Microdosing’s Micromoment

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As of one month ago, I knew of just one friend who microdosed; my friend, who is a musician, said he was taking 0.1 grams of mushrooms a few mornings a week so he could finish up an album that had been taking him years. Then, a few weeks later, I was at a different friend’s house when he walked into his kitchen, took a teeny-tiny, shriveled-up mushroom stem out of the freezer, snapped off a minuscule amount, and popped it into his mouth, a thing he now does regularly to feel “more open” while on the many work calls he has throughout the day.

This was while telling me about another friend, who’s devised a way to, as precisely as possible, dilute liquid LSD into 10-microgram doses. That guy uses it for painting.

It’s been quiet but also quick: Microdosing, which usually means taking tiny amounts of psychedelics (one-20th to one-tenth of a recreational dose) has spread from San Francisco to New York and around the country. People say they are using it not to escape their everyday lives but to enhance them: If you’re microdosing, you might even forget you’re doing drugs in the first place. The amounts are sub-perceptual, without the seeing-stuff side effects. They’re still themselves, users say, only a little better.

Recent reports show that millennials are drinking less and less interested in drugs like cocaine. But in a strange turn of events, they’ve taken up LSD and mushrooms in the way someone else might pop an Adderall. The most common self-reported benefits include improved mood, better eating and sleeping habits, and less of a need for caffeine. And, really, what could be more millennial than rebranding some of the most potent drugs out there as illegal vitamins that combine the feel-good-ness of self-care with the possibility of gaining a competitive edge on colleagues?

Drug dealers I surveyed have reported an uptick in microdosing requests: “Maybe 10 to 15 percent of my clients plan on microdosing, which is definitely up from when I first started selling mushrooms,” says one Brooklyn dealer. Another says that while she’s noticed more people buying mushrooms and LSD, return customers are consuming them more slowly. One dealer even brings around his scale for microdosers who want to measure out smaller amounts; another creates tinctures of diluted LSD. And a growing number of posts on Reddit devoted to the subject indicates that people are microdosing all sorts of things, from ketamine (for depression) to cannabis (for pain management).

Between 2010 and 2013, microdosing began to gain steam in Silicon Valley coder circles, thanks in part to the preachings of LSD researcher James Fadiman. The appeal of a drug regimen that allows for hours of uninterrupted focus and concentration was not lost on this crowd. Fadiman thinks microdosing caught on so quickly because “it has a small positive effect and it’s not scary,” though, as is the case with all drugs, fear is subjective. Particularly because microdosing is both highly unresearched and incredibly imprecise, and therefore prone to all kinds of dosage mix-ups and unintended trips. In fact, there have been zero controlled clinical trials related to microdosing. In England, Amanda Feilding of the Beckley Foundation is close to beginning a study that will involve hooking up microdosers to an EEG while they play the strategy game Go in an attempt to measure both creativity and cognitive function. For now, that’s it.

Anecdotal accounts already suggest that microdosing is not for everyone. For those who have any sort of bipolar or psychosis history, there is the possibility of overstimulation. It also doesn’t seem to agree with those with existing anxiety, says Fadiman. And, of course, it is illegal.

Yet the curiosity only grows, in part because of renewed interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics taken in traditional doses. In Michael Pollan’s new book on the subject, How to Change Your Mind, out in May, he goes deep on the science from professionally guided, federally approved studies that looked at the effects of psilocybin (that’s the psychoactive part of mushrooms) on cancer patients in significantly lessening signs of anxiety and depression.

Which is why some people are ignoring the risks and microdosing to get in on some of the reported benefits. “Eventually, people take things into their own hands,” says Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a Charleston psychiatrist involved in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. “Certainly not the ideal way to do it, but that’s one of the problems that happens when the regulatory and scientific community isn’t responding to the need for better medicines.” And perhaps the science will catch up with the culture. “It’s a very plausible question whether microdosing has antidepressant activity,” says Matthew W. Johnson, a Johns Hopkins psychologist who has published psilocybin studies. “If that was true, that could be a novel treatment to one of the world’s biggest medical disorders.”

Micropot. Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

What Is a Microdose?

A microdose is generally considered to be one-20th to one-tenth of a recreational dose. If someone’s seeing things, he or she has taken too much. Most people microdose mushrooms or LSD, but other drugs have also become popular of late.

