There’s no scientific definition of microdosing, but generally, it means taking 1/20th to 1/10th the usual dose of a drug. LSD and mushrooms are probably the most common choices, but the world of microdosing is a lot bigger (and wilder, and more colorful) than that. Drugs that might seem more intimidating, like DMT or mescaline, can be microdosed, too, if someone knows what they’re doing.
Different drugs have different effects, but there are some universal ways to mitigate their risks and increase their possible benefits. It’s always best to start on the lowest end of a dose, then work up the next time. One reason is that, since psychedelics are still unregulated in most places, people may not be consuming exactly what they think, said Peter Freed, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “The big concern is that when people are buying these substances themselves, they're not getting high-quality stuff.”
Another reason to go slow—whether microdosing once or repeatedly over the course of several days, weeks, or months—is to prevent building up a tolerance. It’s best to wait a few days after microdosing before taking anything again, said Matthew X. Lowe, research director for the psychedelic research non-profit Unlimited Sciences, which is currently conducting a study on the health outcomes associated with full-dose psilocybin with Johns Hopkins University. “It is a commonly practiced three-day cycle that follows the 'Fadiman Schedule', where for 48 hours, you remain substance-free,” he said, “and on the third day, you microdose.”
Psychedelics may be dangerous for people with preexisting health conditions. People who have psychiatric, neurological, or cardiovascular disorders or are using psychiatric drugs should avoid microdosing altogether, said James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, explaining that psychedelics “can have an effect on the peripheral nervous system, which can affect heart rate, intensity of heartbeat, and blood pressure.”
And though some U.S. states and cities have decriminalized magic mushrooms and other plant-based psychedelics, everyone should also be aware that psychedelics are still illegal under federal law and criminalized in most of the country.
So, why microdose? The research can be mixed, said Ellen Bradley, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. She pointed to the largest placebo-controlled study on microdosing psychedelics to date: “People did report improvements on a bunch of different axes after microdosing, from mental health and productivity and cognition and life satisfaction—but people also reported that who’d had placebo,” she said.
Still, there are plausible scientific explanations for why microdosing might improve one’s mental health. “Psychedelics tend to promote the formation of new neural connections and increase neuroplasticity,” said licensed clinical psychologist Holly Schiff, referring to the brain’s ability to change. The effect is only temporary, but when it’s happening, “It presents a window of opportunity for psychological and behavioral improvements through psychotherapy.” Microdosing may be most beneficial done while undergoing therapy, though some people still say microdosing has helped them without it.
To better understand the nuances of microdosing different drugs, VICE talked to a wide variety of researchers and users about expected effects, possible benefits, and risks.
Common microdose: 0.1–0.3 g of dried mushrooms
Microdosing mushrooms usually involves eating straight mushrooms or mushroom chocolates or taking capsules containing ground-up mushroom powder. Proper microdoses shouldn’t cause any hallucinatory effects, said Giordano, the Georgetown professor, but might create a feeling of “lightness” or being “in the flow.” The latter is how it feels for Brandon Goode, a 29-year-old entrepreneur in Toronto. “I find that microdosing brings more presence to my regular activities, whether meditating, going for walks, socializing, or working,” he said, explaining that shrooms make him feel more connected to nature and people.
Some people who have microdosed mushrooms have reported improvements in mood, sleep quality, creativity, and focus, said Lowe, research director for Unlimited Sciences. Laura Dawn, a 38-year-old plant medicine integration guide, uses mushroom microdoses to “tap into flow states” before work. “I was that kid who hated school, and microdosing small amounts of psilocybin helped me enjoy learning and stay morning-focused,” Dawn said.
Corinne Segura, a 39-year-old blogger in Victoria, Canada, who suffers from insomnia related to chronic fatigue syndrome, said microdosing in the morning with very small doses of mushrooms, as little as .02 g, helps her sleep at night. Even at this dose, she said, “The results last for about a week, but [my insomnia] doesn't go back to the severity [at which I experienced it] before starting the microdosing.”
Even though mushrooms are relatively safe, said Lowe, “The risks are more psychological than physiological. Individuals can experience negative emotions or emotions that are too intense. They can experience anxiety or increases in neuroticism.” By starting with as little as possible, a user can monitor for any difficult emotions then take even less next time. It’s also a good idea to avoid doing anything potentially dangerous like driving, said Hailey Shafir, a licensed clinical addiction specialist and mental health counselor.
Common microdose: 10–20 micrograms
If microdosing mushrooms is more about enhancing play, then microdosing LSD is more about improving work. It’s often associated with tech entrepreneurs, and many people claim it enhances their productivity and creativity. “The positive energy was massively different from my typical coffee-fueled workday,” said Joe Moore, a 39-year-old psychedelics educator in Colorado. “Microdoses seemed to boost my mood, give me amazing focus, and decrease my chronic pain.”
From a scientific perspective, his experience seems to be part of a pattern. “Anecdotal data suggests that LSD produces an energetic response, more creativity, and better cognitive functioning and problem-solving skills,” said Shafir. However, the rush of energy some people get could be a downside: Even after microdosing LSD in the morning, Moore has had trouble falling asleep at night.
Preparing a true microdose usually means cutting a tab of acid into at least 10 pieces, said Shafir. One thing to keep in mind is that LSD has a lower hallucinogenic threshold than mushrooms—that is, it’s easier to hallucinate on acid. “With some people,” said Giordano, “the kinetics of how they process LSD allows it to bind in a way that can produce a rapid onset and be hallucinogenic.”
Common microdose: 0.5–1.0 mg
DMT is known as a drug that can take you to other dimensions, but when it’s microdosed, some people report being able to stay on the ground and go about their days with an added sense of inspiration. Whether laboratory-made, derived from plants, or, in the case of 5 MEO DMT, made from toad venom, DMT can be vaporized, smoked in a pipe, or snorted. Of the microdosing options, it’s the most spiritual for some users.
Yana, a 33-year-old tech worker in Los Angeles who avoided sharing her last name for privacy purposes, first vaped small amounts of DMT at a party, allowing her to participate in a conversation like she normally would while feeling a “really nice, loving, wholesome, uplifting high.” She’s done this several times since. “I don’t get any [intense] visuals, but maybe the room breathes, or things pulse,” she said. “I feel like I know where my place is in the universe, both big and small, and I’m at peace with it. Things are more sparkly.”
“DMT is a very potent hallucinogen with very strong entheogenic and psychedelic effects even with smaller doses,” said Giordano. Someone who microdoses it may feel “more creative, expansive, and less constrained by thought processes,” but they also may unintentionally hallucinate. “It spikes quickly, so it’s rapid-on and rapid-off,” they said. Still, the effects may take time to fully set in once they come on, so Giordano suggested waiting at least two hours after a dose before taking more.
Common peyote microdose: 10 g fresh or .9 g dried
Common San Pedro microdose: 10–20 g fresh or 3–5 g dried
The peyote and San Pedro cacti both contain a compound called mescaline, which can cause hallucinogenic effects at high doses. Mescaline can lead to increased awareness, intuition, and focus at microdoses, along with a sense of “emotional unburdening,” according to Giordano.
Jose Alejandro Torres Aguilera, a 27-year-old artist and musician in Mexico, said microdosing peyote has made him “more focused on what is my path and who I want to be” and helped him “approach things more calmly and with lightness in my daily living.” It may be a particularly appealing option to those seeking a sense of inner peace or stress reduction.
Peyote and San Pedro can both be distilled into powder and encapsulated. One particular risk is “dose accumulation” due to the way mescaline is stored and metabolized in the body, said Giordano, who cautions against taking it multiple times a day. “Mescaline is not something you want to take throughout the day at microdoses. You can get a macro effect in time.”
Common microdose: 50 g brewed
The hallucinogenic tea known as ayahuasca has two components: the vine, which contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) that facilitate the processing of DMT in the brain, and the DMT-producing plant. Microdosing just the vine, usually in liquid form, can increase activity in the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin systems, as well as one’s own production of DMT, according to Giordano.
While microdosing straight DMT might lead to increased openness and insightfulness, Giordano said, microdosing the MAOI component of ayahuasca would more likely cause “increased vigilance, decreased fatigue, and improved perception.”
“Microdosing [the ayahuasca MAOI] anchors me deeply into the present moment,” said one 40-year-old energy healer. “The mind chatter drops away, and I can clearly see and know from my intuition and my heart. I drop into a sense of peace that is relieving and healing to the worried mind. I am generally still able to go about my day—work, go on a run, make dinner—but all with a deep reverence for life.”
Research on the effects of the MAOI without DMT is limited, said Giordano. “You’re getting the active principle, but there's some debate as to the benefit of ayahuasca and the way the compounds interact.” Ayahuasca can lead to changes in blood pressure, heart rate, smooth muscle activity, and possibly nausea and vomiting, he added, so proceed with caution.
