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Microdosing Psychedelics For Cognitive Enhancement

Most drugs used for nootropic purposes are far different from drugs that are used recreationally. However, a handful of substances with “no accepted medical use” in countries like the United States hold great promise as cognitive enhancers. Case in point: psychedelics.

Most drugs used for nootropic purposes are far different from drugs that are used recreationally. However, a handful of substances with “no accepted medical use” in countries like the United States hold great promise as cognitive enhancers and therapeutic agents. Case in point: psychedelics

It has been common knowledge since the 1960s that psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, psilocybin and mescaline, are potent enhancers of creativity and divergent thinking. However, at common recreational doses, this boost in creativity is often accompanied by feelings of intoxication, rendering the user incoherent and unable to get any “serious” work done.

That said, a new trend in psychedelic usage has emerged in the past few years that seeks to reap the creative and cognitive benefits of these drugs, while still leaving the user sober and able to function normally. This method, known as microdosing, is the practice of consuming a psychedelic substance at a dosage lower than the threshold of noticeable effects, in order to produce subtle yet effective increases in cognition and creativity. Because the dosage consumed is below the threshold of recreational effects for the substance, the user does not experience the inebriating effects of the substance. The hope is to maximize cognitive enhancement while minimizing any effects that would impair the user as they go about their day.

Microdosing with psychedelic substances is by no mean a new concept, with Albert Hofmann (the creator of LSD) himself having used microdoses of LSD frequently and having called microdosing a regretfully “under-researched” area of psychedelics.[1] However, microdosing has not seen substantial popularity until very recently, and it appears to be an emerging trend in 2015.

How Does it Work?

Microdosing, in the form discussed here, is performed by using psychedelic drugs that act on serotonin receptors, such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, 2C-B, and many others . The impact that psychedelics have on cognition has not been extensively researched due to government restrictions on research of illegal drugs. However, as the scientific community continues to push more and more against research limitations, more studies are being published that give us a glimpse into how psychedelic substances affect human cognition.

lsd-nootropic
Enhancement of associative learning produced by the 5-HT2A agonist LSD under different experimental conditions.

The psychedelics most commonly used for microdosing work by acting upon serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT) receptors. Thus, in order to understand microdosing, one must first recognize that the serotonergic system regulates cognition and the way in which we learn. There are numerous unique serotonin receptors within the nervous system, collectively regulating everything from mood to gastrointestinal motility. The receptors most involved with learning, memory, and cognition, however, are the 5-HT1A, 5-HT2A, 5-HT3, 5-HT4, 5-HT6, and 5-HT7 receptors, with 5-HT2A being the most acted upon by psychedelics.[2]

In the sober individual, serotonin molecules bind to these receptors, stimulating the receptors and their respective neurons, which is partially responsible for learning, cognition, and memory acquisition. The cognitive boosts that come from microdosing psychedelics are thought to be due to their action of agonists at the 5-HT2A receptor. Although this is an oversimplification, it provides the basis for understanding why microdosing does what it does.

A 2003 study[3] conducted by John A. Harvey at Drexel University explored these effects on cognition by administering LSD to rabbits and recording their performance on cognitive tests. The doses used in this study were equivalent to about 1 µg/kg in humans, which amounts to 80-100 µg in the average human, which is a common recreational dosage for LSD. When the rabbits were given LSD, they performed significantly better on learning and cognitive tests than those that has not been given LSD.[4]

There is also relevant research that was conducted by Willis Harman and James Fadiman before the FDA placed a moratorium on psychedelic research. In one study[5] conducted in 1966, researchers gave 200 mg of mescaline (equivalent to 100 µg of LSD) to a group of 27 professionals who worked in high-level occupations, such as engineers and mathematicians. Each subject came to the experiment with a particular problem from their occupation that they were having trouble solving. All but four subjects, after they had worked on these problems under the influence of psychedelics, were able to make significant progress on the problems they had been struggling with, many of which turned out to be innovative solutions.[6]

Which Substances Can Be Used?

Microdosing can potentially be carried out with any serotonergic psychedelic, but some are more popularly used and tested than others. Typically, the most popular choices are LSD and Psilocybin. As long as the threshold dose of the drug is known, it can be effectively microdosed, although results will certainly vary from person to person. The following is a tentative list that includes common microdosage amounts of various psychedelics.

Drug Dose Threshold Duration Note
LSD 10 – 30µg 20µg 8 – 12h
AL-LAD 10 – 30µg >20µg 6 – 8h
Psilocybin 2 – 5mg 0.25g 4 – 6h dry weight with uniform blending; corresponds to 0.15 – 0.4g Psilocybe Cubensis
Mescaline 50 – 150mg 100mg 6 – 10h dry weight with uniform blending; corresponds to 4.5 – 13.5g L. williamsii or 10 – 25g T. pachanoi
DMT 2 – 6mg ~3.5mg 5 – 20m
4-AcO-DMT 1 – 4mg 2.5mg 4 – 6h
2C-B 2 – 6mg ~3.5mg 4 – 6h
2C-E 2 – 6mg ~3.5mg 4 – 9h
2C-I 2 – 6mg ~3.5mg 5 – 8h
2C-D 2 – 6mg ~3.5mg 3.5 – 5h

(Table taken from /r/microdosing)

The Potential Effects of Microdosing Psychedelics

As with the usage of any drug, microdosing psychedelics can have both positive and negative effects. Due to the lack of clinical and experimental evidence dealing with psychedelics, most of this information is anecdotal, and must be regarded of as such. Users must proceed with caution in order to find if microdosing is of benefit to them.

Some of the purported benefits of microdosing include:

  • Increases in energy and wakefulness
  • Enhanced creativity and cognition
  • Enhanced concentration and motivation
  • Increased ability to learn new material
  • Positive changes in mood
  • Empathy when interacting with others
  • Better stamina and performance in athletic activities

Some negative side effects of microdosing include:

  • Headaches (due to increase in blood pressure)
  • Problems falling asleep, or poor quality of sleep
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Permanent personality changes (can be both negative or positive)

Addiction or withdrawals may be a concern with certain psychedelics, but the most commonly used psychedelics, including LSD, have not displayed addictive properties. It is also important to note that while psychedelic drugs have the ability to enhance cognition, they can also induce effects that make it harder to think clearly and analytically.

Some might find it harder to focus on tasks while microdosing (especially if the dose is too high), and the introspective nature of many psychedelics might cause some users to focus on their own internal problems rather than external ones. Although microdosing seeks to prevent these effects with lower (and less impairing) doses, it is not guaranteed that they will not occur. In some circumstances, users might find microdosing to be of little to no benefit to their cognition. As stated before, results will vary for each individual.

Conclusion

Microdosing psychedelics for cognitive enhancement is far from a traditional nootropic, and must be regarded as such. Because there is not much solid clinical evidence to attest to its efficacy, it must be used cautiously. However, most common psychedelics are considered very safe to use, especially in lower doses that are not as physically and mentally impairing. Due to the illegal status of psychedelics in most of the world, it is advised that you proceed with caution and remain aware of the drug laws where you live.

Microdosing may hold a significant amount of promise for some nootropic users. As the use of psychedelics becomes more and more accepted by society, in general, we can expect to see an increase in scientific research on the subject, giving us a more detailed glimpse into how psychedelics affect our minds.

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