People who take small amounts of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, may have improved psychological and cognitive functioning, a new study suggests.
Microdosing is a technique for studying the behaviour of drugs in humans through taking extremely low dosages.
The effects of microdosing have had a recent surge in popularity, with claims of enhanced productivity, concentration, creativity, mood and wellbeing, all without the typical “high” of psychedelics.
Australia’s Macquarie University has published the first study testing these claims, in which researchers recruited 98 microdosers and tracked their experiences over a six-week period.
“Glowing media reports have presented microdosing as a panacea,” Polito said.
“While there were clear positive impacts on depression, stress and concentration, we saw no evidence of expected improvements to creativity, wellbeing and mindfulness.
“Participants also experienced increased neuroticism, which is a risk not generally discussed by supporters of microdosing.”
New Zealand research into microdosing does not currently exist but a group of scientists at University of Auckland are working on it.
Professor Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy said the effect of LSD on the human brain was very interesting, and research such as Polito’s gave more reasons for studying it.
LSD binds to important serotonin receptors in the brain, which makes those receptors work differently biochemically, changing the electrical signalling that leads to the strange effects and vision.
“It’s fascinating neurophysiology, that’s why we are interested in studying it,” he said. “If you put the stigma aside there is no scientific reason why you wouldn’t.”
LSD is known for being highly potent, but microdosing uses a tenth of a standard tripping dose. The make up of the drug is completely different to cocaine or heroin and not nearly as addictive, he said.
Muthukumaraswamy said while the results of the study were interesting, there were a lot of variables in observing microdosing, rather than having a controlled clinical trial in a lab.
“If you are doing it in a lab it’s controlled, in the wild you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Expectancy effect – people experiencing the effect they believe they should have – can be controlled in the “gold standard” double-blind trial, which uses placebos.
A clinical trial would be more closely monitored to see if the results of observational studies were accurate, he said.
“Alternatively, if you find that it’s not true and we find its expectancy effect then people would stop doing it.”