Balázs Szigeti, Laura Kartner, Allan Blemings, Fernando Rosas, Amanda Feilding, David J. Nutt, Robin L. Carhart-Harris, David Erritzoe
March 2, 2021
What is microdosing?
Psychedelic microdosing involves consuming psychedelics such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms at a microdose, which is typically about 10% of a recreational dose. Microdosing is gaining increasing popularity, with many claiming increased mood, creativity, and cognitive ability, but there is limited research in this area and the science of microdosing is not fully understood. Unlike full doses of psychedelics, currently being researched in psychedelic therapy, microdosing does not induce hallucinations, allowing proponents to harness the effects for theorised productivity and wellness improvements.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, therapy supported by psychedelic drugs such as LSD, DMT (an active ingredient in Ayahuasca), or psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms), is currently being researched for the treatment of depression, anxiety, addiction and other conditions in a number of ongoing clinical trials, with promising results.
How did this trial study the placebo effect in microdosing research?
Restrictive drug policies make placebo-controlled research into psychedelics difficult and expensive, in particular for microdosing, which involves taking psychedelics over a longer time period. To overcome this problem, Szigeti et al. developed a new citizen-science approach to their research, where microdosers were guided through setting up their own placebo control. This innovative approach reduced the cost of the research and allowed the study to recruit participants globally. The experiment was completed by 191 microdosers, making it the largest placebo-controlled study on psychedelics to-date, for a fraction of the cost of an equivalent clinical trial.
Are the reported benefits of microdosing a placebo effect?
This research examined whether psychedelic microdosing can improve cognitive function and psychological well-being. The team found that psychological measures, such as well-being and life satisfaction, were not significantly different between the microdose group and the placebo group. The results confirmed anecdotes about microdosing improving mood, but suggest that the observed benefits are not caused by the microdose itself, but rather by the placebo effect and psychological expectations.
This study’s innovative self-blinded approach to placebo control may serve as a template for further research and is particularly interesting in the context of research into psychedelics, and other highly controlled substances which can be complicated and expensive to obtain legally.
Microdosing is the practice of regularly using low doses of psychedelic drugs. Anecdotal reports suggest that microdosing enhances well-being and cognition; however, such accounts are potentially biased by the placebo effect. This study used a ‘self-blinding’ citizen science initiative, where participants were given online instructions on how to incorporate placebo control into their microdosing routine without clinical supervision. The study was completed by 191 participants, making it the largest placebo-controlled trial on psychedelics to-date. All psychological outcomes improved significantly from baseline to after the 4 weeks long dose period for the microdose group; however, the placebo group also improved and no significant between-groups differences were observed. Acute (emotional state, drug intensity, mood, energy, and creativity) and post-acute (anxiety) scales showed small, but significant microdose vs. placebo differences; however, these results can be explained by participants breaking blind. The findings suggest that anecdotal benefits of microdosing can be explained by the placebo effect.