Experts explain the benefits, side effects, and much more.

Rebecca Norris
Jan 19, 2021 @ 12:00 pm
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Warning: The below story discusses drug use.

Keeping up with the surge of "cure-all" wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they're worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they're just hype.

As a beauty and wellness lover and frequent TikTok scroller, it was only a matter of time until I stumbled upon Kush Queen CEO Olivia Alexander's feed. After all, the woman responsible for pioneering THC and CBD bath bombs has been going viral for her accounts of her and her mother's psilocybin microdosing journey. Naturally, thumbing through her feed left me with questions. While I could wait to find out her skincare routine and how she shapes her arches (both of which are awe-inspiring), I couldn't wait to learn more about microdosing. So I reached out to Alexander and a number of other experts in the field for everything there is to know about the budding wellness trend.

Intrigued? Keep reading for everything you need to know about microdosing, including its benefits, side effects, and how to do it.

What is microdosing?

Let's break it down: "Micro" means small and "dose" means a quantity of a drug. In other words, microdosing is the practice of taking small (like, really, really small) doses of psychoactive drugs (namely cannabis, LSD, and mushrooms). According to Robert B. Davis, the cofounder of ALT (Advanced Liquid Technology, a company pioneering liquid cannabis at micro levels): "Microdosing is consuming medicine in smaller amounts, going for the benefits of the medicine (increased empathy, focus, and creativity) and not the 'high.'"

Of course, there's more to microdosing than just taking small doses whenever you want. According to Dr. Olga Chernoloz, the chief scientific officer at Wake, a company that specializes in medicinal mushrooms, there are three key aspects that must be in play for use to constitute microdosing. For starters, she says that a microdose is typically 2 to 10% of what a person would take to experience the full effects of a substance.

Then there's timing. "Microdosing is typically integrated into a routine sustained over an extended period of time versus a one-off 'trip,'" she says. Lastly, there's the intention behind the microdose. "A microdose is typically intended to elicit sub-perceptual (meaning not enough of the substance for you to feel [major] noticeable changes) or extremely mild effects," she explains. In other words, microdosing—whether it be THC, LSD, or shrooms—isn't meant to knock you on your butt.

What are the benefits of microdosing?

One would think that smaller doses wouldn't lead to worthwhile results, but that's not the case. While clinical studies on microdosing are practically nonexistent, citizen scientists (aka folks like you and me who may choose to dabble in microdosing) have lent their experiences for survey-based research.

According to a 2019 survey-based study published in the Harm Reduction Journal, researchers found that microdosers experience a number of emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits. Emotionally, microdosers experienced an "improved outlook, appreciation of life, optimism, spiritual insights, and being more in touch with emotions." Cognitively, microdosers reported improved "focus and concentration, conscious awareness, mindfulness, and increased engagement and attentiveness."

In other words, taking these small doses of drugs can be a real game-changer for many people. And, according to Davis, that includes those who struggle with drug addiction.

"Microdosing plant medicine has allowed me to overcome addiction struggles, particularly with alcohol," he shares. "I have also seen this happen in many other people's lives. We are currently supporting individuals with alcohol and other drug addictions to reduce or abstain completely by using ALT. Our consumers are reporting fewer cravings, less pain, and less anxiety associated with their addictions. Feelings of calm and connectedness through a controlled and manageable euphoria are some of the benefits individuals have realized." While Davis says these positive feelings and states can support individuals in finding the strength to distance themselves from their addiction and create hope, it's important to talk to a medical professional before doing this.

However, part of why microdosing can be so beneficial—for folks struggling with addiction or for those simply looking for a new wellness hack—is that, as Davis points out, microdosing psychedelics literally helps to rewire the mind. "Studies are showing that microdosing helps to bring presence and calm to the mind, to remove ego, and to help us see and feel our truth, our pure and perfect authentic selves," he says.

Credit: Getty Images

What about side effects?

The biggest issue with microdosing lies in the fact that it has not been heavily studied in a clinical setting. So while folks from New York to California can applaud it for its ability to help with everything from clarity and focus to pain management and mood disorders, the science just isn't there—yet.

Nevertheless, according to Alexander, integration—namely, how and how often you integrate the drug—is the most important aspect of microdosing and psychedelic use. "Plant medicines and psychedelics can alter lifelong belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors," she explains. "Ultimately, they are a tool to help us change what we are looking for. Dose, setting, and intention is everything with microdosing as well as with macrodosing. What you seek, you will find, and so being mindful of this is important when addressing side effects."

In regards to "what you seek, you will find," it's important to know that your present state of mind can affect your experience. For example, if you're super worried about microdosing, that may manifest feelings of anxiety when you actually do so. For this reason, it's best to approach microdosing (and any drug use, for that matter) with a clear head and a support system you know and trust, as this will help mitigate negative side effects.

How to microdose:

Due to the limited research around microdosing protocols, it's difficult to definitively say what dose will work best for each and every person. "We are working on clinical studies at Wake that will shed some light on the answer to this question," Dr. Chernoloz shares. "That being said, citizen scientists [aka everyday people] who microdose tend to follow one of the two most popular protocols: The Fadiman Protocol or the Stamets Stack. The difference lies in how often one takes the microdose and how many 'rest days' are in between doses. Based on the notion of a rapid loss of sensitivity of the receptors that psychedelics work through, taking days in between doses is very important so that tolerance is not built up." According to Dr. Chernoloz, the sensitivity of the receptors restores quickly once the microdosing is done, so there should be no concern with addiction to these substances; however, it's important to be mindful of your body, your relationship with other substances, and your family history. And again, make sure to consult with a doctor. Still, to explore what works best for you, Dr. Chernoloz says to start low and go slow.

Credit: Getty Images

How to microdose cannabis:

The drug: A natural source of THC, cannabis is a natural plant that's most often smoked, vaporized, or turned into different kinds of butters, oils, and tinctures to transform common foods and beverages into psychoactive treats. Special brownies, anyone?

The dose: According to Alexander, cannabis microdosing can range from one to five milligrams of THC and is best done in an edible. This, of course, makes total sense given the rise of brands like Dosist (a CBD and THC brand that delivers dose control technology), Cann Social Tonics (a low-dose cannabis social tonic), Kin Slips (CBD- and THC-infused sublingual strips), Terra Bites (THC-infused chocolate-covered espresso beans—a personal fave), and Petra Mints (the perfect microdosed portion for people on the go) that all give microdosed amounts of THC and CBD with their products.

The impact: Depending on the strain of THC used in the edible, the results can vary. Where indica-based microdoses are known for more noticeable physical bodily sensations (which is great for pain management and muscle recovery), sativa-based microdoses are beneficial for altering the mindstate (whether to promote focus, calmness, or sleep).

How to microdose LSD:

The drug: Derived from lysergic acid, LSD (commonly referred to as acid) is a psychedelic drug. While lysergic acid is a naturally-occurring fungus that grows on bread (rye in particular), LSD is a manmade drug that harnesses its psychoactive effects.

The dose: While LSD is typically presented as tablets and on colorful (often printed) pieces of paper, Alexander says that a tincture is the best way to go when it comes to microdosing the psychedelic. "LSD microdoses normally contain 5 micrograms to 15 micrograms but are far harder to come by than mushrooms," she adds.

The impact: Though research on the subject is minimal, the 2019 survey-based study mentioned above found novel results indicating that microdosing LSD can boost mood and focus but can also exacerbate anxiety and feelings of discomfort.

How to microdose mushrooms:

The drug: Also known as "magic mushrooms," shrooms get their trippy vibes from psilocybin, a naturally-occurring psychoactive found in a variety of mushroom species. While you could very well stumble on them in nature, your best bet is to find them through a dealer.

The dose: Often in the form of chocolates, capsules, or tea, Alexander says that psilocybin mushrooms are typically microdosed between 0.05 and 0.25 grams.

The impact: Thanks to its purported antidepressant properties, Dr. Chernoloz says that consuming psilocybin—even in micro amounts—can prove to lift the mood and reduce feelings of depression. That said, she points out that psilocybin doesn't always play well with SSRIs (aka antidepressants) nor should it replace them unless it's a doctor-directed recommendation.

But remember…

Now that your interest is officially piqued, we hate to be the bearer of bad (but likely obvious) news: Microdosing isn't legal everywhere. In fact, it's not legal in most places. While cannabis laws are rapidly decreasing across the country, only a handful of cities have decriminalized psilocybin, and even fewer have lessened their grip on LSD laws.

While drug laws claim to exist in an attempt to prevent overdoses and drug-related criminal activity, more often than not, like abortion laws, they can push people to look elsewhere for something that should be readily accessible for everyone.

All this is to say that if you're looking to microdose, there are more than a few ways to get in on the growing wellness trend—because that's what it is: a popular realization that certain drugs might benefit one's mental and physical health, and not just in terms of escaping reality but accepting and making more of it. It will just require knowing where to look and who to talk to in your specific city. (Of course, if you prefer to stay on the legal side of things, Dr. Chernoloz says it never hurts to brush up on what drugs are legal in your local jurisdiction and continue with your microdosing journey from there.)

That said, if you experiment with microdosing a certain drug and don't experience notable benefits or begin to feel worse—because, remember, drugs and their effects are subjective—Dr. Chernoloz recommends discontinuing use.

For more information on microdosing psychedelics, visit researcher James Fadiman's website: www.microdosingpsychedelics.com.