What is psychedelic microdosing? How do you do it? Who even needs it? And what does it actually do? In this article, I guarantee you’ll find much more information that you can imagine on this very interesting and curious topic: how to use psychedelic substances to feel good without altering your state of consciousness.
An instrument for change
Microdosing with magic mushrooms – and psychedelics in general – is a great tool for supporting mental, emotional and physical change. And it’s actually going through a surge in popularity, despite being illegal. In fact, it’s one of the psychedelic research frontiers happening right now in English and American laboratories. Foundations are being laid for the study of new psychiatric medicines which will surely prove to be the future of mental health treatment. I’m a big advocate for the idea that nature is perfect as it is, and that therefore synthetic drugs made in labs just aren’t necessary, while allopathic doctors believe in the need for products in which the active ingredient is precisely controlled and certified. There are many substances in natural products that work synergistically with the active ingredient, but this important motive for steering towards natural products is often ignored. You can probably imagine why: obviously, synthetic drugs are more convenient for the economy.
What is psychedelic microdosing?
So let’s talk about microdosing (or as we say in Italian, microdosaggio). This term refers to the use of psychoactive substances in quantities lower than the threshold after which you’d feel a psychoactive effect. But why would you ever want to take a substance, normally used for tripping, in quantities so small as to have no evident effect? Considering how fast this practice is spreading, there must be a reason for it, so today I’m going to explore this modern mode of psychedelic consumption and the techniques used to achieve it.
The practice of microdosing
Rather than simply a method, it would be more correct to define microdosing as a practice in itself, as it requires commitment to a cycle that lasts not hours or days but weeks, with regular doses and waiting periods. But before getting into detail on how to microdose, let’s delve into the motives one might have for consuming low-level quantities with subliminal effects, effects which might not be evident but are perceptible nonetheless.
Little scientific research
The earliest (widely available) reference to this practice of taking psychedelics at very low doses can be found in James Fadiman’s book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. The book was first published in 2011, at which point there hadn’t been any consistent or adequate research done on microdosing. Even now in fact, almost a decade later, official research data is nowhere to be found. I’m aware that interviews and experiments are being conducted, but formal scientific results are not yet available.
So where did this popularity come from? Well, largely, it’s based on “word of mouth”, i.e. on stories from countless experimenters who have recounted their experiences outside the realms of labs and official research facilities. After all, psychedelics are illegal, thrown into the same category as hard drugs (which are decidedly more dangerous) such as heroin and cocaine.
The dangers of hard drugs
To some of you, it might sound like I’m repeating myself, but I can’t not take a moment to highlight the peculiar characteristics of “hallucinogenic” mushrooms (and LSD) in comparison to those of drugs considered similarly heinous by law. Heroin and Cocaine have the potential to cause abuse, encourage addiction, and induce a dependence which is both physical and psychological. To feel the same same effects as the first time, one must augment the dose and frequency of consumption until one reaches doses which are much more dangerous – and potentially lethal – than before. When one ceases taking these drugs, an arduous withdrawal crisis ensues on a physical and psychological level. The heavy toll of the withdrawal drug addicts face is well recorded, and can happen if someone goes even one day without their fix. Therefore it can be very difficult to stop without outside help, and coming clean on one’s own can often prove impossible.
The qualities of psychedelic substances
The “classic psychedelics” – magic mushrooms and LSD – pose none of these problems. There’s no dependence, no addiction, and in fact the exact opposite tends to happen. If you take psychedelics more than once a week they stop having an effect, and so the crisis of withdrawal just doesn’t happen. Quite frequently, people who try LSD or mushrooms never use them again. As soon as they’ve tried it, they stop forever. The phenomenon of the Bad Trip one can experience if one goes in without knowing what to do is almost always one of the worst experiences of a person’s life. In any case, it’s not something you’re in a rush to repeat. And yet the data on toxicity is striking: the gap between active doses and lethal ones is so incredibly favourable that it’s practically impossible to die from taking too many psychedelics. There is one recorded case of a woman who inadvertently took a dose of LSD sufficient to send 500 people into an intense trip. She suffered no physical consequences, and it actually cured the psychological disturbances she’d been experiencing.
OBVIOUSLY, don’t do this. She was a very lucky woman whose trip was difficult in every possible way, physically and mentally, and such an experience should be carefully avoided. My point is that psychedelic substances are not inherently harmful. To risk death – though I’m not sure if it’s possible – you’d need to eat a quantity of mushrooms that wouldn’t even fit in your stomach. And so the few grams used to trip present no risk for a person in a healthy physical condition.
But what about contraindications? Physically and psychologically, they do exist, so let me repeat them: cardiac problems; epilepsy; abnormal liver function and pregnancy are some things to consider with regards to physical health. On the other hand, a history of familial or personal psychological issues is the most important physiological contraindication, along with emotional disturbances in the moment such as personality disorders and bipolar. I’m not trying to say here that mushrooms can’t be perfect for curing these disorders, but they do require specialist medical guidance in a medical context and unfortunately (thanks to the law) such support cannot exist. So actually considering all these contraindications is mandatory. Otherwise, you risk nothing less than your own life or incurable psychological trouble.
