Does LSD Microdosing Boost Intelligence and Creativity? This Study Hopes to Find Out

Imagine getting imperceptibly high, then playing Chinese strategy game 'Go'. This is the experiment the Beckley Foundation will run to test the value of LSD microdosing.


Lysergic acid diethylamide, popularly known as LSD, was first synthesized in 1938 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, incidentally, the same person responsible for isolating and synthesizing psilocybin, the main compound of magic mushrooms. It took Hoffman five years and a dose of chance to discover LSD’s psychedelic properties, after he accidentally ingested it. 

The history of the drug in the following decades is colorful. In 1947, it was introduced on the market (first in Switzerland and then in the U.S.) as a psychiatric drug hailed to cure “everything from schizophrenia to criminal behavior, ‘sexual perversions,’ and alcoholism.”  The 1950s marked the beginning of a 15-year LSD research craze, which generated more than 1,000 scientific papers and a CIA program called Project MKUltra, which attempted to use LSD as a “truth serum” and due to its shady activities eventually became the inspiration for Netflix hit series Stranger Things. In the '60s LSD was the psychedelic drug of choice of the hippie movement and of many artists, academics, and medical professionals. 

As a result of its widespread use, unconvincing scientific research, and negative publicity generated by bad trips, in 1970 the drug was classified as a Schedule I drug in the U.S., meaning “it is deemed to have a high potential for abuse; it has no legitimate medical use in treatment; and, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision.”

The use of LSD, however, hasn’t declined significantly over the years. Recently, a new form of usage is becoming popular and sparking scientific interest: microdosing. Microdosing is the act of regularly taking small doses (usually 1/20 to 1/10 of a normal dose) of LSD or magic mushrooms, usually three or four times a week. The point of microdosing is to be able to experience the positive effects of the drug, without hallucinations and while remaining fully functional.

People who use microdosing claim that it helps them enhance their creativity, improve their mood and focus or simply makes their day better. Others say it has a therapeutic effect, helping them with mental health problems, without the side effects of prescription medication. The scientific consensus to substantiate these claims is not there yet, but several studies have been done, and more are underway.

Why Is It So Hard to Gather Scientific Evidence?

Since the 1970s, it has been difficult to conduct research on LSD; because of its legal status, both funding and approval for the studies are hard to get. In 2001 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stated that LSD "produces no aphrodisiac effects, does not increase creativity, has no lasting positive effect in treating alcoholics." Many of the studies that were done in the early days were discredited due to methodological flaws. Most evidence of the effect of the drug remains anecdotal, with James Fadiman’s database of LSD user experiences following his microdosing protocol, being the most famous one.

In 2014, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) completed the first double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the therapeutic use of LSD in human beings since the early 1970s. The study found positive trends in the reduction of anxiety following two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions, but similar study designs have been criticized for the inability to differentiate between the effects of the drugs and the therapy. 

The Beckley Foundation is another institute currently at the forefront of psychedelic drugs research and policy. It funded a 2015 study which for the first time used modern neuroimaging techniques to show how LSD alters brain blood flow, electrical activity, and network communication patterns.

The scientists found that under LSD, regions in the brain start communicating with each other, when they usually don't, which can explain some of the vivid hallucinations that people experience. On the other hand, other neurons that normally fire together lost synchronization, which correlated with volunteers reporting a disintegration of their sense of self, or ego. 

The Study to Prove Microdosing Makes You Smarter

Now, the founder of the Beckley Foundation, Amanda Feilding, wants to test whether microdosing on LSD improves cognitive functioning, including increased creativity. Feilding, described by Vice as “a hippie aristocrat turned drug reformer,” has had a long history with the drug. Currently 74 years old, she used LSD daily in her youth and remembers that taking it significantly improved her performance at Go, the Chinese strategy game. 

Amanda Feilding - FUNDAMENTAL from FUNDAMENTAL on Vimeo.

Fielding has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a study which will be a partnership between the The Beckley Foundation and Imperial College London. It will consists of 20 participants who will take microdoses of LSD, complete questionnaires on their mood, undergo brain scans and play Go against a computer.

 “The tests of creativity which are current, like Torrance test, they don’t really test for creativity, they test more for intelligence, or word recognition, or whatever,” says Feilding for Business Insider. “They can’t test those ‘aha’ moments in putting new insights together, whereas the Go game does test for that. You suddenly see, ‘Aha! That’s the right move to enclose the space.’"

Fielding is crowdfunding through Fundamental, a platform specifically dedicated to the research of psychedelics. Other areas of interest for scientists raising funds through the platform are PTSD, depression, alcoholism and anxiety.

Some scientists are skeptical of microdosing, however. 

James Rucker, a psychedelic drug expert interviewed by BBC News says:

“The dangers are that we don’t know what the risks in the long-term might be. We have no idea what the effect might be on driving, for example, or skilled tasks. The definition of microdosing is that you don't notice the subjective effect, but that doesn’t mean that it is not having any effect on you.”

Matt Johnson, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University says that because the described effects of microdosing are subtle it is susceptible to the placebo effect.

The only way to know the truth, however, is to have more double-blind controlled studies and more longitudinal studies. A difficult task, given the current financial and administrative hurdles that scientists face.

To hear an honest, funny, and informative account of it's like to experiment with microdosing personally, here's our podcast episode with novelist and former federal public defender Ayelet Waldman

Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.


Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.

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