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Microdosing is far from a mainstream phenomenon. However, it seems to be shifting from the underground world of Silicon Valley biohackers to a wider circle of progressive wellness enthusiasts.

What started as a hushed way for driven tech entrepreneurs to squeeze a little more genius out of their days is gradually making its way into post-yoga class conversations among the trend-minded.

However, there are obstacles to microdosing, the first and foremost being that many of the most popular microdosed substances are illegal.

In addition to the obvious risks of breaking a law — think fines, jail time, getting fired from your job, even losing custody of your children — this means there isn’t a ton of comprehensive scientific information out there.

If you’re curious to know more about this phenomenon, read on. We dug into the research to see what the microdosing phenomenon is all about.

What is microdosing?

Microdosing usually refers to the practice of taking tiny portions of psychedelic substances. It’s important to note, however, that many substances can be used this way. A microdose is typically 1/10 to 1/20 of a normal dose, or 10 to 20 micrograms.

The goal is to achieve the positive results of the substance (more focus, energy, and emotional balance) without the negative (hallucinations, sensory shifts, and other extreme experiential side effects).

Microdosing has become an experimental method some people are choosing to allegedly take charge of their productivity and state of mind. In this guide, we’ll also talk about some nonpsychedelic substances people are using in an attempt to enhance productivity and cognitive abilities.

Microdosing in the media

With the rapid spike in popularity, media coverage of microdosing has increased as well over the last few years. This wellness trend has been covered on several major outlets, including Vice, Vogue, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Marie Claire. In short: It’s officially a hot social topic.

Before tackling this microdosing reading list, though, take some time to learn a few new vocabulary terms. Here are some of the most important words and phrases to understand:

  • Psychedelics. These are natural or synthetic substances known to produce a sense of intensified sensory perception, sometimes accompanied by vivid hallucinations and extreme emotions that are difficult to overcome. Psychedelics include LSD and psilocybin, or “magic” mushrooms.
  • Nootropics. These are natural or synthetic substances that may improve cognitive function with little chance of addiction or negative side effects. Nootropics include caffeine and nicotine.
  • “Smart drugs”: These are synthetic drugs used to boost brain function. They carry health risks and can be habit-forming. Smart drugs include methylphenidate (Ritalin).

Why do people microdose?

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Microdosing began gaining popularity between 2010 and 2013 in Silicon Valley as a way to increase energy and productivity to help brainstorm and tackle road blocks in strategies and coding.

While some people still look to microdosing to help improve their professional efficiency, there are said to be a number of other benefits. Here are a few of the most common:

  • better focus
  • higher levels of creativity
  • relief from depression
  • more energy
  • less anxiety in social situations
  • emotional openness
  • help quitting coffee, pharmaceutical drugs, or other substances
  • relief from menstrual pain
  • heightened spiritual awareness

Substances used for microdosing

Although the term “microdosing” often refers to the use of psychedelic drugs, some people practice it with a wide array of substances.

The following are some of the most popular. However, some of these substances can carry the risk of having a “bad trip” or other negative effects, such as causing stomach problems:

  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). LSD is one of the most popular substances used for microdosing. Some users report feeling sharper, more focused, and more productive throughout the day.
  • Psilocybin (“magic” mushrooms). Psilocybin may act as an antidepressant for those with major depression. Users have also reported feeling more empathic and emotionally open.
  • Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Known as the “spirit molecule,” microdosed DMT has been said to help relieve anxiety and aid in spiritual awareness.
  • Iboga/ibogaine. Iboga is a root bark used as a spirit medicine by the Bwiti of Central Africa. When microdosed, both iboga and ibogaine (its active component) have been said to increase creativity, help regulate mood, and quell cravings. A few studies suggest it can help gradually end opioid addiction.
Schedule I drugs

The U.S. Department of Justice considers the following substances as Schedule I:

  • LSD
  • “magic” mushrooms
  • DMT
  • ibogaine
  • Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a South American brew traditionally used as part of deeply spiritual, shaman-led ceremonies. It contains DMT and can have many of the same effects, though some users find it less predictable. Currently, the only way to legally use ayahuasca is if a person is a member of one of the two religious groups who use the substance as part of their healing ceremonies.
  • Cannabis. People who microdose cannabis claim to be more productive and focused during the workday. It may be a good option for those looking for anxiety relief.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD). Microdosing on CBD is said to potentially promote calm, relieve anxiety, and help with insomnia. CBD is the nonpsychoactive component of the hemp plant.
  • Nicotine. Nicotine microdosers claim it can help improve concentration, focus, and memory, as well as regulate mood swings.
  • Caffeine. It turns out everyone’s favorite “upper” may be effective in small doses, too. Some even claim they’re more productive and alert when regularly microdosing caffeine throughout the day versus drinking a full cup of coffee or energy drink. Plus, there’s no crash.
Not all doses are created equalA microdose for most folks can be a major dose for some. A “bad trip” can occur for those who are highly sensitive or if the drug has accumulated in the bloodstream over time. Effects of LSD have been particularly hard to predict when dosed on a regular basis. Moreover, magic mushrooms, cannabis, and others can vary in active drug concentrations, even when using carefully prepared products. The variance of active content can be down to small changes in growing conditions, like the weather or soil.

