By Joseph Rootman
Public uptake of psychedelic microdosing has outpaced research on the practice, which has left gaps in our understanding. In order to help fill some of these gaps in the scientific literature, our clinical psychology research team at the University of British Columbia has launched the Microdose.me study along with a team of international researchers and partners. This symposium contribution provides an overview of our findings to date, and offers suggestions for future microdosing research.
For the Microdose.me study we recruited over 8,000 participants, about half of whom were microdosing and the other half that were not microdosing at the time of the study. Participants completed questionnaires and neurocognitive tasks at baseline and 1-month follow up via mobile phone application.
One primary aim of our study was to describe microdosing practices and motivations and consider how these factors vary across subgroups such as gender and mental health history. Health and wellness-related motives were the most prominent motives across microdosers and were more prominent among females and among individuals who reported mental health concerns.
We found that psilocybin was the most commonly used microdose substance in our sample, with 85% reporting psilocybin as their primary microdose substance, compared to only 11% reporting LSD. Other substances, such as mescaline, were also reported, but only infrequently. We also identified that a majority of our microdosing sample reported combining their psychedelic microdose substance with other, non-psychoactive substances, such as lion’s mane mushrooms and niacin. This practice of combining substances, a process referred to as stacking, is novel to the empirical literature, and highlights how much more we have to uncover as we move further into microdosing research.
As another aim of our study, we sought to describe microdosers relative to non-microdosers in terms of demographic characteristics and mental health. With respect to demographics, microdosers were generally similar to individuals not engaging in the practice. Microdosers, however, were more likely to report a history of mental health concerns. Further, among individuals reporting mental health concerns, the microdosing group reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress than their non-microdosing peers. These findings align with the idea that many microdosers are engaging in the practice with the intent of managing mental health and is suggestive of the relative safety of microdosing among individuals with mental health concerns.
These findings, reported on in more detail, can be found here within our manuscript recently published in Nature: Scientific Reports.
In our next, currently unpublished, round of analyses we sought to investigate how microdosing relates to changes in mental health symptomology over a one-month period. Our preliminary findings suggest small- to medium-sized improvements from baseline to follow-up in mood, depression, anxiety, and stress among microdosers. Additionally, microdosers reported greater improvements in these domains relative to the non-microdosing group. These preliminary findings align with previous studies of microdosing and mental health, which have noted improvements associated with psychedelic microdosing, and help to build on them by including a comparison group of non-microdosers.
The correlational nature of our study precludes any causal inference, but we hope that our findings can lay the groundwork for more methodologically rigorous studies to come. These types of studies may help us uncover the contributions of expectancies and placebo effects to the reports of microdosing-related improvements. Nonetheless, factors such as environment and user mindset have long been known to influence the psychedelic experience in meaningful ways. As such, researchers seeking to investigate the effects of these substances in the laboratory are presented with the challenge of replicating natural psychedelic settings. Considering these challenges, it is likely that the future of psychedelic research will be flexible and integrate a variety of methodological approaches; indeed, microdosing research has already been the focus of the first ever “self-blinding” study.
Our successful recruitment and engagement of thousands of participants, both microdosers and non-microdosers, illustrates the promise ahead for the field of psychedelic research more broadly. Our study emphasizes that there is demand for accessible opportunities to contribute to the advancement of science, particularly among psychedelic users. Innovations in technology have substantially reduced barriers to engaging participants in research studies, which presents a encouraging picture for the future of psychedelic research.
Joseph Rootman, M.A. is a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus.