A study published in Psychopharmacology suggests that people may turn to microdosing with psychedelics in an attempt to improve their mental health. According to most self-reports, these attempts may be effective.

Interest in psychedelic drugs as a potential treatment option for mental health disorders has been steadily increasing. One reason for the upsurge in interest might be the lack of effective treatments for certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Study authors Toby Lea and his team were motivated to examine a particular gap in the research by focusing on something called “microdosing”. The practice of microdosing refers to the consumption of very small, routine doses of a psychedelic drug, such as LSD or psilocybin, for reasons other than achieving hallucinogenic side effects.

“To date, most quantitative microdosing studies have excluded people with a history of mental illness, have not reported microdosing motivations, and no study has examined the sociodemographic and other correlates of microdosing as mental health and substance use therapies, nor the sociodemographic and other correlates of perceived improvements in mental health that people attribute to microdosing,” Lea and colleagues say.

An international, online survey questioned 1,102 individuals who were either currently microdosing, or had tried microdosing in the past. The average age of respondents was 33, and 57% had at some point been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

When questioned about their motivations for microdosing, 39% indicated that improving their mental health was their main motivation. Of these, 21% were microdosing to improve their depression, 7% for their anxiety, 9% for other mental disorders including PTSD, and 2% for drug or alcohol use.

Importantly, 85% of those practicing microdosing to improve their mental health had previously received either medication or counselling therapy. Moreover, among those who had received prescriptions for medication, “half (50.6%) reported having ceased antidepressants and 39.7% reported having ceased other psychiatric medications.” This suggests that respondents may have been microdosing as a way to replace traditional forms of therapy.

“Respondents who had been microdosing for a longer duration were also more likely to be motivated to microdose for mental health. This may suggest that microdosing is working for these people, and that they are continuing to microdose as an ongoing therapy to replace or

supplement psychiatric medications, some with the knowledge of their doctor and/or psychotherapist,” Lea and associates note.

The results indicated that, at least from the perspective of respondents, the practice of microdosing elicited positive mental health effects. As the researchers report, “Forty-four percent of all respondents perceived that their mental health was much better and 35.8% perceived that it was somewhat better because of microdosing. Nineteen percent of respondents perceived no changes to their mental health.” Only 1.3% indicated that their mental health was somewhat worse since microdosing, and 0.2% said it was much worse.

Lea and colleagues acknowledge that several key limitations limit the inferences from their findings. It is not possible to discern from their study whether the reported mental health improvements were due to microdosing, or rather the result of a placebo effect or other factors like lifestyle changes.

The authors stress the importance of continued study into the effects of microdosing. “While we await the findings of clinical trials, which could take some years, people will continue to self-manage their health with microdosing. It is therefore important to monitor people’s microdosing practices and experiences in the long term in order to provide appropriate harm reduction resources and other support.”

The study, “Perceived outcomes of psychedelic microdosing as self-managed therapies for mental and substance use disorders”, was authored by Toby Lea, Nicole Amada, Henrik Jungaberle, Henrike Schecke, Norbert Scherbaum, and Michael Klein.