Microdosing magic truffles makes you more creative, new study finds

Is microdosing magic truffles a way to unlock your creative potential? That's long been anecdotal, but the evidence is coming.

  • A recent study showed that microdosing magic truffles can significantly increase one's creative thinking.
  • Published in Psychopharmacology, the study joins a growing body of research showing the potential benefits of low-dose psychedelics.
  • While this research comes with limitations, it could open up many avenues to improve anxiety and work conditions in society.

What is microdosing anyway?

\u200bA Dutch smart shop displaying Psilocybe, the genus of magic mushrooms and magic truffles.

(Photo from Wikimedia)

A Dutch smart shop displaying Psilocybe, the genus of magic mushrooms and magic truffles.

Psychologists James Fadiman and Sophia Korb have compiled more than 1,500 reports detailing individual experiences with microdosing. Based on their research, they define microdosing as when a user takes a small amount of a psychotropic drug, such as LSD, peyote, or magic truffles. A typical microdose lands between one-tenth and one-twentieth of a recreational hit.

As with any drug, effective dosages vary based on the individual's metabolism and tolerance. The microdoser's aim is to take just enough of the substance to heighten mental activity and create a feeling of calm energy, but not enough to hallucinate. If the door's wood grain morphs into a visage of a Gene Wilder-looking mango giving them the double guns, they've overshot the micro mark and adjust the dose.

Most microdosers follow a regiment of one day on, two days off. Others only imbibe when they feel it would be useful for a particular project.

Micro dose, major boost

The study, led by PhD student Luisa Prochazkova under the supervision of Dr. Bernhard Hommel, took place at an event organized by the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands. Thirty-eight volunteers were asked to perform three tests: a picture concept task, an alternative uses task, and a progressive matrices task.

The picture concept task required participants to find a common association among several objects, while ruling out inappropriate ones. The alternative uses task asked the participants to conceive of as many uses for a common household object as possible within a time limit. Taken together, these two tests measured the participants' convergent and divergent thinking skills, both signs of creativity and elastic thinking.

The progressive matrices task tested the participants' fluid intelligence, which is a person's ability to solve problems with reason and logical thinking.

After the first round of tests, participants were given 0.37 grams of dried magic truffles and repeated another set of tests. The results were significant.

"[O]ur results suggest that consuming a microdose of truffles allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem, thus providing preliminary support for the assumption that microdosing improves divergent thinking," Prochazkova said in a statement. "Moreover, we also observed an improvement in convergent thinking, that is, increased performance on a task that requires the convergence on one single correct or best solution."

The study showed no significant difference on fluid intelligence.

More mind-bending studies

If your brain reaches this level of creativity, you may have overshot\u200b the microdosing mark.

Photo: Flickr.

If your brain reaches this level of creativity, you may have overshot the microdosing mark.

Other tests have shown microdosing psilocybin mushrooms can have other efficacious results.

A study published in The Lancet had participants take psilocybin capsules to combat depression alongside supportive therapy. The participants, who had proven to be treatment resistant beforehand, reported improvement in their symptoms. The researchers expressed hope that psilocybin's chemical structure, which is unique from traditional antidepressants, will open up new avenues for treatment.

A similar study from the University of Zurich found that psilocybin inhibits the brain's limbic system, an area associated with controlling emotions and instinctual urges. By slowing down the amygdala specifically, the drug repressed negative emotions in patients and improved their moods.

Yet another study from Johns Hopkins University suggested that magic truffles could weaken nicotine addiction and help smokers quit.

Tying these studies together is one published in PNAS. It looked at patients high on psilocybin while they were in an fMRI machine. The scans revealed that the compound not only inhibits the limbic system but also the prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex, areas associated with personality expression, filtering stimuli intake, and intrinsic control.

This proved counter to what many assume is responsible for the magic in the mushrooms—rather than ramping up the brain's activity to 11, psilocybin throttles activity down to a crawl. The disconnection between these specific areas of the brain could explain why psilocybin not only lessens depression but, which taken at a high enough dose, also leads to hallucinations and feelings of oneness with the world.

"The results seem to imply that a lot of brain activity is actually dedicated to keeping the world very stable and ordinary and familiar and unsurprising," Robin Carhart-Harris, the study's lead author, told Time. "It shuts off this ruminating area and allows the mind to work more freely."

Limitations to studying the expanding mind

Image: Big Think.

Microdoses of a magic truffle.

But don't rush out to ask your 16-year-old cousin for his dealer's number. Not just yet.

The Psychopharmacology study lacked several strict experimental controls, making it a preliminary study and far from the final word. It had a small sample size (only 38 participants), provided no control group, did not look for a placebo effect, and neither researchers nor participants were blinded to the use of psilocybin. It is also possible that participants improved simply because they had taken the test beforehand.

The other studies mentioned also lacked these controls, especially with regard to small sample size and not looking at long-term effects.

Of course, the authors of the Psychopharmacology study are upfront about these limitations and recommend future studies have "lab-based randomized double-blind placebo-controlled experimental designs" that take the subjective experience into account.

While these studies suggest magic truffles deliver on their mind-expanding promises, at the moment that remains a suggestion at best. Further and much more rigorous research must be performed before we can say magic truffles can definitively increase creativity and relax our inner critics. Should that day never come, there's always the Overmind to look forward to.

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  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.