Motives and Side-Effects of Microdosing With Psychedelics Among Users, Nadia R. P. W. Hutten et al., 2019

Motives and Side-Effects of Microdosing With Psychedelics Among Users

Nadia R. P. W. Hutten, Natasha L. Mason, Patrick C. Dolder, Kim P. C. Kuypers

International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2019, 1–9




Background : Microdosing with psychedelics has gained considerable media attention where it is portrayed as a performance enhancer, especially popular on the work floor. While reports are in general positive, scientific evidence about potential negative effects is lacking aside from the prevalence and motives for use. The present study addressed this gap by surveying psychedelic users about their experience with microdosing including their dosing schedule, motivation, and potential experienced negative effects.

Methods : An online questionnaire was launched on several websites and fora between March and July 2018. Respondents who had consented, were 18 years of age or older, and had experience with microdosing were included in the analyses.

Results : In total, 1116 of the respondents were either currently microdosing (79.5%) or microdosed in the past (20.5%). Lysergic acid diethylamide (10 mcg) and psilocybin (0.5 g) were the most commonly used psychedelics with a microdosing frequency between 2 and 4 times per week. The majority of users, however, were oblivious about the consumed dose. Performance enhancement was the main motive to microdose (37%). The most reported negative effects were of psychological nature and occurred acutely while under the influence.

Conclusion : In line with media reports and anecdotes, the majority of our respondents microdosed to enhance performance. Negative effects occurred mostly acutely after substance consumption. However, the main reason to have stopped microdosing was that it was not effective. Future experimental placebo-controlled studies are needed to test whether performance enhancement can be quantified and to assess potential negative effects after longer term microdosing.

Keywords : psychedelics, microdose, motives, side-effects


Significance Statement

Microdosing with psychedelics, the practice of taking a low dose of a psychedelic every couple of days, seems to be an increasing trend among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals. Multiple anecdotal reports suggest performance enhancing effects; however, these positive reports may overshadow potential negative experiences. The present study aimed to assess motives to microdose and potential negative effects. Findings show that the majority of the respondents indeed microdose to enhance performance. Only one-fifth experienced negative effects of which most occurred acutely after consumption of the substance. Negative effects were not a reason to stop microdosing whereas absence of self-rated efficacy was.


Recently microdosing, the practice of repeatedly using low doses of psychedelics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin, has gained considerable media attention, where it is portrayed
as a performance enhancing activity (Glatter, 2015; Solon, 2016; Dean, 2017; Fadiman, 2017; Reddit, 2018; thethirdwave, 2018; Tomaszewski, 2018). In contrast to a regular dose that is characterized by perceptual changes and hallucinations, a microdose by definition does not induce perceptual alterations (Greiner et al., 1958; Vollenweider and Kometer, 2010; Liechti, 2017; thethirdwave, 2018; Yanakieva et al., 2018; K.P.C. Kuypers et al., unpublished observations). The most widely suggested practice is taking one-tenth of a regular, recreational dose of a psychedelic once every 3 days (Fadiman, 2011; thethirdwave, 2018). There is some early research on using low doses of psychedelics (for review, see Passie, 2019); however, the exact dose along with the practiced dosing schedule people use today is not known.

Anecdotal reports suggest that microdosing is fairly prevalent, particularly in a work environment, with an increasing trend in Silicon Valley among young science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals and a spread to other work places and countries (Glatter, 2015; Morrison and Woords, 2016; Solon, 2016; Dean, 2017; Sahakian et al., 2018; Tomaszewski, 2018). The Global Drug Survey 2018 (GDS2018) reported that last year’s prevalence of LSD microdosing among their respondents was 28.6% (Winstock et al., 2018). However, scientific data on the prevalence of microdosing with psychedelics other than LSD as well as the prevalence of microdosing in the work environment are lacking.

The most frequently reported motives and effects of microdosing are stimulating productivity, for example, increasing focus, energy levels, and creativity and inducing positive mood (Johnstad, 2018; Prochazkova et al., 2018; Winstock et al., 2018; Polito and Stevenson, 2019). However, the first modern placebo controlled study reported no significant changes in subjective levels of mental focus when comparing the acute effects of 3 different single microdoses of LSD with a placebo (Yanakieva et al., 2018). Another commonly reported motivation and subsequent outcome is the alleviation of psychological symptoms including depressive mood and anxiety and/or physiological symptoms such as pain (Smith, 2017; Wong, 2017; Johnstad, 2018; Waldman, 2018), though it has not been scientifically tested whether microdoses are effective in combatting diseases. While the latter is beyond the scope of this paper, the current study aimed to provide a detailed insight into individuals’ motivations to microdose.

Despite the media’s focus on the positive effects of microdosing, users also report negative psychological and physiological effects, such as anxiety and migraines (Fadiman, 2017; Johnstad, 2018). Recently a preclinical study suggested increased anxiety behavior in rats after subchronic intermittent administration of low doses of psilocybin and ketamine, a dissociative agent (Horsley et al., 2018). These findings support the anecdotal reports of symptom intensification in users (Fadiman, 2017). In line with this, an observational study in humans showed an increase in the personality trait neuroticism; a
mood trait associated with feelings of anxiety, fear, and frustration, after a period of 6 weeks of microdosing with serotonergic psychedelics (Polito and Stevenson, 2019). In addition, unwanted
“trips” were mentioned when using higher doses than intended, along with tolerance to the desired effects after daily use (Fadiman, 2017; Johnstad, 2018). Taken together, these reports and findings suggest that negative effects can occur but may be underrepresented compared with positive effects.

In summary, the aim of the present study was to examine via an online questionnaire the lifetime history of psychedelic use, microdosing practice and dose, motives, and the prevalence rate of negative effects in a sample of psychedelic users.