This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Accomplishing things is hard and boring, and novel-writing, which is what I spend a lot of my time doing, is harder and more boring and more noble than any other human activity. So in 2016 I experimented with microdosing to try to make writing easier and less boring and less noble.
Why do I microdose? Well, microdosing in Silicon Valley is apparently a thing, a Dutch man said psychedelics are "like the coffee to wake up the mind-body connection," and artists apparently make breakthroughs while doing microdosing. LSD seems to be the most common drug to microdose, but I didn't have any, so this year experimented with 2C-B, mushrooms, Focalin (ADHD drug), weed, and Heineken.
There's a whole system for microdosing, as outlined by this guy James Fadiman, that basically comes down to doing the drug every four days, but I didn't know any of that, so I just winged it.
Here's what happened in my year of microdosing:
I didn't measure quantities, but I was most systematic with psilocybin mushrooms. I started with a little twig of stem. It was about 10 PM. I started to feel good, got a little energy boost. I posted to Facebook that the government should make everyone do mushrooms and think about love. I did no work.
After that I did it while working in my friend's kitchen. I would go over there at noon and we would listen to Kanye for five minutes and then open our laptops. Whenever I felt like it, I would eat a small amount of stem and a little bit of cap, and then take a picture of it, to have a record.
In the beginning I barely felt high at all, which, I learned while researching this article, is how it's supposed to be. In fact, the Fadiman microdosing idea is to do so little you don't actually feel anything—you just notice, afterwards, that you've been extra productive.
My aim was different. I wanted the work itself to feel like a magic carpet ride through a hackerspace of green glowing numbers, so I kept upping the dose every day. Near the end of the first week, when my friend and I went out to get our mid-afternoon coffee, I found that, while I wasn't exactly hallucinating, light sources were notably compelling. Within another day or two, all objects—people's faces, the lettering on signs, my shoes—were extremely interesting, and the sum total of stimulus in a ten foot radius at any moment seemed like a miraculous and slightly holy amount of information. I was at about 0.3-0.4 grams a day at this point, and, though I wouldn't say my productivity had improved, it certainly hadn't degraded.
This became untrue when my dosage climbed to about 0.6-0.7 grams. (Again, these were eyeball estimates.) At this dosage the texture of reality started to subtly throb, and it was too distracting to work. The last day of the experiment, my friend was out of town. I ate the little chunks of scrotal bark and biked through everyone else's business day and wrote in a park. I got overwhelmed though by an impossibly nondescript couple sitting on a bench across from me, and the sun reflecting off the buildings was exceeding my capacity for beauty, and I felt hungrier than the time I fasted for two days. I biked to a pizza place and ate pizza for six hours and watched teenagers watch soccer on TV. I got no work done that day and that was the end of mushrooms.
Conclusion: Not sure if microdosing mushrooms helps productivity, but it doesn't seem to hurt it, and, in the 0.3-0.4 gram range, makes your day more fun.
2C-B (2,5-dimethoxy-4-bromophenethylamine, a.k.a. "Nexus"), marketed as an aphrodisiac ("Erox"), is one of the many phenethylamines Alexander Shulgin synthesized for the first time in the 70s and, with his wife Ann, wrote about in a book called Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved. 2C-B is described as a cross between acid and MDMA, because it is both a psychedelic (makes shit weird) and an empathogen-entactogen (makes you feel connected to people). It is also, according to sketchy-seeming butsubstantiated drug sites, an entheogen (makes you feel religious). I chose this drug to microdose because it seemed close enough to acid to possibly work the same way, and it was available. I did it three times.
I was not systematic with 2C-B. I ingested a tiny, random amount of the white powder when I first got the pills. I was in a bad, weird mood, and I tried to work, but instead I jogged around my neighbourhood shooting lasers at pedestrians with my eyes. I felt confused and upset and tweeted (since deleted) "breaking discovery: you can actually jog in a fetal position."