The Big Seven: What Out There Is Being Microdosed

By Katy Schneider

In the absence of clinical trials and studies, we created this chart by going straight to the source: lots of individual microdosers. We shared our findings with two experts in the field of psychedelics — psychologist James Fadiman and psychiatrist Julie Holland — who confirmed that what we learned meshed with the anecdotal evidence they’ve accumulated over the years. Note: Many of these drugs have serious associated risks, so do not use this as a guide.

LSD

Illustration: Mark Nerys

What it is: A drug manufactured from lysergic acid, which is found in the fungus that grows on rye. It is taken in tablets, capsules, gelatin squares, or pieces of paper.

How microdosing it feels: Users describe experiencing a boost in energy, focus, and the feeling that life is meaningful. A proper microdose, according to users of the drug, is like a day in which you’ve “gotten enough sleep and eaten well.” It’s often used to help kick addictions, from cigarettes to heroin. Many LSD microdosers find that it’s made it easier to lose weight, stop drinking, and even cut back on playing video games.

Mushrooms

Illustration: Mark Nerys

What it is: “Magical mushrooms” contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin. They can be eaten, brewed into tea, or coated with chocolate.

How microdosing it feels: About an hour or two after ingesting the microdose, people notice an increase in focus and energy. Many users find that it helps with weaning off — and staying off — anti-depressants. It can help lessen the side effects of withdrawal and even mitigate depression. Many speak to the drug’s ability to increase empathy, too.

Cannabis

Illustration: Mark Nerys

What it is: Cannabis is a psychoactive drug from the cannabis plant. It’s either smoked, vaporized, or taken in tinctures or edibles.

How microdosing it feels: Cannabis in microdose form has been found to be helpful for a wide variety of physical ailments: chronic pain, nausea, inflammation, indigestion, fibromyalgia, PTSD-associated insomnia, even nightmares. But it also helps with mood: It can boost interest in one’s surroundings, creativity, happiness, and focus, while also combating stress.

DMT

Illustration: Mark Nerys

What it is: The active hallucinogenic compound in ayahuasca. It is most often smoked in powder form or consumed in a brew.

How microdosing it feels: DMT has a faster onset than any of the drugs on this list — it can kick in seconds after use, and its acute effects last only about a half-hour. It brings users to a place of introspection and, as one frequent microdoser put it, “cuts out anything that isn’t serving me in the present moment, so I can just enjoy being.”

Ayahuasca

Illustration: Mark Nerys

What it is: An Amazonian plant mixture that contains the psychoactive substance DMT. It’s generally consumed in a tea.

How microdosing it feels: Microdosing ayahuasca can increase sensitivity and openness in users — many feel their boundaries and defenses dissolve. It is not optimal for work, as it can make physical and mental tasks slightly more strenuous and can make users feel passive — “It made it hard to answer emails, write queries, research,” said one.

Iboga

Illustration: Mark Nerys

What it is: A rarely microdosed, difficult-to-get perennial rainforest shrub, some take it in premade TA (total alkaloid) powder.

How microdosing it feels: Iboga in small doses can promote introspection, clarity, thoughtfulness, and a feeling of connectedness to people and the world. One user reported feeling “too introspective. I was often lost in thought,” she said, “and had no interest in conversing with others, because small talk seemed too tedious and unimportant.” It’s also been known, in large doses, to reset opiate receptors and therefore help curb cravings.

Ketamine

Photo: Mark Nerys

What it is: Ketamine is a medication used for maintaining anesthesia. It is typically snorted, though occasionally injected.

How microdosing it feels: Some users report feeling a physical high and a decrease in physical sensation. “If you have pain in your knees,” says one user, “you’re not going to feel that on a microdose of ketamine.” It also eases stress and depression. With larger doses, users report that those anti-depressive effects can last for days, weeks, or even a month.

The Guy Whos Microdosed It All (Or a Lot of It)

Cooper M., 23, department lead at a cannabis start-up, Seattle

LSD: “A couple of years back, I was quitting antidepressants. It was tough, and microdosing helped me get through. It was much more effective than any antidepressant I’d ever taken. I took small doses a couple times a week for a few months, and I found that my focus, mood, energy, and creative thinking all improved not only the day of, but the days following as well.”

Mushrooms: “Like LSD, it makes me feel in the moment, and my day-to-day feels fresher and less stale. The main difference is that it’s shorter and less energizing. It makes me feel more ‘go with the flow’ and less analytical and sharp.”

CBD: “I take CBD — the non-psychoactive element of cannabis — every day to help calm my mind and body. I microdose Mr. Moxey’s Mints when I need a little kick or I get stuck in a bad thought loop at work. It’s less impactful per dose than LSD, but I owe being able to function in a 40-hour workweek to them.”

