The world’s first ever trial into microdosing LSD began on September 3rdthis year, after claims that regularly taking tiny doses of the drug can improve creativity and focus as well as lift depression. Microdosing has become increasing popular among young professionals, especially in the Californian tech world, where people work long hours in creative fields. The idea is they take one tenth of a dose of LSD every few days before work. The dose is too small to cause any of the typical psychedelic effects or hallucinations, but it is said to put users into a ‘flow state’, in which they are better able to focus and can increase inventiveness and creativity.
World’s First Trial
Of course, this is an illegal activity and so, studies into the effects of microdosing are difficult to organize and expensive to run. However, the Beckley Foundation, originally set up to research mind-altering substances, has found a way around current obstacles in order to complete the first ever placebo-controlled microdosing trial. Study leader Balazs Szigeti explains that they’ve recruited volunteers who currently microdose and have supplied them with dummy capsules, into which they put some genuine doses and some placebo doses.
The capsules are then placed into envelopes with QR codes and mixed up, so that the volunteer doesn’t know whether they are taking a placebo or the real thing. They scan the QR codes each time they take a dose, so that the researchers know which is which, and participants are shown the results at the end of the experiment. The participants then complete questionnaires and take part in online cognitive games in order to judge their increase (or lack thereof) of cognitive function and motivational drive.
The Effects of LSD
LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, who had been tasked with looking for a blood stimulant. The hallucinogenic effects weren’t discovered until 1943, when Hofmann accidentally took a dose of the drug. It became extremely popular for recreational use in the US during the 1950s and 60s, before it was finally made illegal in 1968. Hofmann himself was a regular user of the drug and even microdosed for the last few decades of his life. But what exactly does it do to users? Research at the Imperial College in London, England, demonstrated that “LSD allows discrete and unrelated regions of the brain to communicate with one another in unusual ways”and allows brain function to become more flexible. It mimics the effects of neurotransmitter serotonin (one of the so-called ‘happy hormones’) and increases the production of glutamate, which can help improve memory, learning, and overall cognitive function.
Perhaps, then, the reason that microdosing LSD is proclaimed to work so well is because it helps to break those inflexible and habitual patterns of the brain that characterize so many mental disorders. In fact, it’s been shown to enhance overall well-being, as an anonymous survey of microdosers on Reddit and other social media outlets has demonstrated. Run by researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada, the survey showed that microdosers scored higher on creativity and wisdom and lower in emotion and dysfunctional attitude. The most reported positive reaction was an increase in focus and energy, whilst the highest reported negative was simply the illegality of the practice and the reliability of being able to source the product.
Paul Austin, founder of The Third Wave, an online educational resource for microdosers, explains that there are essentially two types of microdosers – those who take it for depression, post-traumatic stress, and so on, and those who take it to enter into what he calls a ‘flow state’. “A state of flow,” he explains, “is like being in the zone. It’s when you’re engaged in something that is fairly difficult, and really complex things become easier to solve”.
There are a great number of personal accounts and anecdotal evidence throughout the Internet. YouTuber Kali Nahā, for example, explains that microdosing allowed her to become more in tune to her surroundings, making her feel stress-free and calm yet efficient. She uses words like ‘spiritual’, ‘peaceful’, ‘clarity’, and ‘focus’. Others, such as director of the Berkley Foundation Amanda Feilding, suggest that it makes you better able to face challenges. “I found that if I was on LSD and my opponent wasn’t,” Feilding explains, “I won more games [of Go]. For me, that was a very clear indication that it improves cognitive function, particularly a kind of intuitive pattern recognition”. To compound these effects, many argue that microdosing LSD can actually train the brain to more easily a flow state without external chemical influence, thereby increasing overall creativity and cognitive performance, although surely, as with anything, repetitive action and testing is sure to improve results.
An Effective Treatment for Depression?
As great as the ‘flow state’ may be, however, many microdose for a more serious purpose – to reduce the impact of mental disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 27-year-old Erica Avey explains how she self-medicated her depression with LSD for eight months. “I’m able to be more mindful of my emotions,” she says. “If I’m feeling sad, that’s OK. I don’t obsess anymore. I don’t dwell on it. I don’t get worked up about it”. Amanda Feilding explains that low doses of LSD could almost be described as a ‘psycho-vitamin’, providing nourishment for your mental health. “I think it could give a boost to vitality,” she says, “an improvement in mood possibly”.
She and Avey, among others, also claim that microdosing gives the user a greater awareness to remain active, cut down on negative habits such as drinking alcohol, and maintain a healthier diet. Therein lies an interesting idea, though. Those very acts themselves are known to ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety – without the risk of ingesting a foreign chemical into your body. It’s not just about treating depression either. “Physical activity, education, social interaction, mindfulness, and good quality sleep have all been shown to improve cognitive performance”as well, suggesting that until the effects of microdosing have properly studied, there are safer ways to achieve the same results.
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