- According to a growing body of research, microdosing psychedelics may provide unique health benefits.
- A new study found that people who reported microdosing psilocybin saw improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress compared to people who did not microdose psychedelics.
- Psychedelic research is growing and the results look promising, but more rigorous studies are needed to determine if psychedelic microdosing can be effective in treating mental health issues.
Repeated use of small amounts of the psychedelic psilocybin can improve mood and mental health, a new study has found.
The researchers found that people who microdosed psilocybin saw “small to moderate” improvements in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress during a 30-day follow-up, compared to those who did not.
This observational study, published on June 30 in
“This is the largest longitudinal study of its kind to date on psilocybin microdosing and one of the few studies to engage a control group,” said study author Zach Walsh. PhD, professor of psychology at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia in Kelowna. said in a statement.
“[The results] add to the growing conversation about the therapeutic potential of microdosing,” he added.
With respect to psychedelics, microdosing involves the consumption of psychedelic substances in amounts too small to impair day-to-day functioning. Dosage may vary but can be taken 3-5 times per week.
The 2021 World Drug Survey (GDS) found that one in four people who used psychedelics said they had microdosed psilocybin mushrooms or LSD in the past 12 months. These two substances are the most widely used for microdosing, but the survey also found that about one-third of people who used psychedelics microdosed another psychedelic.
Although most people think a microdose is very small, Dustin Hines, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said a challenge for this type research is to precisely define the size of this dose.
“By establishing a microdose, people seek to have normal cognitive functioning – they can still perform work duties or other responsibilities without noticing any negative impact,” he said, adding that microdosing appropriate may vary from person to person and situation to situation. situation.
In the new study, participants reported on their recent use of microdosed psychedelic mushrooms and completed a number of assessments of their mood and mental health, noting a number of improvements.
Possible psychomotor benefits
In addition to studying mental health outcomes, researchers conducted a smartphone finger tapping test that has been used to assess psychomotor symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as
People 55 or older who microdosed psilocybin experienced improvements in their psychomotor performance, as measured by this tapping test.
The researchers also assessed whether combining psilocybin with a non-psychedelic substance, a process known as “stacking,” changed the results.
Combining psilocybin with lion’s mane (a non-psychedelic mushroom) and niacin (a B vitamin) did not affect changes in mood or mental health, the researchers found. However, older people who microdosed and combined psilocybin with these two substances were more likely to have improved psychomotor performance.
The new study used a subset of participants from a larger, earlier study by the same researchers that was published in November 2021 in
The previous study found that people who microdosed psilocybin or LSD reported lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress than those who did not microdose psychedelics.
Additionally, a smaller
And while the new study is the largest of its kind to date, it’s important to note that it’s still observational rather than a randomized controlled trial (RCT). As such, the researchers were unable to fully account for other factors that could affect the results, such as age, gender, pre-study mental health, and other types. treatment.
Such factors can also affect how people individually respond to psilocybin.
“One thing that varies wildly in these studies is who people come in. Some people are resistant to depression but have a lot of anxiety issues, and vice versa,” Hines said. “So a microdose may affect someone with high levels of anxiety very differently than someone with high levels of depression.”
Results may vary depending on “expectation”
Because of the way the new study was designed, the researchers weren’t able to control for “expectation,” an effect in which people know they’re taking psilocybin, so they expect to experience positive benefits.
This is a common problem in psychedelic research, as well as other research in which a treatment is difficult to hide from participants (i.e. studies of acupuncture, ice and electrostimulation).
“The power of expectation is enormous and very difficult to control in these types of studies,” said Rochelle Hines, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “This study wasn’t even really designed to try to take the guesswork out of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the results aren’t accurate.”
Researching psychedelics has always been difficult because psilocybin, LSD, and other psychedelics are currently illegal in the United States under federal law.
Although previous clinical trials of psychedelics have been disputed in the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since granted psychedelics “breakthrough therapy” status and now encourages scientific research.
And despite the potential therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, the adverse risks are not fully understood, hence the need for more rigorous research.
One of the concerns about psilocybin mushrooms is that their long-term use could lead to valve damage or heart valve disease. When ingested, psilocybin is metabolized by the liver and converted into the pharmacological compound psilocin, which binds to serotonin receptors in the heart.
Rochelle Hines said that to accurately assess the risks and benefits of microdosing psilocybin, these types of potential risks need to be studied over the long term.
“For occasional use, it seems like psilocybin isn’t too much of a threat in that regard,” she said. “But I don’t know if we have a lot of longitudinal data on regular chronic users to understand what the potential role of this compound is on the heart.”
While Dustin Hines is pleased with the design and results of the new study, he said one thing that strikes him when studies like this come out is that researchers have to keep proving to the general public that some of these psychedelic compounds are beneficial.
Part of the problem, he said, is the negative stigma attached to psychedelics, even though psilocybin and LSD carry a low risk of addiction, especially compared to legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
“These are not very risky drugs to microdose,” said Sherry Walling, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of Mind Curious, a podcast exploring the benefits of psychedelics for mental health. “The risk profile for addiction and overdose is really low.”
In fact, psilocybin-related deaths are rare since the substance is considered to have extremely low toxicity. Thus, researchers study psychedelics as
“There’s a really nuanced story here about how substances can be dangerous to us, but can also be incredibly healing,” Walling said.
As the field of psychedelic research continues to advance, more and more evidence points to the therapeutic potential of microdosing substances like psilocybin.
Yet despite the potential benefits seen, experts like Walling warn that more research is still needed, especially when it comes to using psychedelics as a treatment for anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Mental Health.
“As a psychologist, my job is to help care for vulnerable people,” she said. “So that’s where the level of research matters significantly, in terms of what I’m comfortable telling patients about these compounds.”
Dustin Hines agreed, but only if the studies are well designed, as they can help advance psychedelic therapies in clinics without risking re-stigmatization of these compounds. “We really want this to go well because I think it will have profound effects on humanity,” he said. “But it has to be done right, and we have to have all the facts.”