Too Far Out: Studies Touting Health Benefits From Microdosing Psychedelics Are ‘Patchy & Anecdotal,’ Scientists Warn

LONDON — The notion that mind-altering drugs, more specifically psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, have a positive impact on creativity, mood, and productivity has been around for centuries. A bit more recently the practice of “microdosing” psychedelics, or only taking very small, repeated doses in order to maintain a somewhat level head while also experiencing the drug’s benefits, has picked up steam in certain circles. However, very little scientific research has actually been performed to back up these anecdotal claims, and experts warn that recent studies touting these drugs’ mental health benefits are too unreliable.

So, researchers at Imperial College London and Maastricht University set out to examine the practice of microdosing, and lay the groundwork for future research that will hopefully answer important questions regarding its safety and effectiveness.

LSD and psilocybin (the psychedelic found in magic mushrooms) are often cited by artists, musicians, and writers as great sources of inspiration, and many others have claimed that experiences they’ve had while on these drugs have helped them view their surroundings and life in completely different, more positive terms. The problem, though, is that all of these claims are just that: claims, and claims don’t cut it when it comes to the scientific community.

“Despite so much interest in the subject, we still don’t have any agreed scientific consensus on what microdosing is – like what constitutes a ‘micro’ dose, how often someone would take it, and even if there may be potential health effects” explains senior author Professor David Nutt in a release.

Almost all of the information the scientific community has on microdosing, the authors say, comes from secondhand accounts that focus on positive experiences. According to Nutt and his team, future research should be conducted within a much more controlled, observable environment and investigate potential risks or harmful side effects. Furthermore, settling on an exact dosage amount for research has proven difficult, since some reports indicate people have microdosed for a few hours, while others have indulged for days on end.

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Researchers decided to focus on psilocybin over LSD, since there was more overall information available on psilocybin, and it is much closer to being clinically approved as a treatment in select cases. Overall, the review’s authors say there just hasn’t been enough scientific studies performed on the effects of psilocybin, and the information gathered that they do have is patchy at best due to inconsistent and uncertain dosage amounts and potency levels.

As far as safety goes, researchers again conclude that there just isn’t enough evidence or data on the long-term effects of repeated psilocybin dosing in humans or animals. That being said, the review did note that some evidence pointed to possible cardiovascular risks.

Existing research on psilocybin’s impact on creativity and concentration is insufficient, according to the review. What we do know is that psilocybin appears to target certain receptors in the brain that cling to serotonin, a brain chemical typically associated with happiness, learning, and memory. The review’s authors theorize that this behavior may explain psilocybin’s reported positive impact on mood, productivity, and memory.

Of course, the legality of these substances is another major hurdle for researchers. Both LSD and psilocybin remain illegal in both the United States and United Kingdom.

The authors hope that their review of the available data will motivate the scientific community to examine this subject more closely and conduct more controlled studies. “Rigorous, placebo-controlled clinical studies need to be conducted with low doses of psilocybin to determine whether there is any evidence for the claims of microdosers,” the review reads.

“This review is timely as a lot of hope is generated by positive media reports about alleged effects of microdosing. Patients might feel attracted by those reports to try it but may actually not helped by it. We try to emphasise the lack of scientific proof that microdosing is indeed effective in combatting certain symptoms and hope that this will give impetus to new lines of research in this area,” first author Dr Kim Kuypers comments.

The review is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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