.
Much of this evidence comes from Dr. James Fadiman who led studies in the 1970s, which he explores in his book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. According to him, people across the globe are interested in microdosing and the epicenter seems to be San Francisco.
In a 2015 Rolling Stones article, Fadiman relays how entrepreneurs and technology programmers are using microdosing as a powerful tool. Whereas prescription amphetamine-based drugs like Adderall used to be the go-to, microdosing LSD and psychedelics is becoming an Adderall alternative in Silicon Valley.
Microdosing is the practice of taking small (10-25%) doses of psychedelic drugs in order to improve problem solving skills, enhance creativity, and cognitive performance in general.
These are the most common psychedelics and we will focus on:
- Psilocybin (and o-acetylpsilocin)
Imagine you wake up in the morning, go through your routine, and get to work on a professional problem you’ve had for weeks. The frustration of working on the same problem without a satisfying result was the basis for a 1966 experiment by James Fadiman on problem solving.
In the experiment, 27 intellectual male subjects (including 16 engineers, 2 mathematicians, 2 architects, 1 engineer-physicist and others) were told to bring a major work-related problem that they hadn’t solved in over 3 months of effort.
The experiment dosed each participant 200 mg of mescaline sulfate and allowed them to work on their difficult problem. Subjectively, almost all reported greater problem-solving skills, but 12 had breakthrough solutions (including patented technology), which is around 44.4% of the sample population.
Adding creativity in a professional setting is incredibly important and more so for musicians and artists. One architect named Eric Clough, who participated in the 1966 study above, said:
“The consensus among the architects interviewed…seems to be that LSD, when administered under carefully controlled conditions, does enhance creativity… aids in visualizing three-dimensionally, and generally heightens perceptivity.” (Fadiman, 170)
Most psychedelic drugs interact with the serotonergic system, which modulates mood and can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Psilocybin has already been researched for these purposes even in situations of treatment-resistant depression. Popular icons like Tim Ferriss are supporting this research.
Besides psilocybin, there is evidence that MDMA can be a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) particularly in the case of military personnel.
In a book, Tryptamine Palace, author James Oroc writes “Virtually all athletes who learn to use LSD… believe that the use of these compounds improves both their stamina and their abilities. According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your re-flex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration…”
Where his research comes from, we do not know. However, in speaking with a friend (we’ll call him Josh), I received confirmation that both LSD and o-acetylpsilocin (prodrug for psilocin) offered strong physical energy and endurance beyond the norm.
While this is all anecdotal, it suggests some type of physical enhancement while microdosing. In contrast, taking a full or “heroic” dose will not yield these effects (usually the opposite).
Does Microdosing Work?
Whether or not a drug of any kind works will be dependent on many factors including personal biochemistry. There is no one-size fits all answer with microdosing psychedelics, but speaking with friends has yielded a few nuggets of wisdom.
- Josh: 10 – 12 mcg LSD better for physical endurance and concentration
- Josh: 12 – 15 mcg LSD better for creative thinking and problem solving.
- Nathan & Josh: Microdosing 1 x per 3 – 4 days is best (Dr. Fadiman’s recommendation is microdosing once every 4 days).
The anecdotal evidence isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. “Gwern” is one of the most well-respected nootropics users and self-experimenters on the internet who did an LSD microdosing experiment that yielded “No beneficial effects…LSD microdosing did not help me.”
Another trained pianist and composer on Reddit took 30 – 40 mcg microdoses and reported “The experience could be described as slightly withdrawn and I felt like I had worse coordination and consequently lower accuracy in playing.”
While the research from Dr. Fadiman in the 1960s is convincing, many of these anecdotes offer a sobering picture. Anyone who is interested in microdosing should consider the entire picture.
How-To: Microdosing, Tips & Tricks
Microdosing with LSD is the most common and it is the easiest. To do so accurately, it’s important to use volumetric dosing
Here is a quick guide you can utilize for your own microdosing experience:
- Step #1: Weigh out 10 grams of distilled water on the scale
- Step #2: Mix the water in the pipette bottle with 100 mcg of LSD
- Step #3: With these calculations (10 g water + 100 mcg LSD), every gram (or ML) of water is now a 10 mcg dose
- Step #4: Shake up pipette bottle a few minutes before administering (no need to wait all day)
You can use the same method for microdosing with psilocybin, but with this it is harder to extract and measure the doses.
Tip #1 – Don’t cut the LSD tabs in order to create various doses. It’s not an accurate way to divide a dosage due to each tab’s size. More importantly, it doesn’t account for “hotspots”, which are heightened concentrations and uneven distribution of LSD. The volumetric dosing method above resolves both of these problems.
Tip #2 – Some people accidentally take higher doses than they expect when microdosing. 20 mcg of LSD is typically considered on the higher end of the dose range, but some people go as high as 50 mcg. Lower doses of LSD (5 – 12 mcg) have mood boosting advantages and 12 – 20 mcg doses are used for problem-solving and creative work.
If you are using o-acetylpsilocin for a mushroom microdose (easier than trying to weigh actual mushrooms precisely), dosage recommendations are around 3 – 4 mg for microdosing. Just be conscious of your goals when microdosing and use the precise dose for that purpose.
Tip #3 – We recommend not dosing too often. Most recommendations are 3 – 4 days with Dr. Fadiman recommending four. LSD can build tolerance and anecdotal accounts suggest creating uncomfortable relationships with reality.
Tip #4 – Trust your source. This goes without saying, but don’t let your enthusiasm disrupt your judgment.
DISCLAIMER: Neither Nootropedia nor the author recommend, condone, or encourage the use of illicit substances.