Microdose Research: Without approvals, control groups, double-blinds, staff or funding by Dr James Fadiman

Fadiman LSD microdose microdosing psychedelic research

This article originally appeared in Psychedelic Press XVThere is an abundance of good news. After forty plus years of research being denied, what Charles Grob kindly called, “a lull,” psychedelic science is back. Excellent research results appear in the top peer-reviewed journals. The popular science press, as well as the general media, favorably covers the findings. In fact, it is difficult to find a thoughtful negative article about psychedelics anywhere. Governments hover on the edge of funding and hundreds of graduate students in religious studies, social work, psychology, biochemistry, neuroscience and psychiatry intend to go into psychedelic research.      

Major research groups in the US and the UK have the same long-term goal, to make psychedelics available to physicians and others trained in their use. Then, ordinary individuals can have guided therapeutic sessions, bracketed by supportive therapy, to deal with otherwise intractable mental health issues.          

Marijuana is on a fast track worldwide toward total medical acceptance and expanding legalization. While pharmaceutical companies try to cash in on extracts or synthetics of the more curative alkaloids, recreational marijuana is proving incredibly profitable to tax, and also adds to the public good. States in the US where marijuana has become legal report less drinking, less crime and fewer opioid overdose deaths. Marijuana, no longer routinely demonized, ultimately will be seen for what it is, good for pleasure and an amazing number of medical conditions. Right behind it, psychedelics are increasingly accepted in much of the scientific community as potentially beneficial for a growing cascade of heath conditions, as well as for personal growth and creativity.       

So far so good. If you’re connected to an academic research institution, a research hospital, are a physician in a clinic or have a solo practice, it is easier and easier to get government approval to do research. However, it is equally obvious that 99% of psychedelic users do not sign up for research projects and are very, very unlikely ever to do so. Therefore, most of what could be known about the effects of individual psychedelics, be they synthetics, plants or mushrooms, are not sufficiently reported or recorded.

Erowid, Bluelight and other sites house individual trip reports and commentaries in ever expanding databases. Erowid has had 100,000 reports on over 350 different substances and combinations submitted. It has published about 25,000 of them. The information is used by first responders, emergency rooms, medical personnel and, of course, psychonauts uncertain whether to take a recent designer drug that has zero medical research or tests of its contents or purity.

However, as my interest in psychedelics has always been to search out ways to increase safety and maximize benefits, these trip reports are rarely useful. I’m much more interested in the aftereffects of the experience in normal life then the chaotic, illuminating, transcendent and just plain weird moments experienced in what Robert Dickins artfully describes as “other space.”            

I spent my first few years (with government approval) working with high doses to ensure transcendent and worldview changing sessions. Until recently, I had almost no interest in less reality-shattering sessions. As for marijuana, I was sufficiently puritanical to be gently disdainful of people who wanted nothing more then the slightly disorienting, pleasurable social, sexual and sensory enhancement that, at least in those early days, seemed its only uses.      

Therefore, when I first heard about microdosing from Robert Forte, and that Albert Hoffman had done it for decades, I was more amused than intrigued. That the same substance which could reveal your immortality and you being the divinity that created the stars might, in low enough doses, make you a little more emotionally stable seemed hardly worth noticing.    

But the wheel of fortune turns, and, as I’ve learned over the years, many things I’ve disdained turned out to be enormously valuable.

However, even if I wanted to do research about the effects of microdoses, I have neither the right credentials (a PhD in psychology, no clinical license), nor am I part of any institution that could meet even the most generous of the new regulations. Furthermore, it was clear, after talking with some senior researchers and looking at those institutions most favorably disposed to psychedelic research, microdose studies were unlikely to get approval. Letting people loose, having dosed them with a Schedule 1 drug, was more that any IRB could allow.          

So here I was, wanting to find out more about the effects of substances at dose levels that made even marijuana look like a heavy drug. Treating microdoses as baby psychedelics put them in the wrong paradigm. They are more akin to SSRIs and cognitive enhancers, except that you take them far less often.  

