On September 3, 2018, a partnership of the Beckley Foundation and Imperial College London began an innovative research study in LSD microdosing. The study is collecting data throughout one year from participants all over the world, using a special ‘self-blinding’ protocol.
Microdosing for psychedelics involves taking a dosage significantly smaller than a ‘recreational’ or ‘threshold’ amount. A normal dose of LSD in the form of ‘blotter tabs’ sold underground is about 100 micrograms, which would cause you to hallucinate or ‘trip.’
But with a ‘microdose’ of about 10-20 micrograms, you won’t experience those same effects. Instead (according to anecdotal evidence), you may feel a boost in mood, creativity, focus, attention, or other aspects of psychological well-being and cognitive function. For this reason, microdosing has become a popular productivity tool even in corporate industries from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
Anyone in the world may sign up to participate in this study while data is being collected. Participants must supply their own LSD for the ten-week experiment. Each study includes a pre- and post-testing period where participants will complete baseline and follow-up mental assessments.
The self-blinded testing period will last four weeks. Participants will create 32 opaque capsules, some of which will contain LSD, while the rest will be empty. Participants will place the capsules in plain envelopes marked with digital QR codes to distinguish the active from the placebo doses. They will then dose themselves at random, not knowing which they are consuming.
Participants will engage in online questionnaires and games throughout the study to assess their psychological well-being and cognitive function, including tests for anxiety and depression symptoms. After the study, participants will receive a report describing which doses were taken on which days, and how they performed on the tests.
The researchers spent about eighteen months developing this study, at a cost of about $5,000. “This self-blinding study is very cheap but it provides a much higher quality of evidence compared to an unblinded study,” said Dr. Balázs Szigeti, who helped design the study. “A clinical study is incredibly difficult and expensive to do because of all the regulatory hurdles. Our hope is that with some promising evidence, we can go to the major scientific and medical agencies to get grant money to conduct more comprehensive clinical studies.”
Dr. Szigeti explained how our current understanding of microdosing derives mostly from personal experiences reported by users. Personal reports are susceptible to a ‘reporting bias’, whether positive or negative. This is because people who microdose may simply believe it affects their mental state, regardless of the drug’s pharmacological action.
“If you talk to any doctors or scientists outside of the psychedelics field, they will very easily dismiss the microdosing phenomenon as a placebo effect,” Dr. Szigeti said. “So if we don’t try to gather any placebo-controlled data, we cannot refute that criticism.”
Further complicating this issue for researchers is the lack of a standardized amount for a microdose. The researchers expect users in this study will use a dosage range between 10-20 micrograms. If participants source their drugs from the underground market, they cannot be certain of the exact dosage amount—or even of the purity of the drug itself.
Amanda Feilding, founder and director of the Beckley Foundation, acknowledged that relying on underground sources may frustrate precise findings, though she downplayed this effect. “It’s an unfortunate consequence of living in an illegal and unregulated market,” she said. “But we are testing the purity of random doses collected from our participants. LSD is generally found in a much purer form than drugs like MDMA, so it is more reliable in this particular study.”
Feilding is confident that research in LSD microdosing will show the practice to be highly promising for different psychological and cognitive benefits. “We plan to do further research and use EEG to look at possible changes in brain plasticity,” she said. Brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is the brain’s ability to learn and adapt throughout life.
“In an ordinary LSD dose, we showed a great increase in global connectivity within the brain,” Feilding continued. “I suspect microdosing increases connectivity but at a much lower level than a full dose, which makes it much more manageable in ordinary life.”
Feilding referred to previous research her foundation conducted which showed that LSD decreased connectivity between key regions of the brain’s ‘default mode network’ (DMN). The DMN is involved in processing concepts of the self and memory, and reflection on the past and future. Simultaneously, LSD increased connectivity between highly segregated areas of the brain, allowing for “more free-flowing patterns of cognition, allowing users to become more creative and break free from rigid modes of thought and behaviour.”
Feilding assured me there is no single way to microdose. “Different people react in different ways,” she said. “What is noticeable for one might not be for another. There are many different ways to schedule a microdosing regimen. Each individual will find what is most beneficial for their health, mood, productivity, and creativity.”
Looking ahead, the researchers want to expand the self-blinding protocol to other plant and fungi-based psychedelics. “Basically, we find that microdosing is good for anything according to the anecdotal reports,” said Dr. Szigeti. “But I would be most excited to discover its effect on psychological well-being, because we are in the middle of a mental health epidemic and that would be more impactful than a finding in cognitive enhancement.”
The researchers will collect data through the spring or summer of 2019, and submit their findings by the end of the year. “Microdosing would be much safer with scientific evidence about how it’s working,” said Feilding. “It could turn out to be an extremely valuable use of the LSD compound, especially with neurodegenerative illnesses, old age, and addiction. There’s all sorts of uses where a low dose could be beneficial, aside from being a stimulant for productivity and creativity.”
To sign up for this study, visit the official website.