Everything You Need To Know About Microdosing | Men's Health Magazine Australia

Everything You Need To Know About Microdosing

The quest for self-improvement has entered an edgy new realm: microdosing psychedelic drugs. Proponents say it could unlock your true cognitive potential. But does it work? And how far would you go in the pursuit of your best self?

Is microdosing legal?

In a whitewashed start-up space peppered with green ferns and old movie posters, two men lounge on oversized beanbags, their laptops perched precariously on their laps. Two more sit hunched over a desk by the window, a view of Sydney’s Surry Hills beneath. All are furiously typing as house music roars from a UE Boom speaker by the door. It’s an innocuous scene, save for the water cooler in the corner, concealed by a blanket, its little blue spout peeking out the bottom.

I’m told the cooler is covered to block light from reaching the LSD that’s been dissolved in the water. Two of the four men in the room claim a microdose of the hallucinogenic drug helps them reach their “peak potential” when it comes to coding crunch time – certainly a less lofty goal than the glimpse of the almighty one of them had referred to earlier.

“Using LSD is illegal here. We kind of have to be careful,” explains the 25-year-old Elon Musk wannabe, surveying his little slice of workplace nirvana. “I’ve always been interested in biohacking and this microdosing thing just seemed like it was worth a go. I’ve been dosing every three days for a few months now. My mind is clearer for sure.”

Taking low doses of psychedelic drugs to boost brain power is a trend that’s been intriguing Silicon Valley’s finest minds, athletes and scientists for years. Lately it’s been titillating the more intellectually curious and innately adventurous among us, as well as those of an aspirational bent seeking that elusive ‘edge’. Collectively, this clandestine group of people are known as ‘dosers’. I myself am a microdoser, of sorts. I have always been intrigued with the concept of biohacking.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a reckless fool who treats his body like an ongoing lab experiment. Unlike my start-up friend, I’ve swerved the LSD for something a little more accessible: legal mushroom extracts from Aussie firm Life Cykel. Because, truth be told, I’ve always wondered how the world would reveal itself to me if I had Hawking or Sidis levels of smarts. I want to solve unfathomable mathematical equations, invent the thing after the next thing, discover an object worthy of its own Wikipedia page. But, if that proves beyond me, I’d settle for jumping a few IQ points so I can better enjoy an episode of The Chase.

what is microdosing

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Effects of microdosing

“Perhaps we’re finding a way to unlock untapped potential?” asks Paul Austin, founder and director of Third Wave, an online compendium of information and research on psychedelic substances.

He says people are taking subthreshold doses of psychedelic drugs in an attempt to spike creativity, boost energy, create emotional balance, improve performance and temper mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and addiction.

“Microdosing is just part of the wider conversation we’re having right now,” he says.

For me, those small sub-threshold doses come via droppers. A few drops under the tongue twice a day and you’re done. No freak out, nothing fancy. To an observer, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a medicinal treatment for halitosis. As humdrum as that sounds, I have to admit my first dose still felt transgressive and loaded with possibility. Even though, in my case, I was taking a non-psychoactive substance, I couldn’t help expecting a ‘high’ or a ‘come up’ or any of the other descriptors recreational drug takers use. Something like the blue-iris moment Bradley Cooper experiences in Limitless. Alas, no.

I perhaps felt a wave of endorphins shoot around my jawline in anticipation of a boosted IQ, but other than a strong medicinal taste there was little in the way of an ‘effect’. That’s kind of the point. Unlike comedian, podcaster and fight commentator Joe Rogan’s famed commentary on tripping on LSD and DMT, with microdosing – whether it’s psychoactive drugs or something else – there is no existential removal from planet Earth. You take a dose and go about your day. You can leave the pink ponies at home because you’re off to work like everybody else. It’s been three years or so since dosing for productivity became the latest trend to hit California’s 20-something start-up community. And if the American press is anything to go by there are hundreds, if not thousands taking up microdosing in a bid to boost their brainpower. But is there any science behind the individual claims or is it just another case of placebo BS talked up by influencers?

What science says about psychedelic microdosing

“Right now, the results are preliminary,” Austin says.

As with any ‘trend’ or ‘fad’, there is often a misrepresentation of the facts when it comes down to the science. And where microdosing is concerned, it’s no different. A couple of clinical studies have been done, including one that involved microdosing DMT in rats that showed it helped with neurogenesis – the birth of new neurons – and relieved depression. It also decreased anxiety. Taken together, the effects are similar to those people are reporting with microdosing, Austin says.