DMT: “I’ve also tried DMT. It onsets within seconds compared to oral psychedelics that can take an hour to set in. This allows me to very quickly reach the thoughtful, centering mental space I’m looking for but also not feel stuck in it for too long if I take too much. ”

—K.S.

Why Does Everyone Keep Bringing Up James Fadiman?

James Fadiman. Photo: Renee Fadiman

Up until a few years ago, the longtime LSD researcher who published The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide in 2011 was individually responding to any would-be microdoser’s questions as to suggested dosage or possible side effects through his personal Gmail. He created a protocol based on his many emailed-in reports from users that’s pretty much become the microdosing standard. Now Fadiman is working with fellow researcher Sophia Korb as they embark on the largest nonclinical microdosing study to date (59 countries and over 400 participants).

Some Unexpected Side Effects May Include …

Five findings from Fadiman’s email in-box.

Period relief
“A number of women who have had difficult periods report that their periods are now normal. We got a note from a woman in her 20s who said that during the month she microdosed, her periods, which are usually extraordinarily difficult and painful, were now normal. Others say they microdose before their period and their periods are now fine. We don’t know much, but we’re hoping to get much more conventional research going.”

Better sex
“Just a few reports of this, but one example: Married 15 years, male, 38. ‘Sex is great with microdosing … my attention is at 100 percent in the bed, easily expressed in our lovemaking and sensual touching. There is no hurry and no wait.’ ”

Decreased coffee consumption
“The most common comment is ‘I just don’t feel the need.’ ”

More anxiety
“We do not know if anxiety goes up or if they are more aware of their anxiety, but in either case we feel microdosing is not beneficial.”

Better first drafts
“I never reveal my sources (especially if they are drug-using journalists).”

How Do People Who Do It, Do It?

Illustration: Mark Nerys

The Microdoser’s Tool Kit

Illustration: Mark Nerys

A dealer
In New York, some dealers are adjusting to the spike in microdoser clients by creating diluted liquid-LSD tinctures; others are offering use of their scales to help weigh mushrooms.

Illustration: Mark Nerys

A scale
One that registers a thousandth of a gram helps people start as small as possible.

Illustration: Mark Nerys

A grinder
Dried mushrooms are quite fragile, but a grinder (some like a mortar and pestle, others use coffee grinders) will yield a fine powder that microdosers will sprinkle into various ingestible things, even smoothies.

Illustration: Mark Nerys

Gel caps
“Strongly earthy” is one way dried mushrooms have been described. Weighing them, grinding them into powder form, and putting them into gel capsules is a way to make measured-out microdoses and avoid their polarizing taste.

Or This Starter Pack

Illustration: Mark Nerys

The Third Wave, a start-up dedicated to “responsible psychedelic use” founded by Paul Austin, offers both online guides to microdosing various substances and a $47 LSD starter pack that includes a sterilized amber bottle with distilled water for diluting, scissors for cutting off tabs of LSD, a sterile syringe for measuring out microdoses, and an LSD-testing kit (to make sure it really is LSD).

The Pretty-Much-Agreed-Upon Regimen

According to the Fadiman approach, people generally microdose once every three days for about a month — one day on, two days off. But why space it out? “After reading a lot of reports and talking to a lot of people, the effects were lasting for up to two days,” Fadiman says. “The psychedelics are actually gone within a few hours, but you have the same kind of feeling — functioning better — for two days.” There’s another reason to space it out: Psychedelics, while nonaddictive, can cause a tolerance to build. The most important thing to keep in mind: Fadiman advises taking a microdose before 10 a.m. “Taking it later may make it harder to fall asleep. From there, people should keep to their daily schedule: work, leisure, meals, medications, exercise.” After the month, Fadiman found that most people continued to microdose only occasionally, on an as-needed basis — for an exam, a presentation. Plus, like with most things, it’s good to take a break.

A Doser’s Diary

Tao Lin, whose book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change comes out May 1, has dabbled in microdosing. Anticipating questions he thought he’d get on the topic while on tour, he did a trial run.

Day 1

10 A.M. Used one-sixth of a tab of 100 micrograms of LSD — a brand called Aztec Xtal, which may or may not be LSD or 100 micrograms.

11:58 A.M. Have more of a sense of humor and less despair than normal, smiling sometimes.

12:35 P.M. Feel distracted by the world instead of my thoughts, which are a lighter yet more controllable overlay than normal.

