The tomato was once a suspicious plant with a beautiful but frightening fruit. When it arrived in Italy, botanists saw that it was kin to poisonous nightshade and dangerous belladonna. Then, 100 years later, Italians began to cook with tomatoes, and Italy never looked back. Now, let’s talk about microdosing.
Microdosing employs hallucinogenic substances that may be as innocent at the mistakenly vilified tomato or harmful as nightshade when it comes to safety. It depends on whom you ask.
But as the adage goes, the dose makes the poison—and that’s the whole rationale behind microdosing. It uses drugs and plants with hallucinogenic properties in extremely small doses. The usual choices are LSD, yohimbe, MDMA, and psilocybin. The amounts the user takes each time are about one-tenth or less than it would take to trigger hallucinations. Even so, responsible microdosing is best done in a clinical setting under watch.
A clinic affiliated with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has been quietly offering microdosing tied to research for decades. So there’s quite a bit known and scientifically documented about dosages and biological reactions.
Legality In Flux
Still these substances are illegal in most places. Only a few states—California, New York, Oregon and Colorado—allow their use when given under prescription.
But now, clinics are popping up all over the country and many more will likely appear in the coming year. Ketamine clinics are especially widespread because ketamine is a legal drug—especially for animals in pain. But it’s also a potential hallucinogen.
There are plenty of health reasons that microdosing proponents can offer for the practice. The bigger reason it may become legal in more places, however, could be money. Already, investors can choose from seven stocks for companies like MindMed and Luminous that have made microdosing their business.
That’s’ the basic situation. It’s a hot topic. It’s controversial. You might have trouble finding a place to microdose legally. But is it something you even want to try? Or something to worry about if you know someone trying it? And what the heck is microdosing supposed to do anyway?
The Sauce that Runs Silicon Valley
Today, the red-hot center for microdosing is in Silicon Valley and wherever high-tech businesses cluster. Steve Jobs was probably on board. Peter Thiel for sure. Financial Times did a long story on several Silicon Valley leaders who were microdosing to handle stress or spark creativity.
The usual reasons that users give for going along with microdosing is that it helps with the high pressure their jobs entail and that it opens their minds and makes them more visionary.
Proponents say microdosing can:
- Decrease fear
- Help overcome psychological traumas (such as war or abuse)
- Relieve depression
- Boost empathy
- Increase creativity
- Bring a sense of calm
- Increase happiness
- Raise your sense of wellbeing
- Raise self confidence
- Improve memory
- Benefit relationships and ability to deal with others
- Lower anxiety
Those effects are largely self-reported, though. They don’t come from medical observation in controlled clinical trials.
That’s why some people believe the best part of microdosing’s power may be a placebo effect.
And yet, people who have tried other things and found no help have benefited. That’s something that’s hard to write off.
One of those people is Mike Tyson, who lived in fear that he would commit suicide and found no help despite many years of treatment with regular medicines and counseling.
He believes that LSD and psilocybin saved his life. In microdoses only. Tyson had tried LSD as a street drug in his youth and had such a bad experience he never did it again. But that same drug as a microdose has been a godsend for him.
So, if you are thinking of microdosing like Mike, what next?
The Four Rules That Matter
- Stay legal.If you live in a state where a microdose of LSD, even from a doctor, is illegal, you need to find a different route.
- Talk to your doctor.By that I mean your regular, trusted doctor, especially if you have a good relationship. Even if you don’t win permission, stay open and communicate what you are doing. Do not add anything that counts as a drug to your life without your doctor’s awareness—even if he or she has doubts. These drugs could seriously interact with other drugs you are taking or cause reactions that your doctor would need to understand.
- Educate yourself. A good place to start is with Michael Pollan’s book, “How to Change Your Mind,” for an overview of the different substances and what to expect. Pollan is on the pro side of the question, but the information is straight and ranges widely over the topic. A more recent book and bit of manual is “The Microdosing Guidebook” by C.J. Spotswood.
- Stay True to Yourself. Even if this is the hottest trend since pet rocks and lots of smart people think microdosing is miraculous, if you are feeling nervous about it or reluctant, don’t let anyone bully you into it. You decide.
(Alert—I say this as someone who finds microdosing very interesting, but who has never once ingested an illegal substance, including marijuana. Nobody dropped me from their friendship list for that. Nobody’s going to drop you for knowing your own heart, either.)
Could it Help?
If you ask people like Steve Jobs (using a telephone to heaven?), novelist Ayelet Waldman, ex-boxer Mike Tyson, or hockey star Mark Messier, hallucinogens have saved their lives or made them far better.
Today, grandmas, grandpas, CEOs, doctors, priests and regular people use CBD and marijuana for stress. A few years ago, that would have been worth some jail time. And Italians still eat tomatoes. Attitudes change.
Tomorrow, we may wonder what all the fuss was about. But for now, the bottom line on microdosing is that it’s probably illegal where you are and even if it is legal, you need to go forward with care. Find a clinic if you want to proceed, but don’t self-treat.