Microdosing with psilocybin may offer mental health benefits, according to new research. Caitlin Riley/Stocksy
  • Microdosing refers to the practice of regularly using small amounts of psychedelic substances that do not impair cognitive function.
  • Evidence from mostly small observational studies suggests that microdosing psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, can improve cognitive function and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • In agreement with these data, a large study now shows that individuals who microdose psilocybin showed improved mood and a greater decline in anxiety, depression, and stress over a one-month period than those who did not microdose.
  • Notably, these improvements in mental health and mood associated with microdosing psilocybin were also observed in individuals with mental health concerns.

A large study recently published in the journal Scientific ReportsTrusted Sourceshows that microdosingTrusted Source psilocybin Trusted Sourceresulted in greater improvements in mental health and mood than in individuals who did not engage in microdosing.

The study’s co-author Joseph Rootman, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, said that the study was “the largest longitudinal study to date” on microdosing psilocybin and one of the few pieces of research to include a control group.

“We found psilocybin microdosing to be associated with improvements in mood and mental health, which adds to the growing body of research that suggests positive benefits of microdosing specifically in the domains of mental health and cognition.”
— Joseph Rootman, study co-author

“We hope that our findings will help facilitate the development of more rigorously designed clinical trials.

What is microdosing?

Naturally occurring psychedelic substances such as psilocybin extract from magic mushrooms and mescaline have been used for their beneficial health effects for thousands of years. The classification of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and LSD as drugs of abuse without any medical use has, however, hindered research on the therapeutic effects of these substances.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of scientific and popular interest in the potential use of psychedelic drugs for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. For instance, psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has shownTrusted Source promise in the treatment of individuals with depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

These studies have generally used regular doses of psilocybin that produce euphoric and hallucinogenic effects. However, the use of regular doses of psilocybin can also produce unpleasant and terrifying experiences, also referred to as “bad trips”.

This has led to the adoption of a practice called microdosing,Trusted Source which involves the consumption of small amounts of psychedelic substances that do not produce hallucinogenic effects.

Most ‘microdosers’ use about 10% of the regular dose of psilocybin, equivalent to about 100-300 milligrams of dried mushrooms, between 2-5 times a week.

However, there are obstacles to conducting longitudinal studies on the effects of hallucinogenic substances.

For instance, a significant number of participants in previous placebo-controlled microdosing studies were able to recognize the effects of psilocybin during the study. In other words, participants were aware of the treatment, i.e., not blinded, introducing the possibility of bias.

Moreover, studies Trusted Sourcesuggest that individuals tend to have strong expectations of positive effects due to the use of psilocybin and this can result in placebo effects.

To further characterize the potential health benefits of microdosing, the authors of the present study used a naturalistic design by tracking changes in the mental health and mood of individuals who were already microdosing.

Specifically, the researchers compared changes in the mood, mental health, and cognitive function of microdosers over a period of 1 month with individuals who were not microdosing.

Microdosers who use psilocybin often combine it with other substances such as the mushroom lion’s mane which may also possess therapeutic effects. For instance, there is some evidence to suggest that lion’s mane mushrooms could alleviate symptomsTrusted Source of depression and mild cognitive impairment.

Microdosers combining psilocybin and lion’s mane are also known to incorporate vitamin B3, also known as niacin. Niacin is thought to improve the absorption of psilocybin and lion’s mane and could potentially enhance the effects of these mushrooms.

To better characterize the impact of these combinations on well-being, the researchers also included participants who were microdosing psilocybin along with lion’s mane and niacin.

Effects of microdosing psilocybin.

The present study consisted of 953 microdosers using psilocybin and 180 individuals who were not microdosing. The participants completed a series of questionnaires and tasks on their mobile devices at the onset of the study and at one month after recruitment.

These assessments included self-report questionnaires to assess mood and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. The researchers also assessed cognitive function and psychomotor ability, which refers to physical movements that require cognitive processing.

The researchers found that microdosers showed greater improvements in mood and larger reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress over the study period than non-microdosers.

These positive effects of microdosing were observed in all participants, regardless of whether they used psilocybin alone or a combination of either psilocybin with lion’s mane, or psilocybin, lion’s mane, and niacin.

Moreover, microdosing psilocybin resulted in similar levels of improvements in mental health and mood across age groups, genders, and among individuals who did or did not have mental health concerns.

The only exception was female microdosers who showed larger reductions in depressive symptoms than males.

