You’ve probably heard the buzz on microdosing; diverse groups—from Silicon Valley execs, to longtime psychonauts, to moms hoping to get through a long day of caregiving without losing their cool—have jumped onto this trend. Perhaps you’re an experienced macrodoser wondering about the effects of taking smaller, sub-perceptual doses of the same substance. Or perhaps you’re new to the world of psychedelic exploration and are looking for a way to test the waters and experience benefits. No matter the intention, we asked the experts for tips on how to start microdosing—and what you really should know before you begin.
Microdosing, defined by the psychedelics advocate and writer, James Fadiman, Ph.D. in his seminal 2011 book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, involves taking between one-tenth and one-twentieth of a full or recreational dose of a psychedelic. Microdosers often follow a protocol, like one of the two described below, for a period of six to ten weeks in order to observe the effects of the practice on their mental health and cognition. A microdose is intended as a “sub-perceptual,” or “sub-threshold” dose—meaning that you’re not meant to trip, or even feel high.
Yet, even without the trip, early research suggests that microdosing may have positive impacts—and we still have much more to learn. A study published in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2019 surveyed 278 microdosers and found that their top four reported benefits were improvements in mood, focus, creativity, and what the researchers termed “self-efficacy”—linked to motivation, confidence, and agency. Another study by the same researchers found that microdosers scored higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness, and creativity, and lower on dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality. Though this preliminary research is encouraging, it’s important to note that the field of study is new, and that results reflect user survey data, not clinical trials. Nonetheless, microdosing is increasingly sought after by those looking to enhance their mindset for work and creative pursuits, or for personal growth.
Some find benefits in both areas. As Sherri Tutkus, RN, a cannabis and psychedelics nurse and founder of the Green Nurse, shares: “Microdosing psychedelics has helped me to process emotions from a different perspective outside of the ‘trauma story.’ …it has also helped me reach a new level of awareness that self-care is the prerequisite for optimal health and has helped me stay accountable to myself and my goals.”
“Microdosing,” says Julie Freeman, a registered dietician, functional and mind-body medicine expert, and founder of Mindful Wellness, engenders “an almost imperceptible change in brain chemistry, offering an increase in chemicals that support neuroplasticity.” Specifically, higher levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) may help reduce anxiety, depression, and inflammation, “by increasing the connections in the brain, helping one to be more creative and expansive in thinking rather than tunnel-visioned and feeling at a dead end,” says Freeman. She also finds that microdosing supports her clients’ sense of resiliency without diminishing affect the way SSRIs can. “It may support dampening ADD and OCD-like tendencies,” she tells DoubleBlind, “and it shows great promise in addiction treatment to substances like cigarettes, alcohol, and food.”
Risks and Side Effects of Microdosing
We’ll start with the facts: It’s important to use caution and remain mindful with microdosing. There are still many unknowns in the world of psychedelics—including all of the potential risks and side effects of microdosing, especially for extended periods of time. Yet, anecdotal reports and early research do shed light on some of the potential areas of concern. According to Fadiman’s research, those living with colorblindness, psychotic disorders, or on the autism spectrum should refrain from microdosing psychedelics. Reportedly, people with colorblindness may experience lasting visual distortions, and it’s possible that psychedelics—even small amounts—could worsen or exacerbate psychotic disorders.
In the 2019 observational study referenced above, the most often cited downside to microdosing is its continued illegality in most places; other negative outcomes reported by some microdosers include physiological discomfort, impaired focus, and lower energy.
Michele Ross, PhD, neuroscientist, author, and founder of Infused Health, says that increased anxiety is an uncommon (around ten percent), but possible, effect of microdosing. “It’s important to keep a journal of how you feel to make sure your microdosing protocol is helping, as opposed to not doing anything at all, and at worst, causing mild harm. Other side effects,” she tells DoubleBlind, “might include headaches, agitation, or mild increases in blood pressure.”
Ross also cautions that, while the risk of serotonin syndrome (involving a dangerously high concentration of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin) is small with microdosing, “the daily nature of many protocols, and the reality that many microdosers also occasionally macrodose, means that mixing SSRIs, MAOIs, and other prescription antidepressants with microdosing psychedelics is unsafe without talking to a healthcare professional first.” (You can find a list of medications that participants in Fadiman’s research have simultaneously taken while microdosing here, though this is not an endorsement of safety.) The clinicians interviewed for this article usually prefer to review a patient’s complete health history and may have specific lab work done before recommending microdosing. One reason for the caution is that psilocybin and other psychedelics may impact the 5HT2B receptors in the heart and may prove problematic over longer-term use for anyone with cardiac or pulmonary valve issues.
How To Start Microdosing
The personal use of psychedelic plants and fungi are now decriminalized in multiple cities across the United States. Psilocybin is specifically decriminalized in certain jurisdictions, such as Washington, DC, Detroit, and the state of Oregon. The state of Oregon has also legalized psilocybin therapy clinics. As such, more people than ever before are slowly gaining safe access to many naturally occurring entheogens. As such, conversations about microdosing safety and best practices are becoming increasingly more important.
As with all things psychedelic, it’s considered best practice to start low and go slow. “Everyone’s sweet spot is a little different when both microdosing and macrodosing,” Tutkus tells DoubleBlind, so it’s important to calculate your dose carefully and to record your experience in a journal for better calibrating your optimal microdose. And even though microdosing is a much subtler experience than a full trip, Tutkus recommends having a support system in place should you want or need it. If you’re unsure of how to start, or desire additional support around microdosing, take a class or book a consultation with a vetted guide or a psychedelics practitioner first.
