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Is Microdosing The Ultimate Mental Performance Hack?

13th August 2020

13th August 2020

By Caitlin Bell

Once associated with tie-dye clad, 1960s counterculture hippies, psychedelic drugs are beginning to move from the fringes of scientific study to the forefront of mainstream experimentation.

The magic of microdosing

A growing community of people across the globe are now taking ‘microdoses’ of drugs such as LSD, magic mushrooms and ketamine in order to feel more focused, creative, and present. Doses of these psychoactive substances (usually one-20th to one-tenth of a recreational dose) are too low to produce an intoxicating effect. Instead of participants experiencing the hallucinations we usually associate with psychoactive and psychedelic drugs, microdosing is reported to unlock a stream of performance-related benefits such as increased focus and concentration, enhanced creativity, reduced anxiety and depression, pain reduction, and improved mood.  

How did the microdosing trend start?

The trend began to gain momentum between 2010 and 2013 among Silicon Valley’s technology, engineering, and science professionals, who were searching for a way to boost their focus in order to churn out more code and think outside of the box. Past adopters of the trend include Apple founder Steve Jobs and Windows founder Bill Gates. And now, scientists are tapping into this new wave of wellness hacking in the hope of discovering magical solutions for a range of mental, physical and personal problems.

Thanks to widespread public anti-drug campaigns in the late 20th century, the conventional belief is that psychedelics exhaust your brain and are bad for your overall health. However, a swell of anecdotal reports from the last few years are beginning to suggest otherwise. Psychedelics have gained rapid popularity and media attention as a ‘performance hacker’, and a 2018 survey, in which a questionnaire was launched over several websites, revealed that the main motive for microdosing was, overwhelmingly, performance enhancement.

How does microdosing work?

Typically, a microdose is one-20th to one-tenth of a recreational dose. People will usually take this dosage every three to four days to avoid increased tolerance. However, the time spent microdosing is generally limited to around a month in order to prevent dependence or addiction.

The most commonly used psychedelics for microdosing are LSD and psilocybin (a naturally occurring substance found in magic mushrooms). With LSD, a little can go a long way. Microdosers usually cut up a ‘tab’ of acid on a piece of blotted paper, however it’s almost near impossible to cut up into uniform pieces, meaning the dosage will fluctuate slightly each time. To avoid this, others distil the LSD in liquid and extract equal measurements each time.

Magic mushrooms on the other hand can be eaten raw, dried, made into a tea, or taken as drops of liquid psilocybin. They’re a favourite of Silicon Valley tech types who love hunting for the next best thing that’s going to help them stay competitive, focused and driven. Earlier this year, as a testament to just how far the trend has come, Forbes reported that for $2,000 per month, you can even get your own “psychedelic-trip coach guru” who will “guide you through your mind-altering journey”.

Here’s a few other popular drugs that people use for microdosing:

  • KetamineKetamine is usually used as a sedative, for maintaining anaesthesia. Some users report feeling a physical high and a decrease in physical sensation in the body. Many think it can ease anxiety and depression, and with larger doses, the anti-depressive effects can last up to a month.
  • Ayahuasca. This Amazonian plant mixture contains a psychoactive substance called DMT. It’s usually consumed in tea-form, and users say it increases sensitivity and openness, and decreases boundaries and defences.
  • DMT. This is the active hallucinogenic compound found in ayahuasca. It’s usually smoked in powder form or consumed in a brew. The effects of DMT set in very quickly, with users saying it brings you to a place of introspection, allowing you to be in the present moment.

Due to the illegal nature of psychedelic substances, people are mostly having to resort to experimenting within their own homes, playing with varying schedules and doses to find out what works best for them. Up until 2019, scientists were having to tap in to these personal, private trials to explore the subject further. However, at the start of 2019, Imperial College London launched the world’s first Centre for Psychedelics Research, a watershed moment for psychedelic science which has laid the groundwork for larger trials taking place around the world, bringing a fringe of medical research into the centre of focus. As another example, in January this year, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health approved the world’s first randomized, controlled trial on LSD microdosing.

So, myth or magic? These drugs are now just as much the subject of authorised medical trials as they are a quick productivity hack for Google execs. Let’s break down the reported benefits and drawbacks of this new phenomenon.

Advantages of microdosing:

Those who have tried and tested microdosing, and experienced only positive effects, have reported the following:

  • The flow state (the feeling of being “in the zone”).
  • Reduced anxiety and stress.
  • Improved mental health.
  • Enhanced creativity.
  • Optimism and boosted mood.
  • Superior body functioning.
  • Enjoyment in being able to control the dose.
  • Being able to quit other habits.

Disadvantages of microdosing:

Psychoactive substances don’t have the same effect on all who take them. In fact, some users might be overly sensitive to certain drugs and have bad reactions. These people have reported the following effects:

  • Reduced energy levels.
  • Lower mood.
  • Increased anxiety and stress.
  • Poor focus.
  • Feeling agitated and/or uncomfortable.
  • Worsened mental health.
  • Dizziness and nausea.
  • No different to a placebo.

Ultimately, much more research needs to be done in order to properly explore and assess the power and potential of hallucinogens. Evidence for its beneficial effects on everyday life is mostly anecdotal, and so there’s a pressing need for standardized, placebo-controlled studies to answer the wealth of questions at hand. Scientific evidence about the potential negative effects is also lacking and more needs to be done to avoid the possibly damaging impacts of improper drug use. Naturally, this is almost always complicated by the legal issues surrounding psychedelic substances, making it difficult for scientists to obtain access for research.

The hack to superhuman mind powers may be found in future trials, but for now we may have to resort to practising meditation and mindfulness to stay on our mental A-game. What do you think about the microdosing trend? Let us know in the comments below.

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