Spoiled by those initial years working legally, the idea of running a clandestine research operation dispensing drugs, etc. never occurred to me. Fortunately, as readers of this publication know, mushrooms, peyote, San Pedro, morning glory seeds and many other plants have no idea that they are illegal and just kept growing. Sufficient supplies of microdoses were available, once I realized that I could ask other people about their experiences.       

Western science suffers from an insane obsession for simplicity. The reigning paradigm is to try to control every possible variable. In pharmacology, the goal is to isolate a single active molecule from a plant or fungus and ignore the incredible complex interactive mosaic of other substances that nature so effortlessly creates. (Trivia note: Mescaline was isolated from the peyote cactus decades ago and is assumed to be its most important alkaloid. There are at least 49 other alkaloids in that same cactus, exactly four of which have undergone any kind of testing in animals, let alone humans.)           

As I more fully appreciated that living organisms are always found enmeshed in an incredibly complex set of relationships with other organisms within and without, I developed a healthy suspicion that most results coming out of laboratories were likely to be, at best incomplete, at worst useless.                

Bolstered by such realizations, I started asking questions of those few people I could find who had microdosed. Albert Hoffman had said of the effects of these doses that this was the “under-researched area” of psychedelics. Had Sandoz been more interested, he felt that they might have had a product more useful and safer than Ritalin or its descendant Adderall.

Dr James FadimanI became quite excited at the first reports. For a while, I was convinced that I was the discoverer of a whole new way of working with psychedelics. My hubris was knocked out of me, however, when I touted my original and unique discoveries to an anthropologist friend. He pointed out that indigenous groups from Mexico throughout South America had worked with psychedelic plants for hundreds, probably for thousands, of years. Did I imagine they had not worked with low doses? In case I needed proof, he directed me to a six-volume work written by a Jesuit priest shortly after the Spanish conquest of Mexico that included descriptions of low doses with different psychedelics. As for modern uses, he gave me an example. “Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I take a low dose of a psilocybin mushroom. I have not had a cold in 15 years.” As it turned out, I was a late arriving guest at a very long running party.         

Chastened, but even more curious, I’ve continued to record and encourage microdose research without government permission, at almost no cost, and without any laboratory tests or controls. The reports I’ve accumulated are based on trust, on the interests of the individuals themselves, and on my well-founded belief in the generosity and integrity of the members of the worldwide psychedelic community.       

Since I began collecting reports in 2010, I have been refining how best to get useful data from people. Now, when asked, I send a detailed protocol of how to do a safe “Self-Study” of the effects of microdosing any chosen psychedelic. I request that anyone who uses this protocol send a report - either daily notes over a period of 10 four-day cycles and/or an overview of what they’ve noticed during that time.        

I have answered close at 250 requests to join the self-study and use the protocol. About half the people have sent in reports. Requests have come from more than 12 countries and the age range has been from 18 to 73. Almost everyone who asked to join has had from some, to considerable, prior psychedelic experience.        

Many requests are from people with long-standing depression and anxiety, most on meds and disappointed with the results and/or the side effects. Most people microdose with LSD or psilocybin mushrooms. Several have used 1P-LSD, (legal in the UK till 2016), and a scattering has tried different designer drugs. I have a few reports from people microdosing either ayahausca or iboga, usually following full doses taken in ritual or medical settings.          

At Breaking Convention III, I described the wide range of conditions where people reported benefits from microdosing. The list below is partial, but suggestive.

 

Conditions reported improved while microdosing:

  • Anxiety: General, social, academic, party
  • Asperger's Syndrome: More ease in social situations, especially parties
  • Bipolar: Mood elevation during depression phase (for some, disturbed sleep cycle)
  • No (Post-) Burning Man crash on returning home (a first)
  • Capacity to live in the present (the now)
  • Creativity (technical): Coding, machine design, other
  • Decreased/Stopped: Cigarettes, coffee, Adderall, Venlafaxine
  • Depression: Alleviated – many reports
  • Ice-pick Headaches (one minute clusters): Ended series
  • Health Habits: Food choices, exercise, yoga, meditation
  • Insights: Personal (therapeutic), work related
  • Learning: Languages, Advanced Maths, more focused attention in class
  • Menstrual periods: Elimination of pain and cramping.
  • Migraines: Lessened or eliminated.
  • Physical skills: Musical instruments, drumming, composition, flying a plane, driving
  • Trauma: Deceased triggering
  • Procrastination: Lessened
  • Stuttering: Increased ease and fluency in normal speech
  • Writing: Writer’s block, first drafts, procrastination
  • Work (improved): Amount, discrimination, flow, quality, enjoyment      

