Unless you’ve spent the last year scoping out your post-apocalyptic home in the wilderness of New Zealand, you’ve likely heard a thing or two about microdosing. Put simply, it’s the act of consuming small doses of psychedelics on a somewhat-consistent basis.

In 2011, Dr. James Fadiman published the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, an excellent collection of personal stories, research, and philosophical thoughts on the psychedelic experience. In this book, Dr. Fadiman committed one entire chapter to the phenomena of microdosing, the act of taking sub-perceptual doses of psychedelics on a regimented schedule.

Many microdosers follow the protocol laid out by Dr. Fadiman in Chapter 16 of the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide:

● Consume a microdose twice per week for 10 weeks
● Take 3-4 days between each microdosing day
● Write about your experience, and commit to remaining mindful of your expectations and desires.
● At the end of the 10 weeks (or, however many weeks one microdoses), reflect on your experience and ask, “Did I accomplish my purpose/objective for microdosing?”

It’s been six years since Fadiman published his book, and microdosing has received an almost -excessive amount of mainstream attention, certainly more than any other single development in the psychedelic world over the past forty years.

As a short list:

● Media outlets like the BBC, New York Times, the Guardian, Wired, Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, Vogue, Forbes, Business Insider, and the Washington Post have all written extensive pieces on the advent of microdosing.
● Random House, the largest trade publisher in the world, published a book about microdosing (under their subsidiary Knopf).
● Talk shows like The Today Show, The Project (from Australia), and the Young Turks have done short segments on microdosing (to the awe and amazement of the hosts who couldn’t believe someone would actually take a psychedelic).

Why? In short, microdosing mitigates the short-term risk of a ‘bad trip’ while still, in the long-term, providing many of the same benefits one expects from the full psychedelic experience. Because of the change in the perceived risk of taking a microdose of a psychedelic, more individuals are willing to try microdosing.

Further, the growth in popularity of microdosing reflects the changing zeitgeist of mainstream culture. Specific to mental health, pharmaceuticals have failed to treat the root cause of a myriad of mental health issues.

The Rise of Mainstream Psychedelic Use

‘Big Pharma’, as it is often called, is experiencing a backlash as more people turn to solutions that fix the root cause, rather than cover up the issue like a Band-Aid.

The conflux between a larger cultural push towards self-healing and science supporting the efficacy of psychedelics in double blind trials means that, microdosing may likely act as the most powerful force in changing our culture’s current perception of psychedelics. It is low-risk, effective, and, when used on an occasional basis, relatively safe.

Microdosing has become a hot point of contention within psychedelic circles. Many, if not all, of those active in psychedelia consider microdosing an exciting paradigm shift in how psychedelic use is perceived by mainstream culture.

However, a great deal of these same individuals – predominantly scientists and researchers – remain skeptical, due to a lack of rigorous research on the efficacy of microdosing. Even the most idealistic in psychedelic circles, while excited about the potential benefits of microdosing, express concern about the use of microdosing within an elitist, productivity-oriented context.

While these are legitimate concerns, such objections to the use of microdosing lack full appreciation of the role in which a microdose-fuelled paradigm shift could play in de-stigmatizing psychedelics.

What Might Go Wrong With Psychedelic Research

First, I want to acknowledge the importance of psychedelic research in building the foundation on which we, as a psychedelic community, stand today. There wouldn’t be a conversation to be had about eventual psychedelic legalization if it wasn’t for the many years of work by psychedelic researchers.

Leaders within this movement include:

● Dr. Roland Griffiths, who has led the research team at Johns Hopkins, for use of psilocybin within a medical context
● Dr. Stephen Ross, who has led the research team at NYU, for the same purpose
● Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, who is head of psychedelic research at Imperial College
● Dr. David Nutt, former UK Government advisor, currently exploring the effects of psilocybin on the Default Mode Network (DMN)
● MAPS, the Beckley Foundation, and the Heffter Research Institute, all of whom have financially supported much of the research in the psychedelic world

If research continues to go as planned, both MDMA and psilocybin will be available for medical, therapeutic use by 2021. Considering the prevalence of conditions like PTSD and depression in Western society, making psychedelics available for medical use could blow the door open on the Third Wave of Psychedelics, paving the way for full legalization within 5-10 years.

But that’s only if things go according to plan.

The expansion of consciousness has always been suppressed by overbearing, patriarchal governments. With an increasingly authoritarian administration holding power for the next four years, further research into psychedelic drugs could be halted, simply because they challenge the traditional, puritanical values of evangelical Christians. As we have already seen, the Trump administration has little regard for science and data, and will continue to make decisions based on ideological beliefs driven by primitive emotions and rooted in the aggrandizement of power.

But that’s not all that could go wrong.

As Bob Jesse outlined in his talk at the Horizons Conference in 2016, there are a number of other plausible ways in which the psychedelic renaissance – in its current form – could go wrong: a major medical emergency within a laboratory setting, a governmental backlash against substance based religion, the overt commercialization of sacraments, and using psychedelics as agents of cultural progressive change.

To mitigate the risk of a cultural backlash, it is critical to create bulwarks. While research is an excellent way to change the paradigm inside-out, efforts to legitimize psychedelics will require more than one angle. Sticking all our eggs in the research basket is likely to lead to an overdependence on one avenue of persuasion. For that reason, we must diversify the ways in which the psychedelic community works to destigmatize, and thus legitimize, psychedelic substances.

