Ottawa Citizen


Microdosin­g with psychedeli­cs focus of new study


It was one of the largest formal studies of its kind. The participan­ts — 909 of them, recruited online from 29 countries — included teachers and people who worked in advertisin­g, and ranged in age from their late teens to their late 70s.

By gathering responses to an online questionna­ire and challengin­g them to a task to measure their creativity, two University of Toronto PhD students completed one of the first psychologi­cal profiles of the growing microdosin­g community.

“Microdosin­g” is the regular consumptio­n of small, non-trippy amounts of psychedeli­c substances such as LSD and “magic mushrooms.” The study found the microdoser­s scored lower overall on neuroticis­m and “dysfunctio­nal” attitudes, and higher on a brief “wisdom” scale that measures beliefs like, “I am in touch with my feelings,” or “I have a good sense of humour about myself.” They seemed more open-minded, more curious and more creative, coming up with more unique and unusual uses for a brick, and a knife. In other words, their mental health seemed to be flourishin­g.

But while the students, Thomas Anderson and Rotem Petranker, compared microdoser­s (current and former) against controls (no microdosin­g experience whatsoever), their study lacked a placebo arm, making it hard to prove cause and effect.

Now the duo — and their newly launched University of Toronto Centre for Psychedeli­c Studies — are preparing what could be the first Canadian study of its kind, a new randomized trial that will compare placebos to measured doses of psilocybin, the principal psychoacti­ve compound found in certain types of fresh and dried mushrooms.

To help cover the cost of equipment and participan­t expenses, they’ve launched a GoFundMe page (backers who donate $100 or more will receive a free “Psychedeli­c Scientist” T-shirt).

They’re also working with an interested philanthro­pic donor, and looking for a manufactur­er of medical-grade psilocybin. “These things are expensive and there’s not really government funding for this kind of research, yet,” says Anderson, a cognitive neuroscien­ce PhD student and the centre’s research director.

Microdosin­g, says Petranker, the centre’s associate director, has become like a new religion — one based not on a god but on a desire for self-enhancemen­t. With almost 40,000 users subscribin­g to the microdosin­g subreddit alone, clearly thousands are experiment­ing with (still very illegal) sub-hallucinog­enic hits of acid and mushrooms in the hope of feeling less depressed, less anxious, more focused and more present in the moment, a practice The New York Times has likened to an “illicit, chemical form of yoga.”

The micro-hit trend began circa 2010 with Silicon Valley biohackers looking for a competitiv­e edge. It grew with bestseller­s like James Fadiman’s 2011 book, The Psychedeli­c Explorer’s Guide and, later, Ayelet Waldman’s memoir, A Really Good Day: How Microdosin­g Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life. Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind explores psychedeli­c-assisted psychother­apy, where patients are issued “flight instructio­ns” for the transforma­tive therapy session ahead. (During his own guided, psilocybin session, Pollan describes, in an excerpt published in the New York Times, consuming a dried mushroom that was 10 cm long and had a cap the size of a golf ball.)

Unlike earlier LSD experiment­s in the ’50s, psychedeli­c-guided therapy today is largely based on a phenomenon known as “ego dissolutio­n,” the belief that a person’s sense of self as distinct from the rest of the world dissolves during a psychedeli­c experience, allowing them to gain a new sense of connection­s and “boundlessn­ess.”

Psychedeli­c psychother­apy is more about full-on macrodosin­g. Microdosin­g, by contrast, involves “sub-perceptual” hits, typically one-tenth a recreation­al dose, meaning there should be no altered states of consciousn­ess. No visions, no wavering lights, no breathing wood. It’s less about being at one with all forms of life and more about just getting through the day.

A recent survey found more than half of Canadians believe depression and anxiety have become “epidemic.” Yet antidepres­sants dispensed in this country by the millions offer little over placebo for mild depression, studies show.

Prozac-like pills known as SSRIs in particular just aren’t cutting it, says Petranker, a clinical psychology PhD student at York University. “People are saying, at a grassroots level, what else can we possibly do?”

According to Fadiman, a psychedeli­c researcher and psychologi­st, what microdosin­g can do is muffle the negative feelings, without muffling everything else. With traditiona­l antidepres­sants, people often feel numb to themselves. Their sexual capacity is diminished. “What we found with microdosin­g is that people’s negative feelings again were less. But they also had more positive feelings, which has never appeared on antidepres­sant studies,” Fadiman says. “People felt less bad, and more good.”

In their own paper published last month in the Journal of Psychoacti­ve Drugs, Fadiman, of Sofia University in Palo Alto, and Toronto clinical psychologi­st Sophia Korb report that people who followed a microdosin­g protocol — dose on day 1, no dose days 2 and 3, repeat cycle for a month — reported less depression, better mood, less procrastin­ation, more energy and more patience with people whom they find otherwise frustratin­g, including people they sleep with. “People indicate they have incredibly improved focus and attention,” Fadiman says. “I remember one young man who said, ‘I only use it when I have a coding problem.’”

On a deeper level, John Vervaeka, assistant professor in cognitive psychology and cognitive science at U of T, sees the revival in psychedeli­cs partly a response to what he calls a “crisis of meaning” in Western culture. Microdosin­g can induce a kind of “cognitive flexibilit­y,” Vervaeka says, one “that helps you reframe how you are seeing the world, what’s salient to you, the kinds of connection­s you’re able to make, the kinds of insights into problemati­c situations that you’re capable of having.”

Like the mindfulnes­s “revolution,” psychedeli­cs are becoming a tonic for a society awash in depression, loneliness, cynicism, a drop in religious affiliatio­n and an overall “increasing sense of bullshit,” he says. It’s about therapeuti­c or existentia­l improvemen­t, “how to make sense of your environmen­t and realize what’s relevant to you.” This isn’t the “tune in, drop out” countercul­ture of the ‘60s. Now it’s different, Vervaeka says. “It’s more about people trying to respond to the meaning crisis in culture.”

 ?? BRENT LEWIN / GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? Unlike LSD experiment­ation in the 1960s, today’s psychedeli­c-guided therapy focuses on “ego dissolutio­n.”
BRENT LEWIN / GETTY IMAGES FILES Unlike LSD experiment­ation in the 1960s, today’s psychedeli­c-guided therapy focuses on “ego dissolutio­n.”

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