Do Micro-doses of LSD Change Your Mind?

Are claims about micro-dosing credible? Let's find out.
Christopher McFadden

Are the proffered benefits of micro-dosing real? Are there any long-term effects of using psychedelics, even in small doses? 

As it turns out the answers might surprise you. 

Here we'll explore what micro-dosing is, and see if there is any evidence to support anecdotal reports of its benefits. 


microdosing mushrooms
A bag of 1.5 grams of Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. Source: Mangokeylime/Wikimedia Commons

What is micro-dosing?

Microdosing with regards to psychedelic drugs is the consumption of a dose small enough for the individual to only experience subtle effects. This does is not high enough to produce the hallucinogenic effects of the drug in question. 

For some common psychedelic drugs microdoses are as follows: -

- LSD - A microdose of LSD is around 20 mcg.

- Psilocybin-containing mushrooms - 0.1 to 0.3 grams of dried mushrooms.

For more exotic psychedelics like 1P-LSDALD-52 or 4-AcO-DMT.

With such low doses, individuals do not "trip" on them and are quite capable of going about their daily business as usual. They can quite easily study, work or look after their kids. 

The act of micro-dosing has also colloquially come to be called "productivity hacking", and is a fairly common activity amongst Silicon Valley Engineers and some business leaders

People who partake in this activity, readily espouse how it boosts their creativity and focus, not to mention work performance as a whole. Others believe it benefits their relationships and generally helps them control their mood and relieve stress.

"If its proponents are to be believed, micro-dosing offers the cure for an era dominated by digital distractions and existential anxiety—a cup of coffee with a little Tony Robbins stirred in." - Scientific American

Interestingly, the thinking behind micro-dosing (using psychedelic drugs as a therapy, not leisure)  is nothing new. During the 1950s a handful of psychedelic therapists in Saskatchewan attempted to use it to treat alcoholism. 

The therapists attempted to guide patients through a high-dose, ego-dissolving, LSD experience. When the therapy was completed, over half of the patients reported complete recovery from alcoholism.

This caught the attention of the Canadian Government of the time who immediately order a full-scale trial using placebo controls. Their results were less than pleasing and the practice was later condemned to the realm of shamanism rather than science.

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However, many who espouse the benefits of micro-dosing today, like James Fadiman (author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide), believe there is some merit behind it. 

To date, there has been no published science on whether micro-dosing actually works or not as claimed, until now. Yet despite this, micro-dosing for self-enhancement and mental health has hit the media in recent years. 

Is micro-dosing real?

Apart from the plethora of anecdotal reports on the subject, there have not, to date, not been any serious scientific studies of the practice. But a recent study discussed in Scientific American has conducted the first placebo-controlled study of micro-dosing.

"Late last year, the first placebo-controlled microdose trial was published. The study concluded that microdoses of LSD appreciably altered subjects’ sense of time, allowing them to more accurately reproduce lapsed spans of time. While it doesn’t prove that microdoses act as a novel cognitive enhancer, the study starts to piece together a compelling story on how LSD alters the brain’s perceptive and cognitive systems in a way that could lead to more creativity and focus." - Scientific American.

The study, conducted by a group of psychologists at Goldsmiths, the University of London, led by Devin Terhune, was conducted in late 2018. They took groups of volunteers who had not used LSD in the preceding 5 years and randomly assigned them into placebo and LSD microdose groups.

microdosing lsd art
Example of psychedelic art. Source: Nicholas Darinzo/Wikimedia Commons

Through a series of tests to analyze their perception of time. 

"When shown a blue dot on a screen for a specific length of time, the subjects were asked to recreate that length of time by pressing a key. Typically, with longer time intervals, people underrepresent time (i.e. hold the key down for a shorter period of time than reality). In the study, those who received microdoses held the key longer, better representing the actual time interval." - Scientific American

Although the study was somewhat limited, it did seem to show that micro-dosing of LSD does show some noticeable cognitive changes in test subjects. The authors were quick to point out that this doesn't necessarily mean small doses of LCD makes patients "smarter", but it might indicate that it could, theoretically, help with daily tasks and creative pursuits.

But, of course, much more research will be needed before further conclusions can be drawn.

What are the micro-dosing disadvantages?

It should be noted that regular use of any psychedelic drugs, like any drug, can potentially impact your health. It is for this reason that should always get advice from medical professionals if you are considering using them.

Physiologically it appears to micro-dosing doesn't pose a serious health risk to users. But it should also be noted that there just isn't enough data to make a solid conclusion either way.

However, it is also fair to point out that drugs like LSD, mushrooms, and DMT are generally considered some of the safest drugs to consume in moderation. Especially when compared to other drugs like tobacco and alcohol. 

LSD, in particular, is quite safe, even in high doses. Typical recreational doses are highly unlikely to cause any long-term physiological damage to your body.

Others, like MDMA, can cause valvular heart disease if used regularly in high doses. 

It might be a different story psychologically, however. Taking small amounts of powerful psychedelic drugs over a long period of time runs the risk of your psychology being negatively affected. 

One example is the potential for addiction. But unlike some drugs like, say nicotine, psychedelic drugs can lead to the development of psychological dependence on it rather than a physical chemical addiction. 

microdosing lsd
LSD tabs. Source: Psychonaught/Wikimedia Commons

The use of psychedelics can also lead to the development of mania. This means that microdose users could increase their anxiety levels over time, or at least psychological dependence on micro-dosing to alleviate it. 

Recreational doses of LSD can also lead to feelings of terror in some subjects. 

What are the long term effects of micro-dosing?

Ultimately the jury is out. There just aren't enough studies or evidence to prove conclusively either way.

Initially, effects on the body and mind appear to be minimal in users. But longer term use could lead to some of the issues detailed above.

Like any drug, long-term use also increases your tolerance to it. In other words, to recreate an effect as time goes by, larger and larger doses are needed. 

This could mean that micro-dosing will eventually lead users to become regular recreational users over time. It could even lead to psychological dependence on it. 

This can not only be distressing to the user over time but could, potentially, become very costly financially in the long run. 

But, of course, more studies are needed to show any detrimental long-term effects of these drugs on the body and mind.