Is Microdosing a Placebo?

Is Microdosing a Placebo?

Microdosing almost sounds too good to be true. Heightened creativity, productivity, energy, empathy and mental wellbeing— what's not to love? 

Anti-depressants, amphetamines and even caffeine are being increasingly overlooked in favour of minute doses of psychedelic substances. Considering the growing vilification of conventional pharmaceuticals, it's hardly surprising.

Despite the rave reviews, microdosing still lacks one very important element: scientific backing. There’s no denying that larger doses of psychedelics have an effect that’s anything but a placebo; there’s a ton of legitimate scientific research to prove it. Also, remember the sixties? But when it comes to microdosing, there’s zero scientific data that supports the claims that go with it. Could this method of biological hacking be nothing more than a psychosomatic placebo?

It's a valid question. Sure, placebos can be powerful. But if the massive amount of people practicing microdosing were content with utilising the awesome power of their minds, they’d probably prefer to dabble in the ancient pseudoscience of homeopathy than take their chances with what is still a highly illegal substance.

You might be feeling a little confused right now. How can there be no evidence to support microdosing when there are countless psychonauts diligently documenting their own journeys? We’ve all seen the Reddit posts! Unfortunately, these anecdotes can be unreliable, and are very different to proper, scientific methods. Journaling your personal microdosing experiences at home isn’t quite the same as being hooked up to a brain scanner in a controlled laboratory environment under the supervision of trained scientists. Sorry, Aldous Huxley.

Image: Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley

For many, the anecdotal accounts, growing media attention and even personal experience are enough to sell the effectiveness of microdosing. And for those seeking spiritual gain, the scientific validity of it is trivial. But as psychedelics move out of the shadows and into the light of public attention, it’s becoming obvious that scientific support is needed for this practice to be taken seriously.

So why does this lack of research exist? First of all, microdosing itself has only gained popularity in recent years (despite the fact that discoverer of LSD Albert Hofmann himself was microdosing for the last two decades of his life). Secondly, research is damn expensive. Trying to get funding to study such a stigmatised substance is quite the feat. 

But all hope is not lost. Organisations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and Australia’s Macquarie University are conducting studies that ask participants to microdose at home and send in their findings. MAPS presented the findings from their research in April.

But wait, isn’t that just more anecdotal evidence? Technically, yes. However, these documented experiences are still important to the growing awareness and education on microdosing. Don’t go unsubscribing from r/microdosing just yet.

Luckily, there’s one prominent psychonaut who’s dedicated to giving microdosing the scientific analysis it deserves. Amanda Feilding, notorious for her trepanation escapades in the sixties, established the Beckley Foundation to conduct research on psychedelics and consciousness. The foundation is about to embark on the first-ever scientific study on microdosing LSD. Feilding’s recruited a team of scientists — including MAPS founder Rick Doblin — and is planning on using brain imaging technology to finally document scientific evidence of microdosing’s supposed benefits.

Brain scans from Feilding's 2016 imaging study, showing the difference between the brain of someone on a placebo vs someone on LSD. Image: Amanda Feilding/Beckley Foundation.

Until the Beckley Foundation releases the findings from their upcoming study, the verdict on the effectiveness of microdosing is still out. But if the experiences of countless psychonauts— including the inventor of LSD himself— are worth anything, it’s highly unlikely that microdosing is just a placebo. And if you’re still dying to know the answer to that question, then you’ll just have to donate to Feilding’s crowdfunding campaign.

Leave a comment:

Join our mailing list