Users and some researchers say taking small doses of psychedelic drugs like LSD can enhance creativity and relieve anxiety. Others worry about long-term effects.
Alexandra is in her early 30s.
She works as an artist in San Francisco and for the past two months has been microdosing lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
She takes the drug for a variety of reasons, but mostly, she tells Healthline, it’s to help with her work and productivity.
Microdosing is the practice of regularly taking certain psychedelic drugs in drastically lower doses (typically 1/10 or 1/20) than normally used for a “trip” or high.
It has been touted by some as a cure for many different conditions, including depression and anxiety.
LSD (also known as “acid”) and psilocybin (derived from “magic” mushrooms), are the two most common drugs used for microdosing, but for others, the hallucinogenic South American beverage ayahuasca is used.
Alexandra was familiar with LSD from having taken it throughout her teens and 20s, but she had never experimented with microdosing until recently.
After doing some research online, she and a friend decided to try it.
“I’d say it’s improved the quality of both of our lives, honestly,” she told Healthline.
Besides an increased feeling of general well-being, she has also seen numerous other positive effects on her life.
She no longer smokes.
She no longer uses Adderall, a popular amphetamine that is regularly used to help with productivity, particularly across college campuses.
“I used to get stressed out about a deadline or I’d be worried if I could actually do what I needed to do,” she said. “After microdosing, it’s almost like it takes away that fear and you’re just in the workflow and very productive. There’s no wasting time being worried about different things.”
Alexandra plans to continue using microdoses for the foreseeable future and encourages others struggling with productivity, anxiety, and depression to try it as well.
The trend of microdosing has only become popular within the past year or so, but it has rapidly become a talking point within popular culture.
The popularity of the practice seemingly can be attributed to three different cultural influences.
The first one is Silicon Valley.
The high-tech community in the San Francisco Bay Area has often been associated with the psychedelic movement, perhaps most famously going back to a quote from the late Steve Jobs:
“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life,” he said. “LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it.”
In fact, Alexandra herself pointed to this quote as being influential in her decision to start microdosing.
Jobs isn’t the only famous techie to talk about the transformative aspects of psychedelics either.
Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” has stated, “The billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis.”
The practice of microdosing has reportedly become quite common in the tech communities of Northern California, as an aid for problem solving and productivity.
The second major influencer is Israeli-American author Ayelet Waldman, who published the novel “A Really Good Day,” documenting her experiences microdosing with LSD for a month.
In the book, Waldman praises the practice in helping her overcome anxiety and mood disorders.
“You’ve been much happier,” one of her daughters tells her in the book. “You’ve been controlling your emotions. Like, when you’re angry, you’re super-chill.”
The recent interest in microdosing can be attributed to a third source, James Fadiman, PhD.
Fadiman, a psychologist in the United States, has been conducting research on psychedelics since the 1960s.
However, it’s his recent work, “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys,” published in 2011, that laid down the ground rules for microdosing as it exists today.
It is his system that Waldman documents in her book.
“The general schedule is one day on, two days off,” Waldman tells Healthline.
The idea is the doses are so minimal that the user won’t feel any of the effects normally associated with psychedelics.
Since February, Fadiman and his co-researcher Sophia Korb, PhD, have used a website for a crowd-sourced research effort on the effects of microdosing — a practice he refers to as “citizen science.”
LSD and psilocybin mushrooms are illegal in the United States. They are classified as Schedule 1 controlled substances, meaning that federal officials see these drugs as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses.
However, Fadiman’s research is merely an avenue of observation that allows users to report their experiences.
Participation is at the user’s own risk, and Fadiman’s website comes with the following warning:
“We are not able to offer information about how to obtain psychedelics, which are not yet legal in most countries. Please DO NOT ASK US about: how or where to find substances.”
Nonetheless, Fadiman and Korb’s research, which they just finished presenting at the Psychedelic Science Conference, has already provided further insight into microdosing.
Fadiman told Healthline that the website has already collected data from nearly 1,400 subjects from some 30 countries, with ages ranging from 18 to 77 years old.
For many of the respondents, the primary issue is depression, but Fadiman says others have reported improvement in conditions as far ranging as headaches to painful menstrual periods.
However, the most significant result isn’t the treatment of a single thing:
“Across the board spontaneous report improvement in overall health habits, meaning better eating habits, better sleeping habits, better exercise habits, better meditation habits,” said Fadiman.
“This is simply appearing again and again and again,” he added. “This is giving us a theory that what we are doing is enhancing the natural healing response that the body always is working with.”
Fadiman’s research is admittedly anecdotal, but he says it is bringing attention to the practice from people in medical and mental health fields that have the resources to begin real scientific trials with it.
The question that remains for many people is simple: Is microdosing safe?
Fadiman confidently answers, “Yes.”
He notes that the practice may not work well for some people dealing primarily with anxiety.
The only other negative symptoms he says that have been reported have been some abdominal upset issues from psilocybin mushrooms.
To date, there are no known overdose deaths attributed to LSD.
Fadiman pointed out to the Huffington Post that Albert Hofmann, PhD, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD, was microdosing the substance for the last decades of his life, and he lived until 102.
Nonetheless, without proper scientific research, there are reasons to be hesitant.
In 2015, Dr. James Rucker, a psychiatrist from Kings College London called for psychedelics to be reclassified, to make studying the drugs easier, and cheaper for researchers.
Despite his urgent call, he is still cautious.
In a recent interview with the BBC, he ceded, “Microdosing at a medical level, we know absolutely nothing about. We don’t know what the risks in the long-term might be.”
The next step, however, will require recognition from the larger medical community and ultimately the United States government.
“If we continue to find that [microdosing] has a remarkable ratio of risks to benefits — because it seems to be extremely safe and has a wide variety of benefits,” says Fadiman, “we expect much more research and pressure from the medical community to be able to use it to help people they have not been able to help.”