“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” — Vincent Van Gogh Photo for illustrative purposes only. Photo: Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash
In recent years, microdosing—aka taking tiny amounts of drugs like LSD and psilocybin—has gone from being the talk of the psychedelic village to being perceived as a super cool secret weapon, supposedly able to positively impact everything from mood and mindset to productivity and creativity.
Whether or not it works is one thing. Every now and then, a study will pop up claiming that it likely does, only to be followed by another study claiming it probably doesn’t. Whether or not it’s safe is another. There are those who believe microdosing is a safe way to experience some of the benefits people claim psychedelics have, but even small doses of drugs come with big caveats. There is little information on how taking small doses of substances like LSD and psilocybin over long periods of time affects people, so medical professionals can only infer that this causes things like dependence, abuse, or other health-related effects. Drugs like LSD and psilocybin are also still illegal and unregulated in many places, so there’s the risk of never really knowing exactly how much of a drug you’re taking, and whether or not the drug is high quality. Psychedelics may also be dangerous for people with existing psychiatric, neurological, or cardiovascular disorders, or for those using psychiatric drugs, because they can affect the peripheral nervous system, which can affect heart rate, intensity of heartbeat, and blood pressure.
But the ambiguity of the science around microdosing and the remaining taboo around psychedelics in general haven’t stopped people from trying it themselves. Performing what are essentially experiments on their own bodies, some people compare the feeling to a strong cup of coffee, while others liken it to a state of flow. “I started microdosing in college,” said James, adding that he didn’t really know what microdosing was at the time. He and his roommate had been doing full doses of LSD and just wanted to know what smaller doses of the drug would do. James, like the other names in this story, is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the subject from the legal repercussions of using drugs in their country.Since then, James has microdosed acid in varying doses and environments and with different goals. “Mostly the days that I try to be productive—both in terms of work and in terms of exercise—those are the days that I feel like the microdose is the most effective,” said James.According to him, the effect of microdoses of acid is very subtle, and easier to identify if you’ve taken the drug in full doses. “Something that it gives you is just this presence of mind, being more aware of all the thoughts flying around your head. It doesn’t organize them but it puts them in plain sight so you know what it is that you might be overlooking.”That’s why having an intention is important even for microdoses, James said. It’s not some sort of magic drug or dose, so without the intention to be productive, he wouldn’t be able to use the effects of his microdoses in a beneficial way.
Patricia, who microdoses both LSD and mushrooms, said that doing so helps a lot when she has to be creative or do some sort of high-level thinking. “I microdose because I feel like it puts my brain in a state where I’m able to see different perspectives from my usual pattern of thinking, and I’m able to connect different, seemingly unrelated concepts more easily,” she said.To some people, that might sound like how full doses of LSD or mushrooms feel, but for Patricia, who has done full doses of both drugs, it’s quite distinct. “A microdose, for me, should feel not like you’re necessarily in an altered state of consciousness. You pretty much feel the same way you do when you’re sober, but it’s like a heightened version of being sober.”That’s the guideline Patricia sets for herself when she microdoses—it shouldn’t feel like she’s tripping or like the drug is taking over her consciousness completely. It should just be a kind of background buzz that still allows her to operate.She compared the feeling to drinking a lot of really strong coffee—alert, awake, and stimulated, but without the peak and crash that tends to come with caffeine. “With microdosing, I don’t really peak. It slowly climbs and then it plateaus, and it pretty much stays like that for the rest of the day,” she said. Like legal drugs, however, it sometimes takes people some time to find the dose that works for them. Patricia said that it took her a long time to find a microdosing regimen that actually works and is helpful. She’s taken doses that were too much and left her tripping on days she did not mean to trip.
But it’s not just about dosage. There have also been days when Patricia microdosed with no particular intention, no tasks she wanted to channel her energy into. On those days, she said she’d get lost in unhelpful thought loops. Adam also microdoses both LSD and mushrooms, but for him, it’s less about getting things done than letting things happen. He still does everything he needs and wants to do in the day, just with a better mindset and attitude.He likened the feeling of being on a microdose to being in a flow state, where he feels connected to his purpose and disconnected from anxiety and negativity. “It gives me a really good opportunity to practice gratitude, practice clarity, and practice acceptance,” said Adam. One can of course practice gratitude, clarity, and acceptance without drugs, but Adam said his microdoses allow him to experience those things at a deeper level. “I get to do [things] in this lifted up mood where I just feel more calm, more peaceful,” he said. “I am eager to accept whatever it is to come. I am more determined to just be grateful and to just be, to let it be—that’s something that I feel is unique to the microdose, that I don’t get from other things.” The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the interviewees. VICE neither endorses nor encourages consumption of narcotics/psychotropic substances.Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.