1. Know Your Substance
As the two most commonly used psychedelic substances, psilocybin and LSD are, unsurprisingly, the two most commonly microdosed psychedelics as well. James Fadiman’s work focuses on these two substances but does not exclude the use of others; in fact, there is a growing body of anecdotal reporting in psychedelics forums on the experiences of microdosing ayahuasca, DMT, ibogaine, ketamine, mescaline, MDMA, and LSD analogs.
Psilocybin, says Freeman, is a go-to for microdosing—in part because it “shows us the interconnectedness of the plant and human worlds. We need this reminder and experience to heal our world,” she says, from the political, economic, and environmental challenges we all face.
Legality and accessibility are also concerns. “As most psychedelics are still illegal on the federal, state, and city-level in most of the United States, many of the patients I work with simply choose what they already have access to first,” says Dr. Ross—adding that LSD and psilocybin tend to be the most readily available. It’s important to note, however, that synthetic compounds like LSD and MDMA are not decriminalized in most areas. At the time of writing, the majority of psychedelic decriminalization initiatives apply only to naturally occurring psychedelic compounds, which include those derived from plants and fungi.
Dr. Ross also finds mushrooms easier to work with for beginners: “With mushrooms, taking slightly more than you should might result in slightly brighter colors or feelings, but not vivid hallucinations.” She adds that, after taking a quick at-home course, it’s fairly simple—and empowering—to grow your own mushrooms.
If you’re experienced with mushrooms, you might consider switching up your strains to microdose, says Dr. Ross, because there’s an “entourage effect”—similar to that of cannabis. “Different strains [of mushrooms],” she says, “may impact your experience differently.”
In addition to psilocybin, Freeman includes ketamine in her practice because it’s legal, and thus more accessible, and because ketamine can be used by those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—two conditions in which psilocybin and other serotonergic substances aren’t usually recommended.
Though some people find benefit from microdosing MDMA, it’s important to note that it is not a classic psychedelic, but an amphetamine, that may carry unwanted or even dangerous effects if taken too frequently. For instance, because of its action on the 5HT2B receptors in the heart, it’s possible that, like psilocybin, long-term use could lead to heart valve problems. Some users also report mixed results from microdosing MDMA—including a period of fatigue and antisocial feelings afterward.
Though it’s possible to microdose a variety of psychedelics, Tutkus recommends sticking with one at a time because of the complexities of brain neurochemistry. She also notes that in her clinical experience, pairing CBD with psychedelics seems to help ease discomfort before, during, and after a microdose.
2. Take a Class, Work with a Guide, or Find a Group
Perhaps you know why you want to microdose, but if the what, when, and how elude you, consider taking a microdosing course. Seasoned guides with years of experience can help you determine what to microdose and how to start the process safely and effectively. Alternatively, working individually with a vetted and reputable therapist, coach, or another trusted professional can help you stay safe as you navigate the effects of these sometimes potent and potentially unfamiliar substances. Local microdosing support groups may also be an economical option if courses and coaching are not accessible.
3. Find a Protocol
A microdosing protocol is a regimen that determines how frequently you microdose. Some microdosers follow the Fadiman protocol, which involves a small dose—usually of psilocybin or LSD—every fourth day. Under this protocol, microdosers sometimes report the greatest benefit on the second day (the one following the microdose), with a third day in between to reset the system and avoid building tolerance.
Others choose the Stamets Stack, a microdosing protocol that includes psilocybin, a legal mushroom called Lion’s Mane, and the B vitamin niacin in a pattern of four days on followed by three days off. The two non-psychedelic components of the stack are intended to potentiate the neuron growth that psilocybin (through increasing BDNF) may promote, although this hypothesis has not been put to the test in clinical settings.
Still, others choose to microdose every other day for a period of time—or to test the microdosing waters on weekends only so that they can integrate the physiological and psychological effects during non-work hours. Freeman describes the known protocols as “guidelines that help people safely begin microdosing” because they are based on anecdotal evidence from many people using these substances over time. Once a microdoser has acclimated to the practice, she says, “listening to one’s intuition about how frequently to microdose is empowering”—though she adds that microdosing every day is not recommended.
4. Measure Your Dose
A microdose can fall anywhere between one-tenth and one-twentieth of a full therapeutic or “recreational” dose; you’ll likely need to keep good notes and play with the quantity within that range over a period of time to arrive at your sweet spot. For the most common species of magic mushrooms, psilocybe cubensis, a microdose is roughly .05 gram to .5 gram of dried mushrooms. Keep in mind that, as an organic substance grown under variable conditions, mushroom potency will vary somewhat by batch. Psilocybin truffles are typically less potent than cubensis, so make sure you know what kind of magic mushroom you’re consuming.
LSD, on the other hand, is measured in much smaller units known as micrograms, and represented with this symbol: µ. A microdose of LSD consists of 5-20µ and can be measured by soaking a single tab of LSD in distilled water or grain alcohol for 24 hours and measuring out one-tenth to one-twentieth of the liquid per microdose. Possession of small amounts of LSD—and all other drugs—is only decriminalized in the state of Oregon.
Finally, because microdosing can feel mentally and physically stimulating regardless of your substance of choice, it’s a good idea to consume your dose early in the day so that it does not interfere with your sleep.
Microdosing vs. Macrodosing
A key thing to remember as you learn how to start microdosing: Microdosing isn’t macrodosing—and the benefits of the two practices are related, but distinct. “Macrodosing drastically alters perception and may offer ego dissolution and mystical experiences,” says Tutkus. This is not the case with microdosing.
As, Freeman explains: “Microdosing is not intended for the big ah-ha moments, or for catalyzing major life transformations.” Think of it instead as a nuanced intervention that may improve your mental health and wellbeing—or perhaps help you segue to a larger dose. However, because accidentally ingesting a larger dose can send you into a trip at a moment when you may not be prepared for one, ensure that you understand the proper dosages and err on the side of less is more.