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Can a Low Dose Go a Long Way?

Is it possible to tap psychedelic drugs at almost imperceptible levels to heighten normal, day-to-day functioning without all the mind melt? As it turns out, less maybe is more.

Photo via Flickr / CC. 

This year, 400,000 Americans will ingest Lysergic acid diethylamide. That's on top of the 23 million Americans who've already recreationally pumped their brains full of LSD. If I can hazard the guess, scores of the initiated straight tripped their faces off--a precedent for the hundreds of thousands of first timers who'll deliberately eat heroic enough amounts of Lucy so as to go well beyond the horizons of the here and now, deep into the uncharted maw of the grand mind. Maybe you fall into one of those camps. And hey, that's great. Do your thing, if you haven't already. 

For others--and there are doubtless just as many, possibly more--that's enough to steer clear. The mere thought of letting go is uninviting. With zero interest in confronting all the batshit crazy geometric visuals and hallucinations, to say nothing of the sounds and tastes of a rollicking trip, the tabs go denied time and again. And hey, that's cool. But what if it was possible to reap some of the reported benefits of a semisynthetic psychedelic like LSD without going all heavyminded? What if it was possible to tap acid at almost imperceptible levels as a way to heighten normal, day-to-day functioning without all the mind melt?

If that's you, wrap your head around this: Less acid is maybe more. A lot more. 

That's the allure of what's known as the sub-perceptual dose. It's an idea that has been gaining traction in certain pockets of the medical community, though it's neither new nor validated by any formal research. As James Fadiman notes in The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide (2011), sub-perceptual psychedelic dosings have for centuries been known about and utilized by indigenous cultures the world over. Fadiman would know. He's been in the trenches of legitimate mind-altering research for over four decades, and with time has become a sort of champion of the micro dose. Nowadays, he's tickled to find himself almost sober, if you could call it that, among the brain-blasted, self-important new gurus and high priests of what could be called a psychedelic renaissnace. Speaking at the 2013 Psychedelic Science conference in San Francisco, Fadiman did not mince words: "It's wonderful to be conservative in this crowd."

He's apparently not alone there. In 2010, Fadiman put out an open call for user-submitted micro-dose reports. On every third day ever since, an unknown number of volunteers has ingested micro doses of LSD "while conducting their typical daily routines and maintaining logbooks of their observations," as Tim Doody reported in The Heretic, a fascinating long-read on Fadiman's life's work to which this article is greatly indebted. It's unclear when and if the study will end. But we do know that "study enrollment may last for several weeks or longer" for the participants, who submit their journals, preferrably attached to "a summary of their overall impressions," to an inbox at Fadiman’s website

The problem, of course, is that psychedelics remain illegal in America and throughout much of the world. Indeed, to have any chance of getting your hands on the stuff without losing sleep over the thought of the DEA kicking your down down at 2 AM, you either have to be suffering serious mental trauma or terminally ill. That's not to undercut the growing, if still pathetically scant number of federally-approved studies whose findings continue deepening our understanding of how psychoactives may beat back the nagging horrors of post-traumatic strees, or cure nicotine or booze addiction. But the reality is that for those who believe that psychedelics and various other smart drugs could be used to the betterment of all stripes, not just people coping with PTSD or a penchant for the bottle, microdosing just hasn't been given a fair shake.   

Fadiman is doing his best to change that. Even if that means skirting the law and drawing from anecdotal evidence, it's a start, no? 

He's cautious in his descriptions. In his view, there is really no one specific “normal" LSD dose range. It's all dependent on what you're looking for. For a recreational romp to the Laugh Farm and back, try 50 micrograms (mcg). For a creative nudge, go with 100 mcg. For a life-changing therapeutic session, anywhere from 100 to 250 mcg should do the trick. For an up-close, long-lasting dance with “the Divine," 400 mcg will have you on your way. To venture beyond that threshold, Fadiman cautions, is not without serious risks the user must be prepared to confront from the outset. To plumb below perceptual levels? Not so much. 

Read the rest over at Motherboard.