LSD micro dosing. (Photo by Psychedelic Times)

Who Exactly is Experimenting With Microdosing?

Microdosing has opened the psychedelic world to numerous individuals who otherwise would have never considered taking ‘illicit’ substances. For many, the biggest barrier to trying psychedelics is the possibility of having a challenging experience (or ‘bad trip’). Microdosing mitigates this risk, hence its growing popularity. In addition, several surveys have shown that microdosing often has the same short-term benefits as a high-dose psychedelic experience.

Those interested in microdosing tend to fall into two camps:

1. People motivated to microdose as a means of boosting their innovation and creativity.
2. Those who suffer from mental health conditions looking for alternative therapeutic measures.

While the use of microdosing is, I would argue, more important for those in need, it is more likely that the growing use of microdosing by ‘Silicon Valley’ types will act as a bulwark against an inevitable cultural backlash.

In the 60s and 70s, psychedelic use was promoted as a way to rebel against an overly-conformist society (“Turn on, tune in, drop out”). From an ideological perspective, using microdosing as a tool to further the purposes of free-market capitalism is highly concerning. But, in this case, ideology should take a backseat to pragmatism. When dealing with the complex reality of cultural stigma and belief systems, all effective practices must be considered on the merits of their likelihood to succeed in changing the cultural conversation.

Psychedelic Use By Cultural Leaders

Psychedelics have influenced the principles and values of many influential figures across contemporary culture, such as Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, and Michael Pollan. In fact, those who have had the most impact on the re-emergence of psychedelics are not actively involved in the psychedelic fringe (yet!). With a proverbial mountain-top to speak from, these leaders have used their platform to address the stigma and misinformation surrounding psychedelic use.

Included in this realm of societal leaders are executives in the tech world. Some of the most influential tech visionaries have explicitly talked about their transformative experiences with psychedelics. Assuming leaders in the tech world fall prey to the same concerns about stigma as many others in the psychedelic space, there are likely dozens of others in the tech world who, off-record, consume psychedelics on a fairly regular basis.

In fact, Tim Ferriss, a lifestyle guru and advisor to tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and Uber, noted in an article on CNN, “All the billionaires I know, without exception, consume hallucinogens on a regular basis. They are trying to think of the world differently, trying to be disruptive in their approach to psychedelic use.”

As our current economy demands innovative solutions, psychedelics have the potential to increasingly be used as tools to help solve some of the most pressing issues we deal with as a society. Indeed, if we are to believe Wired magazine, they are already being used in this manner in some capacity.

However, those who are new to psychedelics will be unlikely to jump in the deep-end right off the bat. Instead, I would suspect that many will first warm-up to psychedelics through the use of microdosing. Only when they notice the substantial benefits of microdosing psychedelics will they then consider high-dose psychedelics for more transformative experiences.

In essence, the advent of microdosing can act as a bridge, introducing more ‘mainstream’ people to the responsible use of psychedelic substances. (Which begs the question: Can psychedelics influence our economic system for the better?)

Business leaders are gradually changing the way in which they facilitate business, accounting for social, community, and environmental externalities in the way they do business. Trends that indicate such a move towards more conscious, holistic business practices include the meteoric growth in B-Corporations (examples of which include Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Kickstarter); Elon Musk (yes, just his name is enough); and the growing resurgence in re-localization of economic exchange.

Much of the ‘psychedelic renaissance’ relies on private donors to fund research. Many of these private donors have made their fortune through entrepreneurial ventures, notably in places like Silicon Valley. As more and more entrepreneurs turn to microdosing as a means of optimization, it will only help to facilitate the increase in donations to support psychedelic research.

Microdosing May Lead to a Substantial Shift in Perspective

Those who try microdosing – even if they have never tried psychedelics before – will be more likely to commit to ‘taking the plunge’ into experimenting with higher psychedelic doses, which often lead to more consciousness expanding experiences.

The experience of doing something is often much more effective at changing our minds than logical rhetoric (something called the ‘familiarity principle’ in psychology). The impact of experience is another reason why research will not be the end-all, be-all in changing how our culture perceives psychedelic use.

Why This Matters from a Medical Perspective

Now, more than ever, I believe that our society can benefit from further experimentation with psychedelics to help heal a myriad of mental health issues. Thus far, those who have experience with microdosing claim a bevy of benefits specific to relieving symptoms for issues like depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and more.

Whether microdosing leads to positive therapeutic or performance enhancement results has yet to be fully settled by research. However, research has shown that psychedelics can activate important receptors in the brain, even at tiny doses. Such activity is likely responsible for the short-term benefits many individuals experience from microdosing.

While this is great news, such effects may not be enough to create lasting change in an individual’s disposition. According to George Greer, Medical Director of the Heffter Research Institute, there is reason to believe that much of the efficacy of psychedelics in treating symptoms of depression stems from the powerful experiences that one goes through when taking high-doses of psilocybin.

It is one thing to show, with research, that psychedelics help treat mental illness. It is an entirely different challenge to get people to overcome the cognitive dissonance of taking an illicit drug to help heal. Through the process of changing minds through direct experience, I argue that microdosing will be the key to mainstreaming psychedelics.

Paul Austin is the founder of The Third Wave. Tweets @PaulAustinMD

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