Surprising benefits of microdosing
I’ll start with the more unusual and unexpected applications, which are truly counterintuitive if you only think of mushrooms and LSD as instruments for long, intense trips. I’m talking about sports.
In the USA especially, there are numerous practitioners of extreme sports who use microdosing to up their level of preparedness. In this case too there isn’t any official data to support the idea, but the claims made by those who do it are very intriguing. These super athletes – alpine rock climbers for example (not only free climbing on steep cliffs but also on the 8000m tall himalayas), snowboarders, mountain bikers, motocross acrobats, extreme off-piste skiers, paragliders and hang-gliders, base jumpers and wingsuiters – all of them argue for the benefits of regular psychedelic microdosing.
What does microdosing make possible for these athletes who are constantly striving to exceed their own limits? Sensorial sharpness for one thing, as in visual clarity and optimal perception of colours. Then you have the improved sense of physical equilibrium, mental clarity and heightened concentration. General motivation also increases along with one’s ability to relax, one’s capacity for energy and resistance to exhaustion. All this might seem incredible, but it’s true. Obviously, we’re talking about trained athletes who already work hard on a level unimaginable to an amateur. Micrososes aren’t magical capsules but instruments which allow people to refine their already well honed senses and general performance.
According to the testimonies gathered over the last 40 years on the use of microdosing in extreme “underground” sports, psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD can enhance your reflexes to “lightspeed” levels, improve balance to perfection, and sharpen concentration to “tunnel vision”, rendering you impervious to pain and weakness. These effects are almost legendary in the underground extreme sports community. The consensus is universal and uncontested.
Interestingly, there are some striking similarities between these athletic preparations in a state of consciousness expanded by microdosing and what professionals tend to call “being in the Zone” – a fabled “state” of acute perfection in which athletes report somewhat psychedelic effects. These might include a sensation of time slowing down and extraordinarily coordinated movements taking place without thought. In fact, athletes and regular individuals alike – without microdosing – experience these same effects in moments of intense adrenaline discharge in the body. Think of the classic “fight or flight” response, in which one enters a decidedly abnormal perceptive state which enhances both the speed of one’s thoughts and bodily responses.
Within the microdosing range – which we’ll get into shortly – these sporting results are obtained with quantities on the verge of the psychoactive threshold. The applications we’ll now talk about, on the other hand, require much lower doses.
Microdosing for anyone
Microdosing is perhaps most known for the less extreme (though maybe more concrete and interesting) effects anyone can obtain during their own daily activities. Concentration, empathy and sociableness, greater relaxation, sense of peace, creativity, introspection, better humour and problem solving to name a few. The athlete’s perception of time “slowing down” might be more impressive in its power to make one perceive otherwise hidden details during performance, but I believe the value of these “smaller” things I just listed poses a much larger array of benefits. Most importantly though, these quotidian benefits are accessible to everyone.
Practice vs Research
There’s no scientific data to explain exactly what happens on a physiological level or why those who practice microdosing often experience these changes, but that’s not important. Research is in progress right now, and results are on their way. In the meantime, we have first-hand testimonies from people who actually microdose, and if you ask me these are worth more than anything gleaned from data in a lab.
As time goes on, we learn more and more about how our brains function when we consume a standard dose of psilocybin. For instance, data collected from Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans at the Imperial College of London show that the so-called Default Mode Network becomes “looser”. Simultaneously, certain regions of the brain start to function at a higher level, with a greater number of connections to other equally stimulated parts of the brain. This is what happens with psychoactive doses, but one would think that something of the kind could also happen (on a smaller scale, of course) with microdosing.
What happens inside of us when we practice microdosing? Regardless of specific results, like empathy or concentration, it’s as if our “point of view” on life starts to shift, slowly departing from the standard which always makes us see things in the same way. It only takes the displacement of a millimeter for an arrow shot to land at a completely different point to usual. This altered perception affects every aspect of one’s life – from reason to emotion, from convictions to sensations – and even the most minimal variation in these influential parts of you has the power to insight startling change in your life overall. This is the subtle work that psychedelic microdosing is known for.
Changes in mood and one’s emotional reactions are perhaps the areas where the biggest differences can be seen. Often, you’ll suddenly notice that certain reactions aren’t your usual. A friend of mine once said to me: ‘all of a sudden I realised a situation that really pissed me off, which I’d been finding myself in repeatedly, was suddenly manageable. To my shock, I realised it no longer had me raging!’ Various people in fact have told me that certain emotional mechanisms had been suddenly reset, and all round everyone was sincerely shocked.
I could go into a screed of anecdotes, which would be nothing more than second-hand stories, but all the truly stupendous stories I’ve heard have one thing in common: a positive change in the mental, physical or emotional sense. Perhaps in these difficult times the change is most visible in cases of depression. I always see a lightening of sorts, like an inner distance, and I think this is one of the key characteristics of psychedelic microdosing.