Current research shows what the journal Scientific American called “encouraging” and “intriguing” results. Perhaps the most interesting evidence for efficacy came late last year from a team in the UK who conducted a placebo-controlled trial. They found small amounts of LSD noticeably “altered subjects’ sense of time”, allowing them to more accurately “reproduce lapsed spans of time”. (This isn’t quite as trippy as it sounds. Basically, you can better determine how long a kettle took to boil and replicate that time period, useful if you’re weighing up a cup of tea during an ad break.)

Although it doesn’t quite prove LSD is a definitive cognitive enhancer, the study does point to the drug’s potential for increased creativity and focus. Brad Burge, director of strategic communications at MAPS,  a non-profit organisation focusing on psychedelic research and education, admits a global revival of research into the therapeutic benefits of MDMA, psilocybin, ketamine, ibogaine, ayahuasca and LSD is taking place. Much of that research, he adds, has been focused on full doses combined with various forms of therapeutic support.

“The media headlines have routinely exaggerated the extent of the research that has been completed,” he says, but cites a Dutch study that found that psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms) had no noticeable effect on problem solving or rational thinking but did improve creative thinking. This is echoed by another study from the University of Oxford that found people injected with two milligrams of psilocybin – enough to trip – “destabilised” logical thought and encouraged “mind wandering” and creative thinking.

Julian Mitchell, cofounder and CEO of Life Cykel, says these symptoms are also commonly observed by users of his nonpsychoactive products. As an Australian proponent of mushroom biotechnology, his company originally started out growing and selling speciality fungi before diversifying into mushroom extracts using legal reishi, lion’s mane, turkey tail and cordyceps varieties.

It’s this creative dimension that excites me the most. I write, I draw, I make videos, I write scripts for TV shows that will never be made. So, naively, I didn’t think my creativity needed a boost. Turns out it did. I noticed that when I’d been dosing regularly my thoughts seemed clearer, my writing flowed from my fingertips a tad easier and I slept deeper – dreams became more profound and longer too. Ever so slightly, the world seemed a little closer to being within my grasp.

does microdosing work?

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Why is microdosing popular 

If we’re being honest, it’s anecdotal reports that are really propelling microdosing forward among business leaders, athletes and the chemically-curious. Nobel Prize-winning American biochemist Kary Banks Mullis credits LSD dosing for his ability to “get down with the molecules”. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have admitted to using LSD in the past. So, what’s at the heart of this cult of chemical enhancement? Ayelet Waldman, author of A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, believes interest in the field is indicative of a grey cloud hanging over modern society.

“There is a general, worldwide malaise, even among those of us who have everything,” she explains to me on the phone. “It’s the same reason anti-depressants are so widely prescribed. People are seeking answers and solutions. Additionally, there are those who seek performance enhancement, though I would argue that has its roots in insecurity as well. People want to be better, stronger, faster because they don’t feel like they are enough.”

So where to now? Commentators and the scientific community agree that the initial signs are encouraging and that additional research will quickly follow. Austin points to double-blind placebo-controlled studies in human subjects as the next step but admits “we’re still two or three years away from any of those being finished”.

As a doser-in-training, I can see why millennials, entrepreneurs and biohackers are looking to ancient substances to boost and improve brainpower. Why wouldn’t they? It seems there is a lot to be gained from bigger and better brains. The world’s problems are there to be solved. There are financial crises to fix, environmental disasters to avert, narcissistic political leaders to topple and planets to colonise. Microdosing is perhaps the latest example of how some among us are no longer willing to accept the natural limits of their mental and physical powers and are instead looking to accelerate evolution.

Nowadays, there may be little attraction in “seeing the face of God,” but there is certainly a desire to be more than we are. And if microdosing allows me to safely access my untapped potential and achieve more, I’d consider myself a fool not to dabble. But if it does little more than give me a two per cent placebo-induced edge to beat an impossibly smug ‘chaser’ from my couch on a Thursday afternoon, I’ll take that, too.

Common Psychedelic Microdosing Drugs

Psilocybin

FOUND IN: Mushrooms or truffles

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

DMT

FOUND IN: Plants, predominantly in South America

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

LSD

FOUND IN: Ergot fungus

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

CBD and THC

FOUND IN: Cannabis

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

Ayahuasca

FOUND IN: Ayahuasca vine and chacruna shrub

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

Ibogaine

FOUND IN: Plants from Central Africa and Amazon

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

4-ACO-DMT Synthetic psychedelic

LEGALITY IN AUSTRALIA: Illegal

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