What a Little LSD Can Do

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When considering whether or not to drop some LSD, a few fantastical things might come to mind. Glimmering iridescent rainbow tear-drops, distorted carnival music, cathartic life-changing emotional revelations, and–for those unfortunate few–terrifying journeys into the depths of your worst nightmares.

But what about increased productivity, enhanced and balanced moods, diminished anxiety, and a sense of overall well-being? These are the purported benefits of the controversial hack du jour, microdosing.

I began to hear rumblings about microdosing a few months ago. A couple of friends decided to experiment with the process in an attempt to harness their personal efficacy and energy in the face of a grueling schedule.

They would be taking very small amounts of LSD once every three days, amounts so small that the psychedelic effects would be imperceptible. They hoped that the substance would streamline their functionality, and a month after the experience, they were raving.

Could this really work?

In the hopes of understanding the rationale and process for taking acid before, say, going into the office on a regular old Monday, I reached out to Dr. James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide and guru for all things trippy. He graciously agreed to speak with BTRtoday.

Five minutes after we concluded our interview, I received an email from Dr. Fadiman. It contained a document entitled “MD How To.” Curious, I clicked, to find an extraordinarily detailed protocol for conducting a self-study microdose regimen.

This practice is the type of thing that adversaries of psychedelic drugs might write-off as hippie bullshit. But, the document proved quite the contrary. It wasn’t the rambling, nonsensical work of a drug-addled wack job, nor was it an endorsement, meant to convince its reader to undertake the task. Rather, it was a thoughtful and exhaustive guide, outlining the steps and precautions one should take when embarking on a self-study microdosing journey.

It included information about proper dosage, technique, and frequency. At the bottom, it was signed by “The Microdose Study Team,” who expressed their gratitude for support in exploring this particular part of psychedelic domain.

The task of self-reported experience by willful experimenters is extremely important in this realm, as the government outlawed psychedelics, and subsequently the controlled consumption and scientific study of them, about 40 years ago.

Nonetheless, Dr. Fadiman and his team have successfully conducted the foremost investigation of microdosing and its effects. What they’ve found is groundbreaking.

BTRtoday (BTR): How did you first become interested in psychedelics?

Dr. James Fadiman (JF): I became interested in psychedelics when they were still legal, which was in the late 1960s. I worked with a research group in Menlo Park: I did my dissertation about LSD therapy, so I’ve been involved and interested for a long time.

Microdosing only came into my consciousness about five years ago, and that was because I learned that Albert Hoffman had been using these very tiny doses for the last couple of decades of his life. That caught my attention. [Albert Hoffman http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/world/europe/30hofmann.html?_r=0 ]

BTR: How do microdosing and recreational use of psychedelics differ?

JF: Microdosing has the difference that there are no psychedelic effects. It’s not tripping. What microdosing seems to do–and this is based on the reports that I’ve been getting from about 16 countries–is that it seems to make things go a little better. Particularly, people with anxiety and depression find that they feel better, and that it does what their meds promised but didn’t deliver.

For people not taking it for some kind of concern, they just indicate that they’re a little sharper, a little kinder. Curiously, when they’re taking it every third or fourth day over a month, people tend to improve their health habits without deciding to. They eat a little better, they definitely sleep better, they exercise more. They may go back to practices like yoga or meditation.

It seems to cause the body to say, “why don’t we just readjust, do things a little better?” That’s quite different from recreational use.

BTR: Do you know why that recalibration happens–what are the chemical reasons behind it?

JF: The fact is, we had 40 years where the US government made sure that we couldn’t do any research. So the answer is, we don’t know much.

In terms of microdosing, there’s no research yet. The fact that it seems to help people in a lot of different ways suggests that it is not just affecting the brain; if you swallow something it goes into your blood and it goes into every system of the body.

Let me give you a curious example: I now have about twelve people who have indicated that they have always had crampy and difficult menstrual periods. When they were microdosing their periods normalized. Now, I don’t think that’s brain chemistry. But it certainly is affecting an imbalance.

BTR: Have you had anybody abuse the process, and have negative effects?

JF: I ask people who are self-studying to take a dose on day one, then not to take anything on day two or three. What we’ve found out is that the generally positive effects last for two days. So the third day should be a way of determining if there’s been any difference. After people do about ten of those cycles, then they’re on their own as a researcher.

What people report is that they continue to microdose, but not as often. They do it only when there is an appropriate need for it. For instance, a subject failed his driving test twice: he took a microdose the day of his third test and he passed.

We don’t know whether the microdose mattered, but probably his reflexes were a little bit better, and undoubtedly his anxiety was down.

BTR: What about the potential for misuse?