Second time was a slightly larger amount. I felt nothing and decided my first experience had been placebo. I worked normally although at one point I had a problem remembering what number comes after 11.
The third time I did it I did a "full" amount (about 20 mg) with a friend. Strictly speaking this was unrelated to the microdosing experiment, but, just FYI: 2C-B is a fascinating, unusual drug, in that you're high as shit (I'd rate my experience a "plus three" on the Shulgin Rating Scale), but you feel completely in control, and can talk about complicated things with an only slightly diminished capacity for nuance. My friend and I decided it was like being a sober person in a high person's body—or more specifically, having a sober person's consciousness with a high person's perceptions. I lost awareness of my body for a while, for example, but I felt calm about it.
Conclusion: Too few trials to know. Further research needed.
Focalin (dexmethylphenidate—also, as it happens, a phenethylamine), is a central nervous system stimulant, like Ritalin or Adderall, and so is already good at helping you work. Tbh, it's a perfect productivity drug. I recently wrote a 4,000-word screenplay outline in a single sitting while on it, and at high doses it induces euphoria, so there's really nothing to not like about it. But I do worry it's turning my brain, liver, and kidneys into pink slime, so the purpose of microdosing Focalin was to see how little I could ingest while still getting its effects.
For this reason, I started with a full dose and gradually decreased. A 20 mg Focalin capsule contains about 100 tiny little white spheres, so you can adjust your dosage by only ingesting some of these spheres.
Long story short, there were no interesting effects of lower doses. With fewer spheres, I just got shittier at working. In fact, if you go too low, you get no productivity boost at all, and instead you just get the side effects, which in my experience are: irritability, flattening of the emotions, decreased empathy, incinerated sense of humour, wholesale destruction of social skills, and, sometimes, anhedonia (i.e. inability to feel pleasure).
Conclusion: Microdosing for the purpose of productivity a drug whose purpose at regular doses is productivity is as nonsensical as it sounds.
Mother Juan was actually the start of my "microdosing experience," back in January, although it didn't start off as a productivity thing—I thought it would help me sleep. Nah, though. Even though I was smoking tiny amounts—microdosing?—weed affects me super strongly, and instead of falling asleep, my mind would start racing, and I would write pages and pages of scattered thoughts on feelings regarding my family, nuanced regrets over a random classmate from high school, and, once, a 2,000-word exegesis on how a single page of a graphic novel mirrored my most recent breakup.
Conclusion: The drug had the desired effect of making me write, and in fact I wrote the most number of words on this drug, but total word count is not actually my goal. Due to the lack of control, marijuana seems bad as a productivity drug, although it seems possible that lack of control could be useful during some stages of some projects.
You may laugh, but Malcolm Gladwell wrote a compelling essay suggesting that, counterintuitively, alcohol's main effect is making you focus on what's in front you. So maybe, I thought, under the proper conditions, alcohol could be a productivity drug.
I bought two cases of those little 200 mL bottles of Heineken, and for about a month I downed one first thing in the morning (it was especially helpful for this experiment that I have absolutely no tendency toward addiction).
Now, alcohol and writing is a classic combination, but that may be more due to alcohol being a convenient painkiller for an anguish-stained lifestyle than with any literary-enhancing properties of the substance. In fact, I had positive experiences writing drunk—I could retain much more control than with weed, for example, and I often had access to a wider range of my own personality than I normally do.
However, writing things I didn't want to write while drunk didn't work so well. At one point I tried to work on a complicated essay I'd lost interest in, and I got melodramatic and self-pitying and rage-y and kicked my chair over like a trapped monkey.
Conclusion: Like marijuana, alcohol can be helpful in a very specific way, but overall is garbage as a productivity aide.
My experiments were totally unsystematic and I have no real recommendations or conclusions. It was mainly fun to experiment with how different substances affected me independent of their traditional social contexts. If you're looking for more information on drugs actually intended for productivity, this is a pretty good overview.
(Photo via Flickr user R)