Long before microdosing was being touted as the Silicon Valley life hack du jour, Dr. James Fadiman was investigating the potential mind-enhancing effects of ingesting psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms.
In the 1960s, Fadiman conducted pioneering psychedelic research, including one study in which he gave LSD and another hallucinogen, Mescaline, to scientists, mathematicians and architects to see how it affected creative problem-solving. (His research was one of the last investigations into LSD due to the Food and Drug Administration’s mid-1960s research ban of the substance.)
More recently, Fadiman authored “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide,” a how-to manual for safe and therapeutic psychedelic drug experiences.
Now, his research has taken a new turn.
Fadiman is examining the effects of administering psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin in amounts so small that they are below the perceptual threshold. As part of an ongoing research project, Fadiman is collecting the self-reported testimonies of hundreds of people from around the globe who have experimented with psychedelic “microdosing” to treat ailments from anxiety to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or simply to improve productivity or break through writer’s block.
How does one microdose? You take a very small dose of either LSD or psilocybin (roughly one-tenth to one-fifth of a normal dose), on a regular schedule. Fadiman recommends dosing in the morning, once every four days. The dose isn’t enough to “trip,” but for some users, it can lead to subtle yet profound internal shifts. Many microdosers report experiencing improvements in mood; enhanced focus, productivity or creativity; less reactivity; and in some cases, even relief fromdepression or cluster headaches.
“What it seems to do is rebalance people,” Fadiman told The Huffington Post.
HuffPost Science recently sat down with Fadiman to learn more about how microdosing works, and its potential for enhancing well-being and treating a range of health problems.
Where did this idea of microdosing come from?
Dr. Albert Hofmann (the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD) had been microdosing for at least the last couple decades of his life. He lived to be 102 and at age 100 he was still giving two-hour lectures. Hoffman said that he would mainly use it when he was walking in trees, and it would clarify his thinking. So he was the person who first introduced this to many people, and he also said that this was a very under-researched area.
And of course, for thousands of years, indigenous people have been using low doses of mind-altering substances as well.
What types of people are microdosing, and who do you think can benefit most from the practice?
Microdosing seems to improve a vast range of conditions. I’ve explored microdosing as a safer way of doing psychedelics than the high doses that have been used before. Roughly 95 percent of the people who write me have considerable psychedelic experience. I’ll basically tell them, this isn’t going to harm you, let me know what happens.
The general response is that they feel better. There is an actual movement towards increased health or wellness. What that means, for instance, is that people who write in for anxiety seem to get help with their anxiety. People who use it for learning, improve their learning. One Ivy League student said he was using microdosing to get through the hardest math class in the undergraduate curriculum, and he did wonderfully in the class. Another young man used it for severe stuttering, and others have used it for social anxiety. One young woman, an art historian, even found that it regulated her periods and made them painless.
What does your microdosing protocol look like?
On day one, you dose. Day two, you’re still having the effects. Day three, you should be noticeably not having the effects, and on day four you dose again. For self-study, that’s ideal because it gives you a chance to see what’s going on. After a month — which is all I ask of people — most people say that they’re still microdosing, but not as often.
You’ve worked with hundreds of people on a self-reported microdosing study. How did that get started and what have you been finding?
Over the past number of years, people have written to me and said, “I’m interested in microdosing” for this or that reason, “can you help me?” They ask me to tell them what I’ve been suggesting to people, and they ask to be in the study. I then send them a protocol I’ve developed for a self-study and ask them to get back to me. I’ve probably sent out 200 or 300 of these, and I’ve gotten about half as many back as reports. A number are in process right now.
The range of interest goes from “Hey man, new drug, cool” to “I have post-traumatic stress, I’m recovering from cancer, and I hate my meds.” It’s a very wide range. I get a lot of people who say “I have anxiety or depression and I’ve either gotten off my meds or I hate my meds. Could microdosing help?” And my response is, “It’s helped a lot of other people and I hope it helps you. Here’s the protocol.”
I’ve heard there’s potential for enhancing focus and improving symptoms of ADHD, too.
What people basically say is that they’re better. They focus more in class. A number of people have told me that it’s like Adderall but without the side effects. Now these people are coming off Adderall and have used microdosing to help them taper off pharmaceuticals, or at least to take their pharmaceutical use way, way down.