JF: It has a practical use. There’s a general rule of thumb that anything that can be misused, somebody will figure out a way to do it. The major misuse of microdosing is people who say, “well if I’m taking 10 micrograms and it’s working well, 20 must be better.” Then I get these reports that say that somebody took 20, then realized at their meeting at work that they weren’t able to pay attention, so they went home.

What’s happening is that they’re going above this sub-perceptual threshold of microdosing, and into the bottom of tripping. In that sense, psychedelics aren’t that different than alcohol: you take too much, you have different effects, and they’re not as good.

BTR: Has anybody reported developing a dependency to microdosing?

JF: Psychedelics are anti-addictive–meaning, you can’t take them very often. Taking more doesn’t work the way it does with a stimulant. If they were legal, we wouldn’t have this discussion. So let’s compare them to an antidepressant.

Are people dependent on antidepressants? The answer is, they’re not only dependent, but if they should ever stop taking it, they have a terrible set of withdrawal symptoms. When people stop microdosing, nothing happens.

What people report is that by the end of their 10th cycle, that third day they’re still feeling pretty good, because their life is now working a little better.

I know several people who have microdosed on and off for a couple of years. In my book, “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide,” there is one chapter on microdosing.

One of the people in that chapter, called Madeline, had been doing it for eight years. Her life simply worked extremely well. She ran two businesses, had a child, was in a very loving, committed marriage. She said she didn’t use it during pregnancy and she was sorry, but not greatly. The absence of it just made her work a little harder.

BTR: Would you suggest that people go into this process with a specific mindset, and something that they’d like to accomplish, or can it be just as effective as an exploratory process?

JF: Well, it’s basically self-study. Self-study means that you don’t know quite what you’re looking for, but you can go find out by measuring about eight different things every day on a scale of 1-10. How is my mood? How are my relationships? How is my sleep? How is my creativity?

Then if you do fine tuning on yourself, usually you’ll find some things that you are working on. If you’re in a creative project, maybe you’d like to be more in flow while you’re working on it. Several people say that they raised issues in their relationships that they hadn’t wanted to raise before. They were a little bolder. That wasn’t necessarily pleasant, but they felt that they had a little more courage.

Why would you go gluten-free? Or stop eating meat? Or eat a lot of soy? Not because you’re looking for anything in particular, but because you can tell the difference between being in good health and being in great health.

BTR: Are there any potential health risks that people should be aware of?

JF: If you’re taking the exactly correct, small dose, no. There are a couple of people who have said that they got more anxious on then they were off, so they stopped. Two people out of a couple of hundred who reported to me sweated more. Neither of them stopped. A number of people who took it who had migraines reported improvement, but one person indicated that the migraines were worse–but she kept going for the month because she said that there were so many other benefits.

Undoubtedly, if a couple of million people microdosed, some people would have problems with something and it might be the microdose.

The other thing is, people who want to come off of psychiatric meds have found that it’s been easier to do that tapering down with the help of a microdose. But, again, we don’t have firm data on that–just a lot of people saying that that’s how it worked for them.

The nice thing is, if something isn’t comfortable, it isn’t very uncomfortable. We’re talking here about a microdose–and you just stop. It’s a little but like a food that disagrees with you, you just don’t eat it. But, you’re not going to end up like you would with an allergy to peanuts!

BTR: Should people who have never experimented with psychedelics feel comfortable microdosing?

JF: Almost everyone who has written me about their experience has had prior psychedelic experience. So they know that for them it’s already been a safe substance at much higher doses.

For people who have no experience, it’s hard for me to say. I do know at least one person who decided that he wanted to take a huge dose, and change his life. But he wanted to start with microdoses becauses he was terrified of psychedelics. He microdosed for a couple of months and then upped his dose, and eventually did have a life-transforming experience. He changed his career, and made huge differences! Through microdosing he simply found that it was safe; he wasn’t going to have a nervous breakdown, he wasn’t going to die.

BTR: Is there anybody who shouldn’t microdose?

Like everything else in the world, it’s not for everybody. People with severe mental issues probably should be more careful. Though, people with just depression and anxiety, if they’re taking a microdose (and a microdose is a 10th to a 20th of a regular dose), it’s sub-perceptual. Meaning that the rocks don’t glitter even a little, and when you walk by flowers, they don’t turn and watch you. That’s a recreational dose, we’re not talking about that.

Psychedelics have a peculiar property, which is that at various dosage levels they have enormously different effects. That isn’t true of pharmaceuticals. If you take one aspirin, it has an effect, if you take two it has the same effect. If you take five it has the same effect. If you take 30, the side-effects begin to mount up on you–but it’s not fundamentally different. Microdoses are fundamentally different than higher doses. Also, they’re much much safer.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article do not express those of BTRtoday. BTRtoday does not endorse the use of illegal substances.