Common microdose: 25 mg concentrate or 50–100 mg powder
Ibogaine is derived from the wood of an African shrub called iboga. It has been used to combat drug addiction, treat other mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and induce powerful spiritual experiences. A microdose, taken either as a capsule or in the form of ground wood chips, is sometimes known as a “hunter’s dose” due to effects like increased energy and alertness. “It makes people feel cognitively aware, much more sensitive, and appreciative of subtle perceptions,” said Giordano. “It also tends to increase their relational sensitivity and empathy.”
Le’ Jai’ La Troi, a 30-year-old medicine woman and writer in Mexico, has microdosed ibogaine on and off for several years, without ever taking a larger dose. “This plant has drastically shifted my relationship with myself, my identity around race, and my role in society,” she said. “Through the healing of iboga, I now understand who I am as a soul.”
People microdosing ibogaine can usually carry out their jobs and other daily functions, said Giordano, and, in fact, it often improves their ability to think clearly and concentrate. At high doses, ibogaine can lower one’s heart rate to potentially dangerous levels, and while this is rarer while microdosing, people with any sort of cardiac abnormality should avoid it, said Giordano.
Common microdose: 20–40 mg
Alexandria Wojcik, a 37-year-old public servant in New York’s Hudson Valley, likes to microdose molly by dipping her finger into a bag several times throughout the course of a dance party. “Microdosing MDMA helps me be a bit more outgoing, as someone who is naturally an introvert yet craves participating in big crowded events,” she explained. “My goal is to experience a somewhat altered, lifted spirit, to be a bit more all-consumed by the flashing lights and diversity of sounds and seas of beautiful ravers, but to also be fully present and aware of my surroundings.”
The same effects you’ll get on a larger dose of MDMA, you’ll get to a lesser extent with a microdose. “MDMA creates feelings of closeness and intimacy with others and a generally positive outlook and emotional state, as well as increased sensitivity to touch, sight, smell, and sound,” said Shafir.
People should be careful not to microdose MDMA repeatedly in a short frame of time if they don’t want the effect of a full dose, said Giordano. “People will say, ‘I felt great. I took it at 9 o’clock at night. I felt great again. And at 11 and 1 in the morning, then I crashed the next day.’ That's macrodosing MDMA.” It’s also important to stay hydrated, as MDMA can dehydrate you even at small doses, he said. The more you take, the more you’re at risk for experiencing sleep disturbances or a hangover the next day.
Macrodoses of ketamine have been found to help with depression and anxiety, and while research on microdosing ketamine is limited, one study in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that low doses of ketamine improved motivation and attention in rats.
Not all experts agree that ketamine can or should be microdosed, though. “Ketamine is exceedingly volatile and powerful,” said Giordano, who cautions against microdosing ketamine partly because it’s difficult to dose properly. (Since he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to microdose ketamine, he couldn’t suggest any dose measurement.) Because improper dosing can cause imbalances in the neurotransmitter serotonin that may exacerbate anxiety or depression, “ketamine is realistically best administered in clinical therapeutic settings,” he said.
Nevertheless, some have microdosed it. David Ronick, a 54-year-old entrepreneur in New York, describes microdosing ketamine using a sublingual tablet as “the best meditation I ever experienced,” adding, “I didn’t trip out, but I did feel a bit like I was floating above my body, completely relaxed and in touch with my thoughts and feelings in the moment.” After doing this weekly for six weeks, he felt calmer than he had in years, and while he still deals with anxiety, he said he is better able to manage it.
The Bottom Line
Despite some promising findings and anecdotal experiences, it’s important to remember that no microdosing protocol is foolproof or one-size-fits-all. “Most microdosers experiment with both the specific dosage and how often they dose—e.g., every day, every other day, a few times per week—to find what works best for them,” said Shafir. “This process often involves a lot of trial and error, and it's common for people to describe accidentally taking too high of a dose and feeling stronger effects than they expected.”
Lastly, Shafir added, “Psychedelics are not a ‘magic cure’ for anxiety, trauma, [or any other mental health conditions or concerns], and only work when a person is able to process through their feelings and experiences, often with the help of a trained therapist.” In other words, microdosing could give you a new outlook on life and perhaps a sense of well-being—or it could just be a sparkly, trendy placebo. But either way, like most things, it probably won’t solve your problems.
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Correction: This story originally said Unlimited Sciences was conducting a study on microdosing psilocybin. The study is on full-dose psilocybin.