The purported benefits of microdosing psychedelics are as numerous as the research is sparse. The technique, which involves ingesting small amounts of LSD, mushrooms, or other hallucinogenic drugs every three or four days, has made headlines for its popularity as a “productivity hack” among the Silicon Valley elite. But anecdotal endorsements of microdosing claim that the routine can lead to a whole variety of benefits, including heightened emotional sensitivity, athletic performance, and creativity; and relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and chronic pain—all without resulting in any sort of trip.
In a lab setting, meanwhile, these effects have hardly been studied. Microdosing straddles a line between homeopathic remedy and experimental biohacking as a promising tool that hasn’t yet made its way through the clinical system’s rigorous checks and balances. Now a new study published Monday in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience provides the first biological evidence that psychedelic microdosing could have unique therapeutic effects that differ from the effects of a full dose.
For David Olson, a professor in the chemistry and neuroscience departments at the University of California at Davis and one of the paper’s authors, it started with ketamine. Over the past few years, Olson watched as the formerly notorious anesthetic cum party drug was rebranded as an experimental miracle for treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine has the ability to rebuild fraying connections between brain cells integral to networks that regulate emotions and mood, thanks to an effect known as neural plasticity. Olson suspected that the process by which ketamine promotes this type of plasticity could be activated by other substances as well, and in June his team published a paper showing that in rats, psychedelics such as LSD, ecstasy, and dimethyltryptamin, or DMT, mirror ketamine’s effects.