This article originally appeared on Tonic.
Scientists microdosed rats with DMT and found evidence to suggest the psychedelic substance modifies fear and anxiety responses in the animals.
The novel study “is the first to demonstrate in rodents that psychedelic microdosing produces beneficial effects on mood and anxiety,” David Olson, lead author and assistant professor at the University of California Davis, told Motherboard in an email.
Olson and a group of neuroscience and chemistry researchers at the University of California Davis published their findings on Monday in ACS Chemical Neuroscience.
The potent substance DMT (or dimethyltryptamine) is the main psychoactive compound in ayahuasca, and can produce vivid hallucinations and even feelings of dying.
Meanwhile microdosing, or taking low doses of DMT and other drugs, is anecdotally believed to enhance mood, cognitive ability, and other functions. The practice is popular among certain demographics such as Silicon Valley tech workers. But psychedelics, like many alternative therapies, suffer from a lack of research.
“There is currently very little scientific literature about the effects of psychedelic microdosing,” Olson said. “Most of the humans studies rely on anecdotal reports from those who have practiced this dosing regimen.”
Previous rodent studies suggest that DMT can affect “mood, anxiety, cognitive function, and sociability” in animals when given in larger doses. So to observe the effects of microdosing, Olson and his team injected one-tenth that amount at one milligram per kilogram of body weight.
The injections were administered every three days for two months to roughly approximate the schedule of people who microdose. (The study noted, however, that no established definition for “microdose” currently exists.)
The rats were then run through a gamut of behavioral tests, including a “forced swim test.” This exercise is extensively used to measure depressive-like behavior in rodents, and involves placing the animals in a container of water and observing their response to the seemingly inescapable threat of drowning. If a rat stops swimming, this could correlate with negative feelings of hopelessness, fear, or depression.
What the team found was that DMT may have caused “robust antidepressant-like responses” in the rats, with immobility time significantly decreased in female rats especially.
In another test designed to probe “fear extinction,” or a conditioned fear response, researchers shocked their feet. In this test, the rats also exhibited beneficial results of DMT use—retaining this fear for a shorter amount of time compared to rats that had not been dosed.
The study’s authors hope this will lead to future forays into DMT microdosing and PTSD in humans.
But there were also drawbacks. Rats that were administered DMT gained more bodyweight while simultaneously consuming less food than the control rats. Female rats that were microdosed “had a reduction in [a particular neural] density,” Olson said.
Olson carefully noted that, as neither a doctor or a lawyer, he couldn’t advise anyone to DIY with microdosing.
“The dose, frequency, and length of time are all likely to contribute to whether or not a therapeutic or harmful effect is realized,” he added. “Simply put, we need much more research about the potential benefits and harms of psychedelic microdosing.”