As you lie back and feel your trip beginning, your excitement becomes colored by doubt. Did you take too much? How can you be sure it’s not more than you can handle? As you worry, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and your anxiety takes over. You can tell the next few hours are going to be grueling.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’d probably agree that determining dosage can be one of the biggest challenges of a psychedelic experience. Yes, you want to get the most of the experience, but you don’t want to go too far.
Luckily, we are at a truly exciting point in the history of psychedelic science — after decades of prohibition on all research, the last few years have seen an explosion of studies into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like ibogaine and psilocybin for addiction and PTSD. And thanks to one recent study from John Hopkins, it seems like an answer to the question, “What’s the ideal mushroom dosage?” may be just around the corner.
The Research About Mushroom Dosage
Though the overall flurry of recent research is reaffirming to see, a true herald of a change in the way we see psychedelics comes from a very new study by Dr. Roland Griffiths (Dr. Griffiths is also responsible for a well-known study about the effects of psilocybin on patients diagnosed with terminal cancer, as well as several other seminal psychedelic and addiction studies). In this study, 18 healthy volunteers were given four tiers of psilocybin dose and encouraged to lie down in a comfortable environment with headphones. The study’s aim was to evaluate volunteers’ subjective experiences—positive and negative—at different doses.
The highest dose tested was 30 mg of psilocybin per 70 kg participant weight (mg per kg is a typical clinical measure of dose for drugs of all kinds). This is equivalent to a 155 lb individual taking slightly less than 5 g of dried psilocybe cubensis, a typical psychedelic mushroom—quite a strong dose. Four out of five volunteers receiving this dose reported the experience was one of the top five most spiritually significant events of their lives, but a third of participants also reported a significant psychological struggle. At this higher dose, experiencing fear, anxiety, and stress was more likely.
At the next highest dose of 20 mg per 70 kg (equivalent to roughly 3 g of dried psilocybe cubensis), all volunteers reported positive experiences, and only one experienced any negativity. This trend continued for lower doses, with slightly less profundity of experience but still significant, long-lasting effects. Over a year later, the researchers followed up with volunteers and found that the vast majority still thought that their experiences were in the top five most spiritually significant of their lives.
The Big Three: Set, Setting, and Dose
Besides dosage, there are a couple other things to consider when undertaking a psychedelic experience. It’s widely agreed that the three factors that most influence a psychedelic experience are set, setting, and dose.
Set refers to an individual’s mindset: are you coming into the experience expecting something to go wrong, or do you have a constructive intention? Setting refers to the environment of the experience: do you have an experienced sitter, guide, or therapist who can help chaperone you through difficult stages? Are you in a comfortable, soothing room or the outdoors? Set and setting are well understood, and it is clear how they can push a psychedelic experience in a positive or negative direction. Dose, however, is less intuitively clear, and that is why this study is so important: it attempts to quantify the relative benefits of different doses of a psychedelic.
We know that psychedelics like psilocybin are capable of revealing deep personal insights, transcendent realizations, and ineffable connections to the universe that lead to long-lasting improvements in outlook, but also that in some circumstances, we can have difficult, troubling, and even frightening experiences. That’s why set, setting, and dose are so important. Though some may say that these negative experiences teach us something valuable in and of themselves, individuals who are apprehensive about psychedelic therapy would do well to have their fears soothed so that they can receive psychedelics’ full benefits without negative expectations.
What the Research Means for You
This research is so significant because it isn’t looking at psychedelics in a prescriptive manner—it can help any individual, whether they’re “sick” in a clinical sense or simply seeking to improve their own mental health. It benefits anyone seeking a psychedelic experience, especially those who are unsure where to start or apprehensive about what they have heard. Even very low doses of psychedelics still engender long-lasting positive changes, and the lower the dose, the less likely you are to have an anxious or stressful episode.
With attentive detail to set, setting, and dose, you can seek out the psychedelic experience most suited to you. If you are seeking a truly transformative experience — and are willing to face your fears and tackle deep-seated issues — a high dose may offer one of the most significant experiences you could encounter. If you’re apprehensive about psychedelics, or simply want to open yourself up and improve your outlook, a lower dose may be best for you. Remember also that dose is only one component of your experience—make sure your mindset is prepared and intentional, and your setting is supportive, therapeutic, and above all, safe.