Microdosing, the secret of Silicon Valley, is spreading. Using drugs to increase our capacity to be creative or work harder is not a novel phenomenon. Most of us consume caffeine throughout the day in our coffees and energy drinks, it might not taste great at first but the ability it possesses to keep us mentally alert has instigated its widespread consumption. Whilst caffeine may be the drug of choice for most in the working world, those in the high-risk, high-reward world of start-ups have shifted towards microdosing (mostly hallucinogenic) psychoactive compounds which are more commonly associated with party culture. This involves taking minuscule doses (one-tenth of a normal dose) of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, magic mushrooms and MDMA every number of days or weeks. The effects of microdosing diverge from the effects of more commonly used recreational dosages. Hallucinations and other sensory alterations are eliminated with only the productivity-enhancing aspects of the drug remaining: increased focus, a sense of calm, and superior energy levels.
LSD is the most commonly used drug in the microdosing community. Its origins date back to 1938 when it was first synthesised. The benefits of microdosing LSD were first discovered in the 1960s by psychologists through evidence given to them by people they had administered the drug too, it was seen more for its mind-bending effects and capacity to cause hallucinations than for its ability to increase focus or productivity. The popularisation of recreational LSD consumption coincided with the birth of the counterculture movement in the United States and it gained a place within popular culture through musicians and artists who openly discussed their use of LSD.
There isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest when and where microdosing culture originated, but the Bay Area of San Francisco, known as ‘Silicon Valley’, is the best guess (most likely around the turn of the century). The aspiration of its residents, to achieve superhuman levels of creativity, innovation and productivity, offers an explanation as to why it naturally arose there. Since then, the trend of microdosing has, to some degree, infiltrated most tech communities in developed countries. Legal barriers make it difficult to estimate the numbers of people microdosing, but there have been widespread reports of microdosing amongst tech start-up founders and their employees. These tech moguls espouse the wide-ranging positive effects microdosing has had on their productivity and stress levels.
The drive behind the growth in microdosing in entrepreneurial and start-up circles is two-fold. Firstly, microdosing is an aspect of biohacking: the use of science, biology and self-experimentation to create the best body and mind. This ranges from supplementing with the best nutrients and vitamins to microdosing as people try to ‘hack’ the biochemistry of their body by manipulating nutrition, fitness and lifestyle to create the healthiest version of themselves. Secondly, at the elite level of tech companies, many entrepreneurs and their employees are microdosing to reduce stress and stabilise mood in an environment that demands so much to be successful. Employees within the industry have noted that microdosing is a quick fix to ease levels of stress and anxiety that come about from the intense working conditions.
Microdosing is now spreading to other spheres; many people suffering from mental illnesses have detailed accounts of its role in improving their condition. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that microdosing can alleviate anxiety, OCD and depression, at least temporarily. Many personal accounts claim regular microdosing of LSD has significantly increased their mood and their perceptions of the world; enabling them to self-regulate their mood more effectively. One individual who microdosed with Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) on a 4 week cycle described a large boost in creativity and a sense of inner peace even though they were in the throes of personal financial problems. But are the vast archives of anecdotes substantiate by existing scientific literature?
Currently, research into psychedelics is limited because of legal structures in the states which produce leading scientific research. Despite this, some evidence has been produced to suggest positive effects of psychedelic use. In 2014, a study was conducted on people with high levels of anxiety. Participants took part in a three-month LSD-Psychotherapy study, where each participant received 6-8 psychotherapy sessions with two guided LSD experiences. The results showed they had a 77% reduction in anxiety twelve months after completing the study and similar results have been observed in studies since then. These studies are very promising but due to small sample sizes, there is still much need for further quantitative research. Research conducted into the microdosing effects of psilocybin and MDMA share similar positive results. In 2006, a study conducted by John Hopkins University found that participants who had taken psilocybin in 2-3 doses over a period of two months showed ‘79% of volunteers rated that the psilocybin experience increased their current sense of personal wellbeing’. It is important to note that psilocybin was administered ‘under supportive conditions’ and some of the volunteers experienced feelings of anxiety after taking the drug. This experience holds true for other studies conducted on psilocybin and MDMA. It appears, while there are benefits to microdosing, that a controlled environment, where trustworthy and reassuring individuals are present to help ward off negative thoughts, is optimal.
The research into microdosing, although limited suggests there are positive benefits, both temporary and long-term, in reducing feelings of anxiety and improving positive well-being and happiness levels. However, these effects can only be proven to occur when taken in a controlled environment and when correct doses have been administered. As long as the psychoactive drugs which individuals are microdosing remain illegal there is a strong barrier in place against substantial scientific research and many questions around the benefits of microdosing will remain unanswered.
By Hugh Fitzpatrick – Science Writer