Psilocybin found in “magic mushrooms,” and other psychedelic substances like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and MDMA have garnered attention throughout recent years for their therapeutic potential in treating various mental health conditions, especially when combined with psychotherapy. The clinical trials and observational studies connected to these claims have found that just one singular psychedelic experience can have positive effects on a patient and leave them without symptoms of their condition for several months. Even in significantly smaller dosages, many claim that psychedelic substances still have considerable benefits compared to the full dose. Beyond these effects, a recent study has now found that microdosing psychedelic drugs may help individuals feel like their more authentic selves, which can improve overall health and well-being.
Microdosing is the practice of taking a small dose of a psychedelic substance (around 5-10% of the full dose). Since the dose is so low, the substance would not produce a hallucinogenic effect; however, many individuals and some studies have claimed that this practice helps support mental health and boost personal outlook on life.
For instance, in one double-blind placebo-controlled study, scientists investigated the short-term effects of microdosing on the participants. The active dose of psilocybin mushrooms displayed more intense acute effects compared to the placebo, leading the researchers to believe that microdosing psilocybin can lead to noticeable subjective effects (1).
Classic psychedelics interact with serotonin receptors in the brain, which play a role in regulating mood, emotions, and cognitive functions. It is believed that even at low doses, the use of psychedelics can regulate serotonin receptors and lead to subtle changes in neural activity. Although full-dose psychedelics have considerable therapeutic potential and relatively low risks, higher doses can still lead to adverse effects. One of the most common negative risks that come with taking higher doses of psychedelics is the chance of experiencing a “bad trip” that can put the user under significant psychological distress. Psychedelic drugs can also lead to discomfort, such as nausea and delayed-onset headaches. Since microdosing is a notably smaller percentage of the full dose, the intensity of the effects is lessened, as is the likelihood of unpleasant effects. Despite such low dosages, individuals who microdose claim that this practice still has similar benefits to taking psychedelic substances at a full dose. Some of the top reported benefits of microdosing include: improved focus, creativity, self-efficacy, improved energy, social benefits, cognitive benefits, reduced anxiety, and physiological enhancement (2).
There is also evidence that several psychedelic drugs can enhance neural plasticity and neurogenesis due to their impact on 5-HT2A receptors. Even at minimal levels, scientists believe that these drugs may still have neuroprotective and neurotrophic-enhancing effects (3).
Living more authentically allows individuals to accept every aspect of their identities rather than suppressing essential parts of their true selves. According to research, when individuals feel more authentic in a particular role, they have higher contentment and preference for that role. When individuals can act with “a full sense of choice and self-expression,” they have higher levels of well-being than those who cannot act authentically in different situations (4).
Additionally, researchers in another study found that individuals who scored highly on authenticity had less intense symptoms of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and alcohol problems (5).
Being more authentic is linked to improved mental health, which, in turn, contributes to better physical health. Therefore, individuals who embrace authenticity are more likely to experience better overall health. Embracing one’s true self can potentially lead to a more fulfilling and healthier life. If microdosing can truly impact one’s ability to live their life more authentically, their physical and mental health can greatly benefit from it.
The study aimed to examine the relationship between microdosing and state authenticity (the ability to be true to one’s own personality and beliefs). To conduct this study, researchers collected data from eighteen participants with a history of microdosing and had been microdosing for 28 days. Before the study began, each participant provided information about their demographics and trait authenticity, along with other measures that were not directly related to the current study for baseline data. During the study, the participants filled out self-reported questionnaires on a regular basis. The results of the study revealed a significant increase in state authenticity on the day of microdosing and the day following. In addition, on microdose days, participants reported an increased number of activities (i.e., cleaning, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, and socializing) with greater satisfaction and interest in these activities (6).
Former research and anecdotal reports have pointed towards the positive relationship between microdosing and feeling more authentic. These accounts have been overwhelmingly qualitative, leaving little solidified evidence as to why or how microdosing causes a change in authenticity. The researchers of this new study believe authenticity improves after microdosing for two main reasons: through positive emotions and their influence on the quantity and satisfaction of daily activities.
However, it is essential to acknowledge the limitations of the current research landscape. Because many of the benefits of microdosing are largely anecdotal, and there are currently no published empirical studies that demonstrate the effects of microdosing, it is difficult to tell whether or not microdosing has all of its claimed effects. Psychedelic research has been vastly limited since restrictive drug policies make it difficult for scientists to receive funding for their studies.
While much of the anecdotal evidence and recent studies show promising results for microdosing’s effects on well-being and mental health, future research will need to examine how the placebo effect comes into play. Many studies have found no significant difference between the positive effects experienced by the microdosing and placebo group, which could result from participants expecting a positive experience from microdosing psychedelic drugs. Many individuals who are interested in microdosing already have strong beliefs that the practice could help with various psychological variables (7). These preconceived notions may be why participants feel positive effects and higher authenticity scores following treatment. Nonetheless, the positive relationship between microdosing and feelings of authenticity cannot be entirely discounted.
The potential reasons behind this connection are yet to be fully understood, and further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms behind microdosing and to differentiate between the effects of microdosing and the influence of participant expectations.