CAN taking very small doses of psychedelic drugs like LSD or magic mushrooms help you work better?
That’s the premise of a trend known as “microdosing” that has become particularly popular in places like Silicon Valley where advocates claim it can help boost creativity, focus and productivity at work.
It may sound like a dubious excuse to take mind-altering drugs at your day job but the trend has some interesting advocates. Some have used the drug-taking technique to successfully treat depression and mental illness.
Despite its growing popularity, the supposed benefits so far have been purely anecdotal — but that’s about to change. A new scientific study is set to conduct patient trials to see if there really are cognitive benefits from taking small but regular hits of LSD.
Today, UK-based think tank The Beckley Foundation, which was set up to pioneer research into mind-altering substances, and the Imperial College London will launch what is being described as the first ever placebo-controlled trial of microdosing.
HOW DOES MICRODOSING WORK?
Users typically take about one tenth to one fifteenth of a regular dose, meaning they avoid any hallucinations while still getting some of the effects of the drug.
Australian Steve McDonald, founder of the non-profit group Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine believes workers can gain real benefit from the practice.
“Research shows that the classic psychedelics tend to shut down or minimise activity in some parts of the brain which are related to controlling sensory input. As you can imagine, at any moment there’s a massive amount of sensory input coming in,” he previously told news.com.au.
“If we were aware of it all and trying to process it would overwhelm us, but at a very low level, psychedelics enhance your attention and capacity to process information, and hence they’re useful for boosting creativity and work performance.”
WHERE DID MICRODOSING COME FROM?
The idea was first developed by the father of LSD, Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann. He originally developed the drug as a medicine with positive health benefits, and saw microdosing as a way to achieve this.
Microdosing has been gaining traction in recent years through the promotion of researcher Dr James Fadiman, who has been investigating the effects of psychedelics on creative problem solving since the 1960s.
Since then the idea has gradually grown in popularity. According to Rolling Stone, Dr Fadiman receives a “steady, consistent stream” of feedback from professionals in the San Francisco area, usually from “ubersmart 20-somethings” looking for ways to become more innovative.
“Microdosing has helped me come up with some new designs to explore and new ways of thinking,” one mid-20s tech start-up employee told the magazine back in 2015.
“You would be surprised at how many people are actually doing it.”
THE NEW STUDY
Due to the illegality of LSD, a conventional study would be too difficult to conduct. So study leader Balázs Szigeti said patients involved will be in what he called a “self-blinded” study.
Speaking to The Guardian, he said participants will be made up of people who already partake in microdosing during work. The researchers — who admitted the study was “unusual” — are keen to see how much of the reported benefits are from a potential placebo effect.
“The people who microdose right now are not an average random set of people from the street. They are very likely to have used psychedelics before and have preconceptions about them,” Mr Szigeti said.
“You are doing something novel and exciting and that you believe in — and you know you are doing it. It is absolutely no surprise that you are getting a positive effect.”
The study participants will either take what they usually use in a capsule or an identical dummy capsule instead, without knowing which one they have taken.
During the study, they will complete questionnaires and tests and play cognitive games online, and only at the end will they learn which they were taking.
The study is small and will rely on the participants not to take any doses outside the trial period but researchers hope that if the findings prove interesting it could pave the way for larger and more conventional studies to be conducted into psychedelic microdosing.