12:55 P.M. Half-consciously and pleasurably and unexpectedly biked from 25th to 3rd Street.

4:52 P.M. Attention span became lower than normal; feeling the lack of what I gained earlier.

10 P.M. Continued working — reading, writing — after temporary loss of attention. Feel like I had a day like when I used to use Adderall but with less underlying despair.

Day 2

10 A.M. Four days later, used one-sixth of a tab again. I’d planned on three days, but I was meeting my editor and wanted to be in a more familiar mental space.

11:41 A.M. Have greater ability to end undesirable thoughts.

11:54 A.M. Instead of blankly gazing at nothing, as can happen normally, my focus is flitting somewhat randomly around, scanning. My memory images seem stronger.

10:38 P.M. In bed. Had another almost continuously productive day — doing a phone interview, reading, writing, drawing.

Day 3

10 A.M. Two days later. Used one-12th of a tab — half as much.

4:11 P.M. Time has passed fast. The half-dose seems preferable. One-sixth felt sometimes overwhelming and disruptive to my normal routine, but this amount seems good to use occasionally and strategically.

Microtripping Nine to Five

What it’s like to be high and functioning on the job.

A Blueberry Edible Before a Meeting
“I take chocolate-covered blueberry edibles, which are about 5 mg. each of THC — the psychoactive part of cannabis — on the way to work. It’s about a 45-minute commute, so by the time I’m at my desk, it’s starting to work. During meetings, I feel more lucid in my thoughts and confident sharing ideas that I may have thought were too radical before. I find myself making more jokes, laughing more. Before, I think I was always trying to say the right thing, playing it safe in a way. It worked, but it was also sort of boring.” —Anonymous animator

A Sliver of LSD Before Talking to the Boss
“When I microdosed LSD a couple of times before work, it was a mixed bag: When talking to my boss — who I never had problems with — I felt much more anxiety. I was more in my head, nervous about what I was going to say. On the other hand, I had much more empathy — which was a big deal, because I wasn’t very fond of my co-workers. It also made it much easier to do boring, heads-down work. Time kind of flew by — my job was basically ‘spreadsheet farming,’ and I was able to do that a lot more efficiently.” —Anonymous recruiter for a financial-services firm

A Sip of Iboga Before Visiting Patients
“I work in palliative care. All my patients are dying. Since I started taking 50 mg. of iboga TA powder in the morning, pain- and symptom-management visits are filled with much more laughter and happiness. Before, I was prone to burnout from these visits — I was tired and sluggish and often only able to provide the necessary care to my patients. I missed small subtleties in their physical and emotional state. This doesn’t happen as often when I’ve taken iboga. I am able to sit with a grieving family, feel their pain, and be present, without allowing it to shatter me.” —Anonymous nurse  

—K.S.

But Whats the Worst That Could Happen?

Illustration: Mark Nerys

“Okay, I Guess I’m Tripping at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday”

It took a few tries before this Brooklyn musician landed on his ideal dose.

“The first time I did it, I took 0.2 grams of mushrooms at 8 a.m. It’s what I thought was a very small amount, so I was like, Okay, I’ll take that and I can up it from there. Maybe 20 minutes later I was in the park walking my dog, and I looked up at the trees, and I was like, Huh, that looks weird. Then I looked down at my hands, which is always the test: Do my hands look trippy? And I was like, Oh, yeah, they’re trippy. The grass beneath them was super-vibrant, moving in a weird way. I was like, Okay, I guess I’m tripping at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday. I tried to go home and work, and I was not okay to work, so I lay down, put headphones on, and listened to music in my bed in the dark for like an hour. So after that I started doing .07 grams, which is really small, then slowly worked my way up to .1 gram. Sometimes I’ll do .08 grams if it’s a day I know I’m going to be doing a lot of phone calls. There’s no impairment, but if I’m doing 0.1 or 0.125, I definitely feel a little extra something. When I hit the ideal dosage, it helps me get into a flow state. It’s a feeling you can totally have without doing drugs, it’s just one that I rarely achieve. If you’re working on something, you have a feeling that you can do no wrong, and because you have that feeling, it kind of comes true.”

One of the Biggest Dangers of Microdosing is Accidentally Macrodosing

Sara Gael, director of harm reduction at the MAPS Zendo Project, an organization committed to supporting people going through bad psychedelic trips, on the best ways to ride it out.

Move the body
“Qi Gong, yoga, stretches like that can be helpful; they get energy moving. When we’re really stuck in our head, feeling comfortable in our body can help.”

Eat something
“This can instantly help you feel grounded.”

