Mental Health and Microdosing
An In-Depth Discussion
It sounds too good to be true: a drug where a single dose can positively impact mental health and treat depression, anxiety, ADHD/ADD, substance abuse, PTSD and more.
Yet that is exactly what psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychoactive mushrooms (or “shrooms”), claims to do. And science is starting to prove it.
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A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found under randomized, double-blind conditions that a single dose of psilocybin produced “substantial and enduring decreases in depressed mood and anxiety along with increases in quality of life”. This is just one in a series of studies spanning back to the 1950s which investigate the use of psychedelics for mental health.
But whilst psychedelics have long been studied, the focus has been on higher doses. There have been fewer studies into microdosing – taking a small enough dose to feel positive benefits without a full psychedelic trip.
Only now are we beginning to see clinical studies on microdosing which support the anecdotal evidence of its benefits, with the suggestion that microdosing works similarly to a larger dose, but on a smaller level.
Clinical studies on microdosing for mental health
A qualitative analysis of YouTube videos on microdosing found self-rapport was predominantly positive as well as broad-ranging, covering depression, trauma, addiction, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Therapeutic effects on depression were particularly noteworthy, as were effects on ADHD – to the extent that some users replaced their prescribed medication with microdosing.
Another study looked into personal accounts of microdosing in the subreddit, r/microdosing. Improved mental health was identified as the second most common benefit, with posters describing microdosing as being more effective than psychiatric medications and even “life-changing”.
Microdosing vs. higher doses and conventional treatments
A Maastricht University study found microdosing showed more success than conventional treatments for mental illnesses, including anxiety, ADHD/ADD, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and substance abuse. However, microdosing appeared generally less effective than a full psychedelic trip for treating depression and anxiety.
But this isn’t a universal rule. Microdosing could, for some at least, be equally or more effective than a full hallucinogenic trip in terms of psychological benefits. When a Journal of Psychopharmacology study asked respondents whether a microdose or higher dose was more effective, one third reported microdosing was more beneficial than higher doses and one quarter reported that both were equally beneficial.
Why is microdosing beneficial for mental health?
There is currently no definitive answer to the question of exactly how psychedelics interact with the brain to alleviate symptoms like depression and anxiety.
Psychedelics act on the neurotransmitter system serotonin, also known as “the happy chemical” due to its regulation of wellbeing and happiness. Traditional antidepressant drugs also interact with serotonin receptors for this reason. It is thought that the interaction with serotonin could be one explanation for the relationship between psychedelics and mood.
Others speculate on the fact that psychedelics have fewer unwanted side-effects compared to traditional medications, and as they are not consumed daily this eliminates potential bad side-effects further.
Plus, as psychedelics act more quickly, even after just one administration, their positive impact may be more immediately obvious.
Some even speculate that it may simply be the placebo effect. With YouTubers, Redditors and even Silicon Valley entrepreneurs proclaiming microdosing’s benefits, users have strong expectations that hallucinogens will give them the results they want.
Interestingly, microdosing appears most effective when users have a clear intention for taking the drug. Those who set clear goals of what they want to achieve or what symptoms they want to alleviate seem to notice the best results.
The use of psilocybin for mental health in Canada
The growing evidence that psilocybin can alleviate depression and anxiety has inspired movements for drug law reform in Canada, with advocates filing a court challenge to allow its use to treat terminally ill patients.
Meanwhile, at least two centers in Canada are pursuing studies of psilocybin, including clinical studies of microdosing psilocybin.
Conclusions on microdosing psilocybin for mental health
There is still much to be learned on what exactly psychedelics do to the brain, as well as the need for a double-blind placebo-controlled trial on microdosing.
Nonetheless, as the third wave of scientific psychedelic inquiry continues we are discovering more about the positive effects of psychedelics on mental health. And whilst effects vary from person to person, it seems that for many there could be great mental health benefits from microdosing.
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