Steps to microdosing

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The following step-by-step suggestions are based on the LSD microdosing protocol outlined by Dr. James Fadiman, America’s foremost psychedelic researcher. He’s also the author of “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys.”

  1. Obtain the substance. People can find legal microdosing supplements in certain shops and online.
  2. Take the first dose. On the morning of a day without any major obligations and without any children present, take the first microdose — 1/10 to 1/20 of a normal dose, about 10 to 20 micrograms.
  3. Pay attention. Sit back and observe the experience. The individual should notice whether or not it matches their initial goals. Keep a log of the day to track the effects. Note: the length of each microdosing experience will vary depending on which substance has been used.
  4. Adjust (if needed). Did the first time create the desired result? If so, this is the ideal dose. If not, adjust accordingly.
  5. Proceed with regular use. To start a regimen, follow the “one day on, two days off” principle and continue for up to 10 weeks. This will help avoid building up a tolerance. Building up a tolerance could potentially result in “diminishing returns [a decrease in the desired results] after a few days,” according to The Third Wave.

It should be noted that the effects of certain substances can last for up to two days and be detected by blood or urine drug testing a week or more after dosing. Hair follicle drug testing has a longer detection window, too.

That said, cannabis use may be detected up to 30 days after a dose — even from passive exposure — depending upon the sensitivity of the drug test.

“Babysitting”Looking after or “babysitting” someone who doesn’t know their limit or who’s never microdosed before is also recommended. The person microdosing may want to have someone in the room to reassure them if they accidentally have too much or have a bad trip.

The negative side of microdosing

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Though microdosing has its fair share of claimed benefits, there are a number of negative side effects to note. These include:

Unintended tripping

Don’t chase a “feeling.” Microdosing produces sub-perceptual, or very subtle, changes. The goal is to unleash a slightly better version of “you.” Once the person starts “feeling” something, chances are they’ve gone too far.

An individual should not microdose if:

  • They have children in their care.
  • They have a preexisting mental health condition.
  • They’re living on the autism spectrum.
  • They’re colorblind.
  • They’ve experienced trauma.
  • They’re feeling generally unwell.

Unintended terrible tripping

While tripping is bad, a bad trip is even worse. In fact, a bad trip can, in some cases, even trigger past trauma.

In conventional psychedelic use, it’s thought that “set and setting” are the biggest factors influencing the experience.

“Set” refers to a person’s state of mind, or the condition of their thoughts, emotional state, and anxiety levels. Meanwhile, “setting” is about the external environment. If either set or setting aren’t safe or supportive, having a bad trip is a real possibility.

If someone is having a bad trip, the Zendo Project suggests the following steps to help that person through their difficult experience:

  • Find a safe space. Move the person to a comfortable, calm, and noise-free area.
  • Sit with them. Act as a meditative presence for the person. Don’t try to guide the person’s experience, but rather let their experience guide them.
  • Talk them through it. Discuss with the person what they’re currently feeling. Encourage them not to resist what they’re going through.
A note on trippingTrips for some people, even as a result of microdosing, can result in injury or death to the person microdosing or to others. Walking in front of a bus or off a ledge while hallucinating, or reacting violently while in a highly emotional state, aren’t just possible scenarios. They’ve been solidly documented in the past. Moreover, children present during these episodes are particularly at risk of physical and emotional consequences.

Loss of job

The loss of a job is another consequence of drug use, even if the substance is legal in some states. Some jobs even prohibit nicotine use. It doesn’t matter if the substance is in the form of a gum, patch, vape, or lozenge: In some cases, a positive drug test can result in termination.

Increased anxiety

Some people report feeling a little more anxious while microdosing. This may have more to do with any preexisting mental health conditions than the drug itself.

ConsequencesSome of the most popular substances used for microdosing are illegal. Getting caught using a Schedule I substance could lead to long-lasting consequences.

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Carmen R. H. Chandler is a writer, wellness practitioner, dancer, and educator. As the creator of The Body Temple, she blends these gifts to provide innovative, culturally relevant health solutions for the Black DAEUS (Descendants of Africans Enslaved in the United States) community. In all of her work, Carmen is committed to envisioning a new age of Black wholeness, freedom, joy, and justice. Visit her blog.