I put off writing a blog about psychedelics because my “day job” is in psychedelic clinical development at a pharmaceutical company. It’s a world that I’ve been immersed in for years and there are many overlaps between the neurobiological mechanisms of how psychedelics act on brain cells and how nutritious foods can also maximize brain function. Beyond functional mushrooms (I’ve blogged about them before), psilocybin containing mushrooms have become highly discussed in the health and wellness space, be it their renaissance in their use clinically for mental health conditions like major depressive disorder, or in microdosing practices. I figured I’d talk about the latter in this blog today.
Let’s firstly acknowledge that hallucinogenic mushrooms have played an important spiritual and healing role in indigenous cultures across the Americas. However, it’s only within recent decades their therapeutic powers have become recognized by the West. While microdosing psychedelics has become a tool for mental wellness – granted it is not for everyone, but if you are psy-curious read on to explore the fascinating practice.
How do psychedelics work in the brain?
Psychedelics, like psilocybin “magic mushrooms” and LSD “acid” work through the brain’s serotonin system which is involved in regulating mood, appetite and sleep. Psychedelics are structurally similar to serotonin and can bind to the same receptors that serotonin uses, but they do it in a different and more potent way. This leads to a cascade of effects in the brain.
One important receptor that psychedelics bind to is called the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor. Activation of this receptor triggers a series of events that result in altered brain activity. It leads to an increase in the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate, which are involved in mood regulation, perception, and cognition. The increased release of these neurotransmitters can lead to changes in perception, such as visual hallucinations and altered sensory experiences. It also affects the communication between different regions of the brain, creating a more interconnected and fluid state of consciousness.
Additionally, psychedelics can promote neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new connections. This may be why they have been associated with enhanced creativity, expanded thinking, and increased openness to new ideas.
What is Microdosing?
Before we embark on this journey, let’s first clarify what microdosing actually means. Microdosing involves taking a sub-perceptual dose of a psychedelic substance such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or psilocybin (found in “magic mushrooms”). The dosage is typically so low (1/10th to 1/20th of what is considered a psychedelic dose) that it doesn’t produce the traditional psychedelic effects associated with these substances. The aim is to harness the potential cognitive and therapeutic benefits of these substances while maintaining day-to-day functionality. Instead, it aims to provide subtle cognitive enhancements without inducing hallucinations or altered states of consciousness. These doses are carefully calibrated to provide subtle effects without inducing full-blown psychedelic experiences.
The Wellness Connection
Now, let’s explore why microdosing psychedelics has captured the interest of brain health enthusiasts and researchers alike. While scientific studies of microdosing are still in their early stages, scientists are using cutting-edge laboratory and brain imaging techniques to understand the effects of psychedelics on the brain, and many clinical trials are now underway. With respect to microdosing, anecdotal reports and initial research suggest several potential benefits:
- Enhanced Neuroplasticity: While “therapeutic” doses of psychedelics can increase plasticity related processes in the brain, microdosing psychedelics may also promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections. This heightened neuroplasticity is believed to facilitate learning, memory, and overall cognitive flexibility – which can help with building new lifestyle habits or overcoming negative thought patterns that can stifle our wellness.
- Mood Regulation: Psychedelics have long been associated with mood modulation via their activity on the serotonin system in the brain, and microdosing seems to have a similar effect. Many users report an improvement in mood, decreased depressive symptoms, and reduced anxiety levels. These mood-regulating effects may contribute to an overall sense of well-being and resilience. It’s important to note that the effects of psychedelics on the serotonin system are complex and not fully understood. Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety by modulating serotonin levels in the brain. However, the mechanisms and effects of SSRIs are different from those of psychedelics.
- Increased Focus and Concentration: One of the key benefits reported by microdosers is improved focus and concentration. By fine-tuning neural activity, microdosing may help individuals enter a state of flow more easily, leading to heightened productivity, flow-states and improved performance.
- Enhanced Creativity: Unleashing creativity is often a desirable outcome for individuals seeking brain optimization. Microdosing psychedelics has been linked to creativity through increased divergent thinking, expanded problem-solving abilities, and a greater capacity for innovative and out-of-the-box ideas.
- Mindfulness and Self-Awareness: Microdosing can cultivate a heightened sense of mindfulness and self-awareness. Users often report a deepened connection with their thoughts, emotions, and the world around them. This introspective quality may contribute to personal growth, stress reduction, and a greater understanding of oneself.
Responsible practices with psychedelic microdosing
While the potential benefits of microdosing psychedelics for brain health are intriguing, it’s vital to approach this practice responsibly and mindfully. Consider the following guidelines:
- Legality and accessibility: Understand the legal status of psychedelics like psilocybin in your jurisdiction and ensure you are obtaining them from reputable and legal sources. In much of the world psychedelics are considered Schedule 1 drugs, although there are some cities in the US that have decriminalized them. In addition to these cities in the US, you can also acquire psilocybin mushrooms without legal risks in some foreign countries like the Netherlands, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Columbia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
- Individual variability: Everyone’s physiology and brain chemistry are unique, meaning that effects can differ from person to person. It’s essential to approach microdosing with caution and understand your own tolerance and sensitivities. Begin with the lowest effective dose and gradually increase if needed. The objective is to find the “sweet spot” where you experience subtle positive effects without feeling overwhelmed.
- Potential interactions with prescription medications: It is important to take great care and caution when microdosing for specific mental health conditions. For example, microdosing for depression while on antidepressants can be harmful due to the interaction of psychedelics with antidepressants that work on the serotonin system.
- Dosage and schedule: Microdosing requires careful consideration of dosage and schedule. Starting with the lowest possible effective dose and maintaining regular intervals between doses, and integrating in breaks is crucial to avoid tolerance buildup or potential side effects. Maintain a consistent dosing schedule (look up Stamet’s Stack or the Fadiman Protocols), allowing your body and mind to adapt to the effects. Keep a journal to track your experiences, mood, and cognitive changes to better understand the impact of microdosing on your brain health.
- Setting and mindset: Creating a safe and supportive environment is essential for any psychedelic experience. Pay attention to your mindset, choose comfortable and familiar settings, and consider engaging in practices like meditation or journaling to maximize the benefits.
- Integration and support: Integrate microdosing into a holistic wellness routine that includes exercise, healthy nutrition, quality sleep, and mental health practices. Seek guidance from professionals knowledgeable about psychedelic therapies to ensure a safe and supported journey.
Microdosing psychedelics for brain health and wellness is an emerging frontier that holds immense potential. While it’s essential to approach this practice responsibly and with caution, the reported benefits of enhanced neuroplasticity, mood regulation, focus, creativity, and self-awareness are certainly intriguing. As the field of psychedelic research continues to evolve, we eagerly anticipate further scientific exploration into the benefits and mechanisms behind microdosing. So, if you’re curious about optimizing your brain health in an unconventional way, microdosing psychedelics might just be the fascinating path you’ve been seeking. However, it’s essential to approach this practice with caution, considering legality, individual variability, dosage, and responsible use.
If you’re considering exploring microdosing and want to chat to gain my insights about the practice from a scientific perspective, please do get in contact with me.