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Could microdosing be the answer?

2-19-2019

Taylor Jamison, Staff Writer

    Microdosing is the use of small amounts of psychedelic substances to improve psychological functioning. It has not been a widely studied topic, as noted by neuroscience researcher Balazs Szigeti who told Wired magazine, “If you look around in the scientific literature, you realize there are virtually no studies on [this topic].” This is, partly, due to the fact that the use of these substances is illegal, and therefore studies cannot be conducted as they normally would.

This, however, is changing, as more scientists have begun to look into the effects and benefits of microdosing. One study, described in 2018 by Huffington Post, was supported by the Imperial College London and the Beckley Foundation, and was conducted to determine whether there are true benefits, or if the effects are strictly placebo. The study involves a “self-blinding” procedure in which participants must fill envelopes with either empty pills or those containing the microdoses, and pick four envelopes at random for the four-week study. This gives the study the advantage of a large participant base from them being able to do the study at home, but also brings the potential for error in the form of participants not following instructions. The study’s website describes the anonymity of the study, and describes the importance of the placebo and the self-blinding procedure to potentially unaware participants.

Another study, conducted by researchers at Maquarie University, recruited 98 microdosers who rated their psychological functioning over six weeks. PsyPost describes the results, stating, “There were several positive short-term effects. The participants reported heightened levels of connectedness, contemplation, creativity, focus, happiness, productiveness, and wellbeing on days they microdosed.” The same article describes some long-term effects, including a decrease in depression and an increase in attention. This study also showed a potential downside to microdosing, which was an increase in neuroticism. It found there was no change in traits such as mindfulness, positive personality traits, or overall quality of life.

Vince Polito, part of the Maquarie University group researching this topic, described how, “We also looked at people’s beliefs around microdosing and found that although people did have strong predictions about what they thought would happen, these beliefs did not match the actual psychological changes we saw when we tracked the experience of microdosers.” These included the users believing they would see a decrease in neuroticism, and an expectation of increase in creativity, wellbeing and mindfulness.

According to Scientific American, a study by scientists in the Netherlands has found that microdoses have no effect on problem-solving, rational-thinking and abstract-reasoning, but do improve creativity related forms of thinking. Psychologist Bernhard Hommel of Leiden University stated that, “Performance was significantly higher,” on tests involving convergent and divergent thinking, or the ability to focus on abstract concepts and one’s mental flexibility. They tested this by having microdosers take “three standard psychological tests, two related to creative problem-solving and one an assessment of fluid intelligence” both before and after a microdose. The study found no difference on the fluid intelligence test, but did find improvement on those relating to creativity.

These studies have not come to any grand conclusions, however they are the first step to determining the potential uses for psychedelic substances in the world of medical treatments.