The researchers also found that older microdosers showed larger improvements in the psychomotor test, but not cognitive function, than non-microdosers. This effect was largely due to older participants over the age of 55 years using a combination of psilocybin, lion’s mane, and niacin.

In sum, the results of this study add to the current evidence on the beneficial effects of microdosing psilocybin on mental health and mood, including among individuals with mental health concerns.

Microdosing benefits 

Although the study had a large sample size, the number of individuals in various subgroups according to age, gender, and substances used for microdosing was relatively small. Thus, these findings need to be replicated with larger sample sizes.

Dr. Balázs Szigeti, a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London, also noted that the present study used a control group but placebo effects in the microdosing group cannot be ruled out.

Dr. Szigeti explained:

“This study used a natural history control condition, meaning that the control group did not have any treatment. This is a weak control condition, although certainly better than not having any control group as in purely observational studies.”

“Relative to this weak control, microdosers showed some improvements, mostly with moderate effect sizes. This means that on most scales the magnitude of the improvements was only modest. Therefore, this study helps to establish that in uncontrolled / weakly controlled studies microdosing shows some benefits,” he continued.

Can Microdosing Psychedelics Boost Your Mental Health?

If you’re worried about your mental health, you may have tried several things when it comes to feeling better and happier—whether that’s exercisemeditationbehavioral health therapyprescription medications or a combination.

Recently, however, you may have heard about the use of psychedelics, or hallucinogens, to improve mental health. There are some as of late who are using tiny amounts of these drugs to produce these wanted changes.

These tiny hits are called microdosing, and it’s growing in popularity. It’s gone from taboo—something done behind closed doors—to mainstream, with everyone from those in the tech industry to artists experimenting with psychoactive substances with the hopes of boosting professional performance, clarity and well-being.

But is this practice really helpful—and is it even safe? Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, helped shed some light on this growing trend.

Where to microdose near me

“In its simplest terms, microdosing is using doses less than what is considered a therapeutic dose to elicit a positive experience or response,” Dr. Kuhn said. “This is roughly 10% of what is generally accepted as a therapeutic dose.”

With these smaller doses, the goal isn’t to get high or “trip out”. The goal is to receive some of the wanted effects without actually feeling high or noticing the signs of intoxication. Some proponents say microdosing can not only boost professional performance and clarity, it can also improve mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies on the subject to support this conclusion.

“Advocates claim minute amounts of these drugs can help, but the medical literature is very shaky in the strength of the outcomes they report,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Much of the research is purely anecdotal or from personal experience.”

To determine if microdosing has the potential to improve mental health and well-being, Dr. Kuhn noted that there needs to be randomized controlled trials to compare the effects of microdosing with that of a placebo, the gold standard of research. “However, these types of studies take time, money and rigor—and don’t always pan out,” he said.

“Microdosing has merit and a place in the western pharmaceutical world, but these drugs have rigorously been tested to find the lowest and safest doses that produce the same clinical effect. This isn’t true with microdosing hallucinogens,” Dr. Kuhn added.

Is microdosing dangerous?

Typically, the drugs used in microdosing aren’t your over-the-counter medications. Psychedelics are illegal or controlled substances, such as:

  • cannabis
  • lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
  • ayahuasca
  • mescaline (peyote)
  • N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
  • methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDMA)

“Many of these are Schedule I drugs, substances the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified as high risk for abuse,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Microdosing these can expose you to potent drugs and increase your risk for addiction.”

Getting started with microdosing is not only legally difficult, but these drugs are also unregulated, meaning you can’t always be sure of the dosage and potency of the substance.

The most common negative effects are headaches, stomach issues, higher anxiety, worsening mood and the risk for serious harm to oneself.

“We get calls at our poison control center all the time with people who are on a bad trip or high,” Dr. Kuhn said. “We aren’t as concerned about true toxicity in these cases, but we do worry about the environment these people are in at that time. People can get hurt physically.”

Are there any states where psychedelic substances are legal?

As mentioned earlier, you’ll be hard-pressed to find psychedelic drugs since most states prohibit the use. These drugs are typically found on the black market. However, some states like Oregon and cities like Denver have recently decriminalized the use of psilocybin mushrooms, but these drugs are not intended for recreational use.

The bottom line

Despite the attention given to microdosing, it’s too early to know the full impact of using small doses of hallucinogens. For now, it’s best to steer clear of risky and illegal behavior and focus on tried-and-true measures to boost your mental health and wellbeing.