How to microdose
How is microdosing with “hallucinogenic” mushrooms done exactly? A whole chapter in my book (The Magic Mushroom User’s Guide) is dedicated to this subject, but today I’ll just be going over the main points so you have the info you need. As always though, if you’d like to know more, definitely read the unabridged version in my book.
Microdosing involves the consumption of mushrooms or truffles – fresh or dry – at a level where the psychoactive ingredient is lower than the threshold at which psychoactive effects are triggered. In short, the quantities we’re talking about will cause no sensory or perceptual alterations whatsoever. They can make you feel a sensation (which is clear and defined in its own way) of having “taken something”, only without the variations in sensorial perception. You won’t have to worry about seeing strange colours or the walls around you starting to breathe.
Naturally, the psychoactive threshold varies depending on the individual’s tolerance levels, but the average level above which the effect begins is equal to 5 milligrams of psilocybin and/or psilocin. While this active ingredient is contained in both mushrooms and magic truffles, the strengths differ depending on what you have available. For example, in dry magic mushrooms (Psilocybe Cubensis), 5 milligrams of the active ingredient are contained in about half a gram. Given that microdosing involves a non psychoactive dose, it’s best to keep the maximum limit consumed at around 0.4. This upper limit is probably only advisable for athletes, but otherwise the recommended dose sits at around 0.2 grams of well dried mushrooms. There’s no real point in exceeding this because the risk of anxiety then comes into play, which I’ll now touch on.
How often does one take a microdose?
How does the microdosing cycle actually work? In the morning, on an empty stomach, take 0.2g of dry mushrooms right after you make breakfast. (And make sure to eat well to reduce the risk of anxiety.) Then consume the mushrooms every 72 hours – so for instance if you took the capsule this morning, don’t take it tomorrow, or the day after, but the day after that. Do this for 10 weeks only, then stop. If you want to recommence, I’d suggest waiting a few weeks, not because you’ll experience any negative side effects but only to feel the difference the first 10 weeks have made in your life as this is a really useful part of the experience.
Eating is not totally mandatory. I’d advise you to experiment, but from experience having something in your stomach almost always lightens the effects you could feel. What effects exactly? Not psychedelic effects, of course, but you could feel some restlessness. Physically speaking, you could feel a sense of low-level anxiousness, localised perhaps in the torso or arms. Or perhaps you could be overcome with intense emotion, positive or negative. Just relax, as getting agitated will only make things worse. Furthermore, no one’s saying you have to have negative side effects in the first place. Often you’ll find yourself feeling nothing of the kind – or you’ll feel a little off the first couple of times then never again. What’s for sure is that if you do feel anxious or uncomfortable, that sensation won’t last any longer than 3 hours max.
More on contraindications
A word on the murky topic of contraindications. If you suffer from serious heart problems, or you’re on medication, then yes these can be an issue. I’m only mentioning this to be scrupulous, as we’re talking about a quantity of mushrooms so small – down to the milligram – that any dangerous side effects or interactions are almost impossible. But given that I’m not a doctor and therefore am not in a position to be handing out medical advice, you must ask the specialist who prescribed the medication you’re taking before going any further.
I’ve said that microdosing is a practice. And in fact remembering to take your dose every 72 hours and keeping track of yourself throughout are both elements which require discipline and self-observation skills. To maximise the transformative effects and sustain personal evolution, I’d suggest including a daily journal in this practice.
The daily diary
The practice of diary keeping is precious and useful in any scenario, microdosing or not, and consists of taking 5 to 15 minutes every evening to write on the day that’s just passed, and perhaps giving yourself a few notes for tomorrow. Take a new jotter and a pen – not just a computer and keyboard, because writing by hand has a different, deeper value psychologically – then every evening take up the journal, retrace your day backwards (i.e. start at the present moment, and work backwards). This means not writing in the easiest way, i.e. chronologically, from morning to evening. You can divide the day’s events into three categories: physical, emotional, and mental. Note down what happened during the day, making it fall into your category of choice. Some situations can be described in all three while others can’t. You’ll see for yourself what works for you. For example: ‘I fell and hurt my knee’ is a physical experience, but emotionally the fall scared me, let’s say, and made me realise I was distracted; and for the ‘mental’ section I’d describe my reflections on the transitory nature of things, how the fall made me feel very deeply that nothing should be taken for granted, everything can change in an instant. And so on.
Why am I insisting so much on this diary? If microdosing already leaves you more stimulated to be more present to yourself, the practice of daily diary-keeping sustains and highlights this auto-observatory work, allowing you to pinpoint the changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. They would have still occurred, yes, but you wouldn’t have sensed them on your own. And it is a beautiful thing to see these differences in yourself as they assist you and provide gratification which helps you persevere, with or without microdosing.
Microdosing is a gentle approach for anyone who doesn’t feel up to the more challenging experiences psychedelics have to offer in standard doses. And yet it is a practice in active self-observation and discipline for those who have no problem navigating the psychedelic depths. I do both, in fact: full psychedelic trips, and microdoses. They are different but complementary practices, which together are powerful instruments for embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
If you have any doubts or questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
And always read the WARNINGS