Go outside
“Being in nature is a big one. Go to the park; it doesn’t have to be in the middle of nowhere, though still try to avoid a ton of people.”

Put on some music
“Something instrumental — classical, piano, guitar; mellow is key.”

How Illegal Is It?

Psychedelics are Schedule 1 drugs. Though laws vary by state, if you’re caught possessing or selling even a small amount of psychedelics in New York State as a first-time offender, you could face jail time — anywhere from less than a year to up to nine years. New Mexico is unique in that it is legal to grow mushrooms there, while a Florida loophole lets people off the hook who don’t realize the mushrooms they are in possession of are magic ones. Meanwhile, current decriminalization efforts in California and Colorado could show up on ballot measures later this year.

And Now, a Naysayer

Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, thinks microdosers should hold out for more-conclusive science.

“The problem is that the large-dose therapeutic studies that have been done so far — the NYU and Johns Hopkins ones in particular — are flawed, I think, so we don’t really know how safe or effective it is. For example, niacin, which was used in the NYU study as a placebo, doesn’t really have a psychedelic effect, so my objection is that it’s just a weak study. And then there’s the sample: Who raises their hand and does a hallucinogen? Those people might be more psychologically hardy and drawn to novel experiences. With microdosing, if you’re going to posit x or y about it, then go study it and get good data. Otherwise everybody thinks it’s perfectly safe, but there are people who are going to do it who are at risk for various psychiatric problems like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, or who have a genetic loading for psychotic disorders and could unleash a latent illness. That’s who I worry about. Claims that are made based on anecdotes and individual stories are interesting but not conclusive, and they need to be subjected to the same rigorous study as any drug company that wants to sell a drug on the market.”

Did We Get All These People to Be in a Clinical Trial That Were Going to Realize, One Day, Was a Bad Idea?

Some microdosing early-adopters look back.

Reply All, the podcast that got things going
On November 5, 2015, the Gimlet Media podcast Reply All aired a show on which one of its co-hosts, PJ Vogt, secretly took small portions of acid and recorded what happened. (Vogt ended up panicking and ditching the experiment.) It’s become one of its most listened-to episodes. Vogt and Gimlet co-founder Matt Lieber reflect on how the episode’s aged since.

PJ Vogt. Photo: Courtesy of the Subject

PJ Vogt: One of the things I didn’t predict would happen is that everybody now tells me when they’re microdosing. They’ll say, “Hey, remember when you did that episode where you took acid?” And it always goes the same way: It’s them grinning and going, “Well, I’m trying it right now.” It happened two mornings ago in the elevator.

Matt Lieber. Photo: Courtesy of the Subject

Matt Lieber: I remember telling you that I was pretty sure you were going to inspire many people — hundreds or even thousands — to try acid. People that otherwise wouldn’t. If you ask me how I feel about it … I feel very conflicted, actually.

PJV: Sometimes I wonder, Did we get all these people to be in a clinical trial that we’re going to realize, one day, was a bad idea? But most people who’ve talked to me had good experiences, and I think they feel that they’re in a secret society.

ML: Have you done it since then?

PJV: No, oh my God, no. No. It’s worth reiterating: I messed up the dose and did not enjoy my experience. But I have the rest of the acid in this Orbit-gum box on my bookshelf. It feels like Chekhov’s gun in my apartment. —Margaret Rhodes

Ayelet Waldman, the mom who microdosed
In 2017, Waldman introduced many to microdosing with her memoir, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. What does she think about it now?

Ayelet Waldman. Photo: Claire Lewis

“I was writing about microdosing psychedelics, but at the heart of it, I was writing about taking responsibility for mental illness and finding a way out of your deepest darkest place, and when you write about that, you have to take responsibility for your reader. That’s why I’m much less interested in people who have a more jokey approach to it. Look, I did it as an ad hoc personal experiment. I obviously don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as people are very aware of what they’re getting into and they understand the neuroscience, the therapeutic elements, the history, the criminal-justice ramifications. We spend too much time in this country taking really strong drugs without thought; people are gobbling up Paxil without anybody considering how incredibly difficult it can be to get off them. We’ve just been swallowing thoughtlessly, both legal and illegal, so if you’re going to microdose, I want you to really do your homework, or at least just read my book. One of the beauties of microdosing is that there isn’t a Sackler family forcing you to become addicted — there’s no advertising dollars [behind it] — so you can have a more thoughtful decision-making process.”

*This article appears in the April 30, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Everything You Need to Know About Microdosing’s Micromoment