Please note: This article is for informational purposes only. Banner Health does not endorse microdosing or the use of illegal or controlled substances, such as psychedelics.
If you’re worried about your mental health, you may have tried several things when it comes to feeling better and happier—whether that’s exercise, meditation, behavioral health therapy, prescription medications or a combination.
Recently, however, you may have heard about the use of psychedelics, or hallucinogens, to improve mental health. There are some as of late who are using tiny amounts of these drugs to produce these wanted changes.
These tiny hits are called microdosing, and it’s growing in popularity. It’s gone from taboo—something done behind closed doors—to mainstream, with everyone from those in the tech industry to artists experimenting with psychoactive substances with the hopes of boosting professional performance, problem solving skills, clarity and well-being.
But is this practice really helpful—and is it even safe? Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix, helped shed some light on this growing trend.
What is microdosing?
“In its simplest terms, microdosing is using doses less than what is considered a therapeutic dose to elicit a positive experience or response,” Dr. Kuhn said. “This is roughly 10% of what is generally accepted as a therapeutic dose.”
With these smaller doses of psychedelics, the goal isn’t to get high or “trip out”. The goal is to receive some of the wanted effects without actually feeling high or noticing the signs of intoxication. Some proponents say microdosing can not only boost professional performance and clarity, it can also improve mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies on the subject to support this conclusion.
“Advocates claim very small amounts of these drugs can help, but the medical literature is very shaky in the strength of the outcomes they report,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Much of the research is purely anecdotal or from personal experience.”
To determine if microdosing has the potential to improve mental health and well-being, Dr. Kuhn noted that there needs to be randomized controlled trials to compare the effects of microdosing with that of a placebo, the gold standard of research. “However, these types of studies take time, money and rigor—and don’t always pan out,” he said.
“Microdosing has merit and a place in the western pharmaceutical world, but these drugs have rigorously been tested to find the lowest and safest doses that produce the same clinical effect. This isn’t true with microdosing hallucinogens,” Dr. Kuhn added.
Is microdosing dangerous?
Typically, the drugs used in microdosing aren’t your over-the-counter medications. Psychedelics are illegal or controlled substances, such as:
- lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
- psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms)
- mescaline (peyote)
- N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
- methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDMA)
“Many of these are Schedule I drugs, substances the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified as high risk for abuse,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Microdosing these can expose you to potent drugs and increase your risk for addiction.”
Getting started with microdosing is not only legally difficult, but these drugs are also unregulated, meaning you can’t always be sure of the dosage and potency of the substance.
The most common negative effects are headaches, stomach issues, increased anxiety, worsening mood and the risk for serious harm to oneself.
“We get calls at our poison control center all the time with people who are on a bad trip or high,” Dr. Kuhn said. “We aren’t as concerned about true toxicity in these cases, but we do worry about the environment these people are in at that time. People can get hurt physically.”
Are there any states where psychedelic substances are legal?
As mentioned earlier, you’ll be hard-pressed to find psychedelic drugs since most states prohibit the use. These drugs are typically found on the black market. However, some states like Oregon and cities like Denver have recently decriminalized the use of psilocybin mushrooms, but these drugs are not intended for recreational use.
The bottom line
Despite the attention given to microdosing, it’s too early to know the full impact of using small doses of hallucinogens. For now, it’s best to steer clear of risky and illegal behavior and focus on tried-and-true measures to boost your long-term mental health and well-being.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact Banner Behavioral Health Hospital at 800-254-4357 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 800-662-4357.