Among the more surprising results were diminished stuttering, and several women whose previously painful menstrual periods became pain-free and normal while microdosing for other reasons. One other early finding that remains consistent was, for most people, the effects last two days, and, for some people, the second day was better. This has completely upended my understanding of how long a full dose actually lasts, but that discussion is for a different essay.           

While we do not yet have formal scientific studies to investigate or verify these reports, it appears that periodic microdosing with sufficient time in between (every 4th day is what I recommend) improves overall functioning. However, like anything else, microdosing is not for everyone. Several people reported uncomfortable sweating on dose day, but continued dosing, and two people reported increased anxiety. Both stopped microdosing with no residual ill effects. One person reported more migraines.            

Overcoming the limitations, bureaucratic delays and costs of conventional research, collecting reports has opened a window to this dose level of psychedelic use that appear to enhance normal daily activities. Perhaps it is yet one more set of wonders that nature has been waiting for us to uncover.           

Here are a few representative quotes from the collected reports:

Psilocybin mushrooms: In general, a tiny dose of psilocybin makes me think much more deeply in every aspect of life. Instead of having a monkey mind, creating noise, my mind is still. It is in a mode that it has been in before, but that was a long time ago. Psilocybin makes me feel exactly how I felt when I was a kid in school. It is happiness, because you realize that you have all you need. During my test days, I feel more love for myself, and I can give that to others. I also have this sense of being the pilot of my body. My cravings for sugar, smoke and sodas nearly went away. I wanted to give my body the best fuel, I feel like I attract positive people and happenings in my life. I got a job offer landing on my lap, without working for it. I can't prove that there is some connection, and scientist would deny it, but I feel like there is something bigger going on.

Ibogaine: Currently experimenting with microdosing of ibogaine (50-75 mg of a 50/50 mixture of TA and HCL). Wow. There needs to be more research with this! I have found a very subtle yet very noticeable shift in my personality. It has removed what I call "automated response syndrome." New insights into how I respond to situations. The inner critic has been pretty much silenced. Less anxiety. More self-confidence. More sure of myself. Less self-conscious. My voice is more confident, easier to talk to people… very positive effects. Also, my emotional state is more fluid. I laugh easier, cry easier - more gratitude, greater appreciation. More calmness…. 

LSD: Microdosing has allowed me to unlock my potential and to live fuller, to be engaged in an individual moment, which has in turn allowed me to be more focused and happier. I'm much more empathetic and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt now. I just feel lighter all the time, even on day 3 of the routine. I rarely get angry or stressed anymore. Since I've started microdosing, I've been eating much healthier and exercising more. And it hasn't been forced. I started doing yoga and meditating daily rather organically. It all just happened.

Psilocybin .4 mg every 4th day for 10 doses: The day of and day after Dose days I felt disconnected when engaging with people. I was drawn to pull back and not engage as fully as I normally would. Felt a bit out of sorts in relation to my community and others. The day after a dose day I usually did not feel good. Some days worse than others. This is normal for me to have days where I don’t feel good, but these were more frequent (as well as more frequent migraines). I am more connected to my intuitive self and more trusting of the information I am receiving. The personal and spiritual growth I have experienced is significant. I see and own my personal value and worth like I have never known it before. I have seen how certain behaviors and belief systems have contributed to low self-esteem and low self-worth patterns. So basically, I am more confident in myself, and my abilities to create the life I am wanting for myself. My setting boundaries and taking care of myself with others has improved. I have more energy and am more productive. This has been a fabulous experience of healing for me.

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This article originally appeared in Psychedelic Press XV. Dr James Fadiman (B. 1939) is an American psychologist and writer. He is acknowledged for his extensive work in the field of psychedelic research. He co-founded along with Robert Frager the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, which later became Sofia University (California), where he was a lecturer in psychedelic studies.


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