Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and busy professionals swear by microdosing psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, claiming that it keeps them more focused and creative. Now, a new study in rats suggests that microdosing on DMT — one of the most potent psychedelics out there when taken at full dose — could reduce depression and anxiety.

Credit: Pixabay.

Microdosing psychedelics involves ingesting a very small amount of a drug in order to experience some positive side effects while staying below the dosage threshold that would cause you to trip (i.e. hallucinate). While many people do it — often several times a week — there is little evidence to support anecdotal reports of general health and wellbeing benefits. Since most of these drugs are illegal, it is very difficult to perform studies on psychedelics. In fact, there is not one single published empirical study of microdosing, although there is some published work involving observational investigations of individuals who microdose.

One 2019 review involving the experiences of 98 microdosing participants revealed reductions in self-reported levels of depression, stress, and distractibility, but also increased neuroticism. We should find out more once the results of the first-ever microdosing trial are reported. The trial started in 2018 and only involves LSD at the moment.

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Meanwhile, a new study published this week in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience provides the first evidence that microdosing psychedelics — specifically dimethyltryptamine (DMT) — has biological effects that may lead to evidence-backed novel therapies.

The researchers at the University of California at Davis have previously studied how popular illegal drugs such as ketamine, LSD, ecstasy, and DMT regulate emotions and mood. Their work suggested that these psychedelic substances affect neural plasticity, making rats less depressed but very anxious at a full dose. This time, the research team wanted to see what would happen if they dialed the dose down below a hallucinatory threshold. So they gave rats a small dose of DMT every three days and put them through a barrage of tests on their off days. These included a repetitive fear exercise and a forced-swim test, which are typically employed in studies to gauge anxiety and depression in animal models.

Credit: ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Credit: ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Weeks later, the rats that were given DMT at doses low enough to prevent hallucinations improved their depression and anxiety score — in contrast to a full dose of DMT, which would have made the rodents overly anxious. This shows that the therapeutic effects of psychedelics could theoretically be harnessed without experiencing the hallucinogenic effects.

“The behavioral and cellular effects of this dosing regimen were distinct from those induced following a single high dose of the drug. We found that chronic, intermittent, low doses of DMT produced an antidepressant-like phenotype and enhanced fear extinction learning without impacting working memory or social interaction,” the authors wrote in their study.

However, microdosing might not be harmless. Previously, the researchers found that a full dose of the psychedelic improved neuroplasticity, whereas intermittent microdosing seem to have the opposite effect in females, instead killing brain cells. In the future, the authors hope to tweak their study’s boundaries in order to see whether there’s a right dosage at which harmful side effects stop occurring.

“Taken together, our results suggest that psychedelic microdosing may alleviate symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders, though the potential hazards of this practice warrant further investigation,” researchers concluded.