Microdosing Magic Mushrooms: Reports and Reflections after Six Months of Psilocybin
Those familiar with the term microdosing in regards to psychedelics, will have an understanding of the possible reasons for undertaking such an endeavour.
For those who are NOT familiar....
Microdosing is the act of taking a tiny dose of a psychedelic substance, way below the threshold dose so that no actual ‘hallucinogenic’ effects are present, yet just enough of a dose to exhibit very subtle shifts in perception. Known as a sub-perceptual dose, anecdotal evidence suggests that microdosing can offer a variety of benefits, such as potential increases in overall well-being, creativity, mood lifts, energy, focus, and healthier interpersonal relationships.
Over a six month period, I ingested psilocybin magic mushrooms - sometimes every few days, sometimes every single day - and took notes and observations over the course of this entire self-experiment, analysing the effects and subtle changes along the way. What follows is a little background into microdosing, some of the protocols I followed, commonalities and discrepancies in the experience, insights, results and reflections.
EXTREME ATHLETES USING PSYCHEDELICS? APPARENTLY SO!
Albert Hoffman, who first synthesised LSD in the late 30’s, was known to microdose well into his later years of life (he lived to be 102 years old), stating that he’d take sub-perceptual doses while walking amongst trees, which would help clarify his thinking. 1
Although he was seemingly the first to introduce this to many people (aside from indigenous cultures that had known and used sub-perceptual doses of different psychedelics for centuries)2 , James Fadiman brought more light to the subject with an entire chapter dedicated to microdosing, detailing reports and protocols in his book ‘The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys’.
“Microdosing seems to improve a vast range of conditions” Fadiman stated. “The general response is that they feel better. There is an actual movement towards increased health or wellness… What microdosing seems to do is rebalance people.”
In the article published by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, ‘Psychedelics and Extreme Sports’, James Oroc presented the connection between microdosing LSD, and engaging in extreme sport activities.
“I heard of a hang glider flown tandem off of a mountain top under a full moon with both the pilot and passenger on magic mushrooms, of helicopter skiing in Alaska on acid... and of radical solo rock or ice climbs of the highest intensity performed on equally radically headfulls of psychedelics...
"According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your reflex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration until you experience “tunnel vision,” and make you impervious to weakness or pain. LSD’s effects in these regards amongst the extreme-sport community are in fact legendary, universal, and without dispute.” 3
Convinced yet?! Hold on a second before you go diving into the fiery depths of a volcano with your heat suit and LSD. While numerous articles and websites are spreading the knowledge and presenting similar anecdotal information (microdosing has been a hot topic for a while now), there’s still a lack of objective scientific evidence into the actual efficacy of these experiments.
As many psychonauts will know, when it comes to the psychedelic experience, objectivity is already a problem when what we experience is subjective in nature. Perhaps future research in neuroscience will one day provide definitive scientific understanding and showcase the physical mechanisms in the brain that cause the subjective events that we experience. Perhaps it wont.
Either way, it’s difficult to really know how legitimate these anecdotal claims are when we’re talking about a dose that is so minuscule that effects can hardly be perceived, especially when there are so many variables at play that could affect one’s day to day perception. For now though, to test efficacy, there's one one thing we can really do... Self-experimentation!
MICRODOSING, PLACEBO & FLOW STATES.
Anecdotally, people are coming to microdosing as a practice, generally following some sort of protocol. Some people may be interested in boosting creativity or productivity, to have healthier relationships with their partner or kids, to try and quit smoking, or perhaps to try and gain a general mood lift out of anxiety or depression.
In any activity, intention can play an important role in the results we're seeking... as can placebo. Now what can be achieved through the power of placebo and belief is amazing. Dr Joe Dispenza does an incredible job of documenting this in his book, 'You Are The Placebo', communicating that when you “combine a clear intention with an uncompromising trust in possibility, then you’ll step into the unknown, and that’s when the supernatural starts to unfold."
If we can essentially trick ourselves into receiving life enhancing benefits, why not?! It makes me wonder though, if the extreme athletes mentioned above are actually augmenting their reality through microdosing, or if the power of placebo is in effect. Significant research has been conducted on 'flow states', which is an optimal, peak state of consciousness, often achieved by extreme sport athletes due to the combination and unfolding of specific environmental factors.
Steven Kotler, co-founder of the Flow Genome Project says, "In flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof.” Flow states sound remarkably similar to the benefits these extreme athletes say they receive when microdosing. Hmmm...
My point here, is that one could say that it's hard to trust our own self-diagnosis and other's anecdotal data, when we're potentially being deceived by our own minds!
Tia Ghose, Senior Writer at Live Science says, “To prove that microdosing has an effect, psychedelics researchers would need to do a double-blind study, in which neither the people administering the drug nor the recipients know whether a particular participant is getting a microdose of a psychedelic or something inert, like a little sugar dissolved in water.” 4
Even though I state the above, as those who utilise psychoactive substances will report and acknowledge, distinguishing between placebo effects and psychedelic effects becomes very obvious after actually taking a psychedelic substance. Still, the scientific method is an important route to take in this day and age, to prove that microdosing can indeed result in real beneficial changes, allowing psychedelic research to progress in a positive direction in the fields of science and medicine.
Now while I could have focused on a particular area of my life to try and enhance it, I decided to go into the experiment without any focused intention or specific resolution in mind (aside from the general observation of any changes or subtle shifts in perception), to mitigate as much of my own placebo response in the short and long term as possible.
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WHICH PROTOCOLS WORKED, AND WHICH DIDNT?
Although I’d microdosed in the past, I was never rigorous in taking notes or reflecting upon results, so at the beginning of May 2016, I made the commitment to taking sub-perceptual doses of magic mushrooms for at least three months, (which extended into six months) documenting observations and taking note of specific parameters.
The key points I monitored were dose, time ingested, current mood, whether I’d eaten or had fasted, what I was doing, physical sensations, mood shifts, interactions & behaviours with others, and any other general perception changes along the way. Initially, I followed Fadiman’s suggestion of dosing every three days.
Day One: Microdose.
Day Two: Observe any residual effects.
Day Three: Take a break.
Day Four: Repeat.
A large majority of my microdosing experiment was during work hours, which was completely undetectable by everyone around me. While I could function fine under .2g of psilocybin, .3g was beginning to push the boundaries (as did my trials of .4g).
I felt that the bright indoor lights strained my eyes more than usual, and I had to concentrate a little harder to read text; almost as if I had to focus on each word a split second longer so I could understand what was written. The flowing waves of energy pulsating through my body were still subtle, yet slightly more intense, which at times was a little too distracting to keep my productivity levels up! I likened the bodily sensations to those I feel on the come up of the cactus medicine Huachuma, albeit much much more subtle.
After trialling various doses, I decided that .2g of psilocybin mushrooms was a suitable amount to continue with. No where near overwhelming, and just subtle enough for me to notice shifts in perception if I really paid attention. Although there were variations and inconsistencies throughout the experiment, in general, my notes continued to look somewhat similar each day that I microdosed.
Overall, I became a lot more peaceful, present, and self aware under the immediate effects of the microdose, particularly when it came to noticing physical sensations.
A very slight chill throughout my body would generally accompany the onset. Shortly after, I'd begin to feel relaxed and calm, even somewhat sedated, which was synchronous with a ‘heaviness’ in my body.
I often noted these sensations of feeling more into my body as being ‘smooshy’ ‘snuggly’ or ‘cozy’, kind of like I wanted to wrap myself up in a warm little blanket and enjoy the pleasant, homely feelings. I became more conscious of taking deeper, slower breaths, and was much more aware of the subtleties of minor muscle movements in my body.
I'd often want to rhythmically move both my spine and shoulder blades in slow, smooth, circular waves, almost like a sensual oscillation, purely because it felt amazing being so acutely aware of tiny variations in movement.
Food tasted slightly better. I'd slow down and be a lot more present when eating; savouring different textures and tastes.
Even though I didn't particularly like my job and found it to be unfulfilling, it was much easier to get through a boring day and find appreciation in the little things, like taking a look outside and catching a glimpse of the sun shining through the leaves, or watching a little blue wren flitter about in the trees.
Microdosing at work would often alleviate feelings of overwhelm or annoyance with co-workers, essentially ‘rebalancing’ my mood, leaving me more calm and peaceful with a positive outlook. I'd almost always experience the feeling of a softening in my heart, in which I'd become more friendly and compassionate in my approach, interactions and behaviours towards others. In conversations, I took more of a genuine interest in what the other person had to say.
Over time, it felt like the more I microdosed, the more my visual field of awareness expanded (during the immediate effects). Although I could still hone in and focus on a particular task or object, I could observe more of what was happening in my entire visual field out to my peripheries, which felt relaxed and organic, without the need for deliberate attentiveness.
The duration of the immediate effects were almost like clock work. I’d begin noticing subtle shifts after roughly 20 - 40 minutes, and they'd diminish anywhere from 2.5 - 3.5 hours after initial ingestion, leaving me in a tranquil and pleasant mood, yet slightly more tired/sedated for the remainder of the day.
DISCREPANCIES IN MY DAILY MICRODOSING EXPERIENCES.
During the six months, I experimented with different doses, types of psilocybin mushroom, times of the day ingested, and the frequency at which I ingested them.
As noted, even minute changes in dosage were noticeable. .3g and above was too intense to be productive, where as .2g was perfectly fine.
I didn't notice a difference between different strains of mushroom (home grown Psilocybe Cubensis vs field found Psilocybe Subaeruginosa).
Taken in the evening, rather than morning, kept me awake for longer than usual.
I trialled taking .2mg doses every single day for a week, several times, and didn't notice an increase in tolerance. Psychedelic users all over the web state that by taking larger doses of Psilocybin or LSD multiple days in a row, there is a marked decrease in psychedelic effect. Whether or not this has been validated by science, I am unsure, but in my experience, microdosing several days in a row produced the same subtle shifts as microdosing with a break of two days in between.
Now even though I noted definite commonalities and shifts in perception, there were certainly some days where inconsistencies arose.
While I payed attention to whether I had fasted, eaten, or drank caffeine, variations in daily effects were present. Most of my doses were taken on an empty stomach, and while for the most part, food in my belly prior to dosing seemed to weaken the usual noticeable effects, sometimes it wouldn't. The same went for caffeine. Sometimes I'd get super jittery while microdosing, sometimes I wouldn't. I don't have any answers as to why, and it would be hard enough to answer regardless, with so many variables at play that could tweak daily behaviours, perceptions and other internal mechanisms.
A very peculiar observation was the frequent irregularities concerning my language capabilities.
Some days, I noted that I had “sharper thought processes" and could "better articulate myself and speak with much more fluidity than usual", as if there was a steady stream of precise and coherent sentence structures pouring from my brain out through my mouth with no lag time or um's and ah's. On other days, I noted “slight difficulty in regards to thinking and assimilating words to form coherent sentence structures that flow. Takes me a few more seconds than usual to find the right words to use.”
Why? Well, like I mentioned above, with so many variables and fluctuations in day to day life, it's hard to do anything other than speculate. Perhaps there are inconsistencies in the acute neuropsychological effects; sometimes inhibiting the regions or pathways of the brain associated with language, and sometimes allowing them to fire more precisely? Perhaps psilocybin content differed in individual mushrooms, even though they were meticulously weighed on scales?
Attention could have modified my resulting experience. At times, I could have been placing more of my conscious awareness into cognitive function and thinking, or I could have been more attentive to bodily sensations and feeling? I have more questions than I do answers.
Although I could perceive the very slight difficulty of constructing language to be a negative loss, (remember these reactions were only noticed during the actual microdose) it actually seemed like a worthwhile trade off: moving from my head, down into my heart. Less analysing and thinking, more presence and feeling.
One time, I actually didn't notice any shifts in perception until two hours after dosing .3g of psilocybin mushrooms. I was on a nature walk to see a beautiful waterfall, and with more physical exertion than usual during my microdose (I didn't notice any shifts in stamina or physical performance), it felt just like any other day. I'd actually forgot that I'd even microdosed. It wasn't until I returned to my car, stopped walking, and rested, that I noticed a slight loss of equilibrium while looking up at the swaying gum trees in the distance. I could feel the same subtle energetic buzz pulsating in waves throughout my body, and sunk into the deeper breathing that I learnt from microdosing so well.
MY REFLECTIONS AFTER SIX MONTHS OF MICRODOSING PSILOCYBIN.
Upon reflection, with a wide variety of self improvement modalities that I was implementing during the investigation, (and continue to implement today) and the use of other entheogens and sacred medicines for optimising health and self development, it's hard to say to what extent microdosing contributed to any long term benefits regarding my overall health, wellness and outlook on life.
There's no doubt that I experienced shifts in perception that I found to be beneficial during the six month experiment. I've found microdosing with psilocybin to be quite a valuable little tool. What I observed over time, was that throughout the duration of the entire microdosing experiment, the most notable changes were perceived in my mood, and my interactions with others. I was generally more calm, kind and understanding, and even if I did become emotionally triggered by events, I could catch myself a lot quicker before getting lost in emotions or negative thought patterns.
I'm not sure microdosing alone would provide the subtle yet significant sustainable changes in one's life, and the greater implications of relying on long-term microdosing is still unknown. In saying that, it seems like microdosing could be a fantastic adjunct to other health & wellness protocols in one's life, such as meditation, mindfulness, movement, nutrition, and even higher doses of psychedelics.
Hypothetically, microdosing plus the use of high dose psychedelics could be helpful to cement in prolonged beneficial effects. The peak/mystical experience from high doses seems to initiate a psychospiritual transition, and can have real lasting change in how people view themselves. With the addition of the biochemical effects on the mind and body from sub-perceptual doses, plus this greater shift in spiritual perspective, it could be enough to really cement in change and perpetuate one's psychospiritual growth. 5
As time went on and I learnt that I enjoyed the effects of microdosing, I found that there was a fine line between naturally wanting to enhance my day to day reality, and the underlying thoughts of wanting to 'escape' from the boring, unpleasant reality of being stuck at work. I shifted perspective on this through some simple analogies: I have the choice to eat healthy wholesome foods, or I could eat processed junk food. I have the choice to work out and get exercise and feel great afterwards, or lounge around and be lazy. I have the choice to add certain herbal supplements to my daily shakes to support my immune system and boost cognitive function & overall health, or to skip them.
Which am I going to choose?
Well of course I'm more inclined to gravitate towards the options that makes me feel more physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy! Microdosing psilocybin feels akin to taking a valuable supplement to support general well-being. Even with the subjective reality boost, it's still extremely important to question the validity of regularly taking small amounts of a psychedelic substance, and the overall impact on our long term health. Without the long term scientific data, it's hard to know what the implications might be.
In a research paper published in 1998, it stated that "the literature tentatively suggests that there are few, if any, long-term neuropsychological deficits attributable to hallucinogen use. To better resolve this issue, however, it will be important to study larger samples of chronic, frequent hallucinogen users..." 6
Current research seems to support the notion that these tiny little mushrooms, amongst other psychedelics, do indeed show very promising potential to be utilised to optimise our health and well-being, as James Fadiman discussed in his most recent lecture at the 2017 Psychedelic Science Conference.
After six months I was happy to have finished noting down my various trials. I probably could have come up with more effective and efficient methods when it came to the constant self analysis and trying to intellectualise and put language to my observations. One of my notes said, “The very thing I’m trying to do - analyse myself during the self study - is difficult, as the very thing that’s happening is a shift away from analytical thought, with the primary inclination to just feel the subtle sensory changes and relax into the experience and present moment, without the constant evaluation.”
I still microdose with Psilocybin every now and then, (in fact, I may have written parts of this article whilst microdosing, with no ill effect on my ability to concentrate on the text or to construct sentences) and plan to conduct a short term study on myself microdosing LSD in the near future. I'm interested in seeing if any differences are noticed, in particular, the increased energy and stamina that is commonly stated to be associated with microdosing. As mentioned, I experienced the opposite with Psilocybin, often feeling slightly sedated during the microdose and for the remainder of the day.
As always, let's continue to hold mature, rational discussions and reframe psychedelics so these medicines, tools, and teachers, can eventually become more widely accessible to all in need. As Albert Hoffman, father of LSD put it…
“As long as people fail to truly understand psychedelics and continue to use them as pleasure drugs and fail to appreciate the very deep, deep, psychic experiences they may induce, then their medical use will be held back.”
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Links & References
2. James Fadiman, "The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys" 2011
James Fadiman & Sophia Korb: Microdosing - The Phenomenon, Research Results & Startling Surprises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBgKRyRCVFM