By James Fadiman
Law and policy around microdosing of psychedelic substances should reflect its proportionally low risks.
“Microdosing” refers to the practice of consuming very low doses of psychedelic substances, about 1/10th to 1/20th of a typical dose, primarily of psilocybin-containing mushrooms or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Doses typically are taken intermittently, over several weeks, and they do not interfere with normal daily activities, unlike the powerful consciousness-altering effects of higher doses.
Psychedelics are believed to be remarkably safe, with minimal risk of dependency and adverse health effects. Risks from taking microdoses of psychedelics are proportionately less.
Nevertheless, as Schedule I controlled substances, psychedelics receive the same regulatory treatment as substances like heroin, which often cause physical dependency and can cause death. It is past time to update law and policy relating to psychedelics in general and microdosing in particular.
The War on Drugs
Laws and regulations related to the use of psychedelics should be tailored for the health and safety of those who wish to utilize them, not squeezed into a simplistic regulatory framework created for entirely different kinds of substances, such as prescription medications and more harmful illicit substances.
When psychedelics were first listed in Schedule I — partially defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — they had already been extensively researched in the 1950s and ’60s. There had been well over 1,000 published studies, and at least 40,000 individual subjects had safely received psychedelics.
Psychedelics were interdicted because they were used by groups including hippies and anti-war protesters, who then–President Nixon feared. He wanted an excuse to break up and arrest members of these groups without it being overly politically obvious. In the words of his right-hand man, former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Moreover, psychedelics have a long history of providing healing and spiritual experiences that predates not just the United States, but most of Western civilization. Unlike newly created pharmaceuticals, some cultures have used psychedelics in safe and healthy ways for thousands of years, from rites of passage in Gabon, to community healing rituals in Peru, and individual healing and divination in Mexico.
The result of Nixon’s War on Drugs is that the possession and use of psychedelics carries the same penalties as other Schedule I substances, which lack these safe and sacred applications. Though psychedelic use exists on a spectrum and can often be quite low-risk (i.e., microdosing), the current regulatory framework elides this nuance.
It seems sensible and prudent to devise appropriate regulations for the high-dose uses of psychedelics, both medically and otherwise, to limit misuse and to support best practices. Though these substances are not inherently dangerous, they are best handled by people with appropriate training and licenses. On the other hand, appropriately consumed microdoses do not interfere with normal functioning and, in most cases, require little if any training to use. Therefore, since they are less problematic, microdoses deserve less stringent regulation than higher doses. Regulations should recognize the different effects microdoses have in comparison to their higher dosage cousins. One does not make the same regulations for a house cat as for a lion, unless one is equally ignorant of both.
Appropriate regulations for low-dose use of psychedelics may also promote our scientific understanding of the practice by lowering barriers to further study. Research on microdosing lags well behind the extensive wave of research on safe and potentially beneficial higher-dose applications.
Preliminary research indicates that the practice of microdosing holds promise.
From thousands of reports from microdose users from over 80 countries, it appears that microdosing has a wide range of potential benefits. Reports submitted over the past decade to the website I run with colleagues describe relief from chronic migraines, painful menstrual periods, treatment-resistant depression, traumatic brain injuries. People also report that microdosing has improved their grades, athletic performance, personal relationships, sleep, and diet. Some say it has reduced their consumption of cannabis, tobacco, or alcohol.
There has, to date, been very little conventional research on microdosing, and several studies have concluded that all the positive changes in their subjects could be explained away as due solely to expectation and placebo. Several researchers are now starting to question the sample selection and methodology of these studies since their results are so different from thousands of user reports.
We now have an opportunity to correct a political mistake that has, for over 40 years, wrongfully and harmfully restricted the research and therapeutic beneficial use of psychedelics.
James Fadiman, PhD is author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys, and Co-Founder of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now known as Sofia University).