In your study, are you seeing a lot of people turning to microdosing as a way to come off pharmaceuticals?
For some people, it can take a year or two to come off of a pharmaceutical. A number of people have simply said that with microdosing it was much easier. They said they could do it without incredible suffering. A woman who was coming off of some anti-psychotics that she probably should never have been put on said that it wasn’t that she didn’t have the same symptoms, but she didn’t identify with them as much. She said that she could think of her mood swings as her brain chemistry rebalancing.
What’s going on beneath the surface to create these changes?
What microdosing seems to do is rebalance people. Here’s a generalization, which is how I’ve come to this conclusion: A number of people, by the time they’ve finished a month, say, “I’m sleeping better, I’m eating more healthy food, I’ve returned to yoga and I’m doing meditation.” They’ve improved their relationship to their body — or their body has improved their relationship to them.
One man quit smoking. He said that he knew smoking wasn’t good, and it was as if his body could actually help him make the decision. What seems to happen with microdosing is that you’re more attuned to your own real needs.
Why has there been so little research into microdosing?
There are two main problems. One is that nobody was interested in microdosing, even a couple of years ago. The early research was always high-dose, and the fact that you could take psychedelics as a microdose didn’t occur to people. The only person we knew of who microdosed seriously was Hofmann … It was basically invisible during the time when research was legal and most of the time when it wasn’t.
On the other side of it, I talked with a major researcher who’s done a number of psychedelic studies and who said that he would love to do a microdosing study. I asked him what was stopping him. He said that the Institutional Review Board is not going to say, “Oh you want to give a Schedule I drug to people every few days and have them just go run around?” It’s going to be really hard.
Now, there are two groups, one in Australia and one in Europe, who are starting microdosing studies. I’m working with both of those groups on designing the studies.
Austin, Texas is becoming a hub for a new kind of entrepreneur, hippie, and hipster breed. As gross as that might be to visually imagine, it actually creates an amazing environment for testing personal practices, such as microdosing.
While I have sifted through scientific research, particularly from Dr. James Fadiman in the 1970s, much of this is based on anecdotes, experiences, and interviews.
Names have been changed to protect those who shared their experiences.
Microdosing is using small doses of powerful psychedelic drugs in order to improve working conditions. In contrast, full psychedelic experiences are often mystical and not conducive to completing work-related tasks.
There are several purported advantages including:
Imagine you have been working on a problem for weeks without finding an adequate solution. You wake up every morning, put in your time, but still don’t feel satisfied with your results.
That was the basis for a 1966 experiment organized by Dr. James Fadiman among others. This experiment took 27 male subjects (16 engineers, 2 mathematicians, 2 architects, 1 engineer-physicist, and others) and required them to bring a professional problem they had been working on for at least 3 months with a desire to solve it.
After providing these subjects with 200 mg of mescaline sulphate, the subjects had 4 hours to work on their professional problem. Almost all of them reported greater problem-solving ability and at least 12 had breakthrough solutions.
Eric Clough was an architect in 1966 during the same era of research who wrote “The consensus among the architects interviewed…seems to be that LSD, when administered under carefully controlled conditions, does enhance creativity… aids in visualizing three-dimensionally, and generally heightens perceptivity.” (Fadiman, 170)
Numerous microdosing practitioners report having more creativity, which often ties into problem-solving. However, for musicians and artists, the creativity may help produce exceptional work in the absence of a definitive ‘problem’ that needs solving.
Many psychedelics drastically enhance mood and happiness because of their interaction with serotonin receptors. Psilocybin decreases depressive and anxiety-related symptoms. The same is true for most other psychedelic drugs through small microdoses.
In a book Tryptamine Palace, author James Oroc asserts “Virtually all athletes who learn to use LSD… believe that the use of these compounds improves both their stamina and their abilities. According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your re-flex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration…”
It sounds nice, but I spoke with my friend Larry to get his experiences and confirmed the same phenomenon. Both LSD and o-acetylpsilocin (prodrug for psilocin) offered strong physical energy and endurance beyond the norm.
These are just a few of the benefits of microdosing specifically. Note that the ‘heroic’ dose, which provides mystical and self-reflective experiences, does not provide the same problem-solving or physical endurance effects. In fact, it might be the opposite in some circumstances so be careful when microdosing.
In scientific studies, the letter “n” is used to refer to the sample size. If you test something in a group of 5 friends, the sample size is 5 (n=5). The term “n=1” is used to describe a sample size of 1, which is you. Therefore, the popularized term in biohacking circles is meant to encourage self-testing as opposed to listening to what everyone else believes.
There are at least 3 acquaintances with whom I spoke about microdosing. Larry is an entrepreneur creating a health-food company and had the most extensive experiences with microdosing. He felt LSD had a more complete microdosing experience even though mushrooms improved his physical energy and endurance profoundly.
Both Larry and another named Josh reported cycling LSD microdoses once every 3 – 4 days because of tolerance and ability to connect with others. Larry concluded that 10 – 12 mcg is better for physical endurance and concentration, while 12 – 15 mcg is better for creative thinking and problem-solving.
In contrast to these generally positive experiences, there is a individual self-experiment by Gwern that showed “No beneficial effects reached…LSD microdosing did not help me.” He continues to show how he tested and calculated things.
Another trained pianist and composer on Reddit took 30 – 40 mcg microdoses and reported “The experience could be described as slightly withdrawn and I felt like I had worse coordination and consequently lower accuracy in playing.”
Given the mixed nature of these anecdotal experiences, I recommend taking an N=1 approach. Understand that each individual is different and the dosage and microdosing that works for one person may not work for you.
The evidence from Fadiman’s research in the 1960’s along with other testimony leads me to be cautiously optimistic about microdosing benefits, but don’t expect it to solve all your professional or personal problems.
Again, neither I nor Pure Nootropics condone or recommend using illegal or illicit drugs. This is the process for microdosing that is reported through the experiments of Dr. James Fadiman and the experiences of others.
Given that microdosing with LSD is most common. Here is a brief guide for most accurately dosing. This is called volumetric dosing and it offers the most superior and accurate result.
(Tools needed: Scale, Pipette bottle, distilled water, tab of LSD)
Here are some of the common mistakes people make when trying to microdose:
Mistake #1 – Do not cut the tab of LSD into strips in order to divide the dosage. For one, this is incredibly difficult to do accurately (given the small size of most LSD tabs). It also does not account for “hotspots”, which are heightened concentrations and uneven distribution on the tab itself. Instead, use the volumetric dosing with distilled water method explained above.
Mistake #2 – Taking the “incorrect” dose. While each dose will have different effects for different people, some guidance can be helpful. 20 mcg of LSD is usually considered the high end of the microdose range, but some people go as high as 50 mcg. For LSD the lower doses tend to have concentration and slight mood benefits (5 – 12 mcg) while 12 – 20 mcg is a dose for problem-solving and creativity with more felt effects.
If you are using o-acetylpsilocin for a mushroom microdose (easier than trying to weigh actual mushrooms precisely), dosage recommendations are around 3 – 4 mg for microdosing.
Mistake #3 – Taking doses too often. Most accounts recommended once every 3 – 4 days maximum, but longer is also good. LSD is particularly subject to tolerance and doing it every other day can create uncomfortable relationships with reality.
Mistake #4 – Obviously sourcing makes a big difference with microdosing. A poor quality product with a big dose is less impactful, but when you rely on a tiny dose to provide effects, opt for quality.
Today we are witnessing the birth of a truly remarkable epoch. With the psychedelic renaissance well under way, consisting of new fascinating research, the coming out of thousands of individuals and the introduction of many, hitherto unknown, psychoactive plants steeped in their cultural context of healing and initiation, we are now facing some new and interesting questions.
I think one of the more fruitful directions we can take is towards is microdosing.
Microdosing is taking sub-perceptual doses (6-25 microgram LSD, 0.2-0.5 gram dried mushrooms, 50-75 microgram mescaline HCL) while keeping up with ones daily activities, engaging in extreme sports, appreciating nature or enhancing one’s spiritual practice.
This manner of integrating psychedelics, also known as a psycholytic dose, doesn’t inhibit ego-functioning in the same intense manner as the ‘heroic’ Terence McKenna dose does. It is much easier integrated into non-psychedelic activities.
It is known that Albert Hofmann, the first synthesizer of LSD, continued this practice well into his old age while saying “it would have gone on to be used as Ritalin if it hadn’t been so harshly scheduled.”
James Oroc, the author of the amazing book Tryptamine Palace: 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad, while writing about the secret affair between psychedelics and extreme sports, says that taking psychedelics at lower doses, the “cognitive functioning, emotional balance, and physical stamina were actually found to be improved.”
For some, this might not come as a surprise, since Hofmann already spoke in a now famous interview that “Lysergic acid diethyl amide (LSD) is related in chemical structure to nicotinic acid diethylamide, known to be an effective analeptic.” (central nervous stimulant.)
But there’s more, as James Oroc eloquently put,
Virtually all athletes who learn to use LSD at psycholytic dosages believe that the use of these compounds improves both their stamina and their abilities. According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your re- flex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration until you experience “tunnel vision,” and make you impervious to weakness or pain. LSD’s effects in these regards amongst the extreme-sport community are in fact legendary, universal, and without dispute.
He goes so far to suggest that, to some in the extreme sports subculture, taking a microdose at any physical competition is considered cheating. And this is not just the case for sports. P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly write in LSD — The Problem-Solving Psychedelic about a student that wanted to learn german making huge strides under the influence of an unknown amount of LSD. These are the words of the student:
It was a week before registration and it depressed me tremendously that I had not spent the summer learning German, as I had planned. I had intended to give myself a crash course so I could take second-year German, which I needed for my study in physics. I had heard of a woman who had learned enough Spanish in a few days, via LSD, to speak it fluently when she had to go to Mexico on business.
I had taken LSD before, and while I couldn’t see how she did this, I decided it was worth a try. I hadn’t even gotten around to picking up a textbook, but I did have a close friend who knew German well and who said he was willing to “sit in” while I took the drug and try to teach me the language.
Fortunately, I knew something about conjugation and declension, so I wasn’t completely at sea. I wanted to get worked up and feel involved with the language, as it seemed that this must be at least part of the key to the problem, so I asked my friend to tell me about Schiller and Goethe, and why the verb came at the end. Almost immediately, after just a story or two, I knew I had been missing a lot in ignoring the Germans, and I really got excited. The thing that impressed me at first was the delicacy of the language (he was now giving me some simple words and phrases), and though I really messed it up, I was trying hard to imitate his pronunciation as I had never tried to mimic anything before.
For most people German may be “guttural,” but for me it was light and lacey. Before long, I was catching on even to the umlauts. Things were speeding up like mad, and there were floods of associations. My friend had only to give me a German word, and almost immediately I knew what it was through cognates. It turned out that it wasn’t even necessary for him to ask me what it sounded like.
Memory, of course, is a matter of association, and boy, was I ever linking up to things! I had no difficulty recalling words he had given me—in fact, I was eager to string them together. In a couple of hours after that I was reading even some simple German, and it all made sense.
The whole experience was an explosion of discoveries. Normally, when you’ve been working on something for a long time and finally discover a solution, you get excited, and you can see implications everywhere. Much more than if you heard someone else discovering the same-thing. Now this discovery thing, that’s what was happening with me—but all the time.
The threshold of understanding was extremely low, so that with every new phrase I felt I was making major discoveries. When I was reading, it was as though I had discovered the Rosetta Stone and the world was waiting for my translation. Really wild!
In the 60’s the creativity enhancing effects of psychedelics were already hailed as revolutionary, and these famous trippers would certainly agree. One significant study investigated the effect of 100 micrograms of LSD on top of the field experts who had been struggling with a hard problem for months. Their solutions were reviewed by a panel of other experts in the same field. As Tim Doody reports;
LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties.
Psychedelics can be described as “non-specific amplifiers”, and, as such, not just creativity can be enhanced, also the distressing states of mind. In smaller doses this is not as overwhelming and therefore, if used properly, can be quite beneficial.
Myron Stolaroff, while writing about the usefulness of psychedelics in the practice of buddhism, argues that low doses of psychedelics can be extremely beneficial to improve ones meditation practice.
The use of low doses often can be much more effective in dealing with our “psychic garbage.” Many do not care for low doses because they can stir up uncomfortable feelings, and they prefer to transcend them by pushing on into higher states, but it is precisely these uncomfortable feelings that must be resolved to achieve true freedom.
With low doses, by focusing directly on the feelings and staying with them without aversion and without grasping, they will in time dissipate. Resolving one’s repressed feelings in this manner clears the inner being, permitting the True Self to manifest more steadily. Such a result provides greater energy, deeper peace, more perceptive awareness, greater clarity, keener intuition, and greater compassion. It permits the deepening of one’s meditation practice. The surfacing of buried feelings that this procedure permits often can bring new understanding of one’s personality dynamics.
The potential to improve cognitive functioning, body awareness and our spiritual evolution with a microdose of psychedelics are limitless. There are five categories by which we can describe the overall effects of microdosing LSD. I gathered these from the various first person reports I’ve quoted so far and my own extensive experimentation.
To be able to experiment with these states of conscious in a safe and constructive manner, be sure to follow these guidelines.
“To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme” -Huxley
In a not so far away future it will be possible to unlock different experiences with a pill. A little piece of matter, folded and turned using organic chemistry into a unique organic key to insert your brain. A drug you can buy as easy as alcohol or tobacco, or weed. Perhaps it will thrive in a system where one has to take an exam, some basic tests, and will be rewarded a license of some kind.
Aldous Huxley envisioned in Island, his last, and according to himself, his most important book, that psychedelics could help us overcome addiction, anxiety and depression. That if we could change how we experience ourselves, our loved ones and the world at large, either through rituals or through neurochemical mediated ways, we could usher in a new paradigm of human flourishing.
While his vision has not come to fruition yet, it is still very much alive. With the practice of microdosing, we will be one step closer to learning how to cope with the vast depths of our own psyches.
Enjoy the magic, my friends.
I’ve gotten so many questions, requests and microdose stories after writing this article that I have decided to write an e-book on this fascinating subject matter. If you’d like to help, I am looking for:
All information received will be used anonymously. Please enter ‘Microdosing’ as the subject. Thank you :)
As we repeatedly stress on HighExistence, psychedelics must be approached with reverence and caution. We believe that in a loving context, psychedelics are powerful medicines with tremendous potential, but there are a number of physical and psychological safety concerns that one should consider before journeying with psychedelics. Please, please do plenty of research, and do not take psychedelics if you have reason to believe that they will not jibe with your personality or particular mental baggage. The Essential Psychedelic Guide on Erowid is an exceptional free resource, and we recommend reading it, especially the section on ‘Psychedelic Safety,’ before ever dabbling in these substances. Take care, and happy tripping. : )
The act of integrating sub-perceptual doses of psychedelics into your weekly routine for higher levels of creativity, moreenergy, increased focus, and improved relational skills.
Quote: "I’ve found that I’ve had some brilliant outbursts with respect to both work product and personal creative projects."
Charles, Environmental Expert and Ghostwriter of Non-fiction books
Typical Day When Microdosing.
09:00 - INCREASED CREATIVE OUTPUT
16:00 - MORE PHYSICAL ENERGY
19:00 - IMPROVED EMOTIONAL BALANCE
21.00 - HEIGHTENED SPIRITUAL AWARENESS
Quote: "I would venture to say my wit, response time, and visual and mental acuity seem greater than normal while Microdosing."
Madeline, Media professional in New York City
10-20 µg of LSD or
0.2-0.5 g of magic mushrooms
400 µg of LSD or
5-7 g of magic mushrooms
100-200 µg of LSD or
2.5-4 g of magic mushrooms
Quote: "Someone taking a dose this low functions, as far as the world is concerned, a little better than normal. To date, I received no reports that sub-perceptual doses have caused any social disruption, personal upset, or any form of work-related difficulty."
Dr. James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide and renowned psychedelic researcher
* This dose amount is NOT recommended. Heroic doses have extreme variability when taken.
For 10 weeks:
Sunday: Take microdose
Monday: Observe residual effects
Tuesday: Day off
Wednesday: Take microdose
Thursday: Observe residual effects
Friday: Day off
Saturday: Day off
So far, over 99% of anecdotal reports about Microdosing are positive.
The overwhelming majority of users have zero issues with psychological well-being, emotional balance, and productivity at work while Microdosing. However, a few report an uncomfortable level of emotional release.
“Sub-perceptual doses are the most under-researched area of psychedelics.” – Albert Hofmann, Inventor of LSD. Right now, MAPS leads the way for psychedelic research in the United States.
Healthy Alternative for Treating Depression and ADHD:
Individuals have used microdoses of LSD and Psilocybin as a healthy and effective alternative to treat depression and ADHD. Small amounts of psychedelics are healthy alternatives to mainstream prescriptions currently used for both of these ailments.
James Fadiman on the Tim Ferris Podcast