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Study finds microdosing psychedelics can be beneficial, but not in the way that users most expect
Can microdosing LSD enhance creativity and focus?
What if you could take a psychedelic drug regularly in such tiny quantities that the immediate effects were not discernible, yet over time it led to a range of psychological benefits, especially enhanced focus and heightened creativity?
That's the principle behind "microdosing" – a controversial technique that's exploded in popularity ever since the publication of a 2011 book The Psychedelic Explorers Guideand a 2015 Rolling Stone article titled How LSD Microdosing Became The Hot New Business Trip. Large online communities of microdosing enthusiasts have since emerged on sites like Reddit, where dosing tips are shared and the supposed manifold benefits of the practice are espoused.
However, actual scientific investigations into the effects of microdosing can be counted on one hand. Earlier this year, PLOS One published one of the few systematic investigations ever conducted into the practice, by Vince Polito and Richard Stevenson at Macquarie University. Though exploratory and tentative due to "legal and bureaucratic" obstacles (meaning there was no placebo control or randomisation in this research), the results suggest that microdosing can be beneficial, although not in the ways that users most expect, and not necessarily for everyone.
The researchers recruited hundreds of volunteers from Reddit.com/r/microdosing and other online psychedelic groups (people with mental health problems were asked not to take part). The participants completed a comprehensive battery of questionnaires at baseline tapping nine domains of functioning including personality, mental health and wellbeing; then for six weeks they reported daily any microdosing they'd engaged in the previous day, and provided brief daily ratings (of how they'd felt the previous day) regarding various psychological measures. Finally, at the study end, they completed the same battery of tests as at baseline.
Sufficiently complete data was obtained from 63 mentally well participants who, during the study, engaged in microdosing of a serotonergic psychedelic (a substance, most commonly LSD or magic mushrooms/psilocybin, that acts on the functioning of the brain chemical serotonin).
In terms of the daily ratings, on days that participants had microdosed, they scored higher than usual across all the measures: connectedness, contemplation, creativity, focus, happiness, productiveness, and wellbeing. However, only focus and productivity showed slight, sustained increases on the drug-free days that followed microdosing. "The pattern of results here is somewhat inconsistent with narrative accounts that claim that the effects of microdosing linger for multiple days," the researchers said.
On most of the more in-depth battery of measures taken at the study start and end, participants did not show any change. However, they did display reductions in stress, depression and mind-wandering, alongside greater absorption (experiencing intense imaginative experiences and "peak-like altered states of consciousness"). A final change that surprised the researchers was a slight increase in trait neuroticism (i.e. greater emotional instability), which they speculated may have been due to an overall increase in emotional intensity, positive and negative.
That last finding regarding increased neuroticism was reflected in some of the participants' open-ended descriptions at the study debrief: "…another negative is that all emotions get amplified. So whenever I feel down or not loved the microdose makes it even harder," wrote one volunteer.
A major drawback of a study such as this, in which participants knew which substance they had taken and there was no placebo group, is that the reported effects may simply have been a result of participants' expectations or their imagination. To gain insight into this possibility, the researchers conducted a second study with hundreds more participants from online microdosing communities, and this time asked them to say how they thought they would change on the same various psychological measures used in the first study, if they were to microdose for six weeks.
In contrast with the first study's results, these participants predicted that after six weeks microdosing they would change on all the psychological measures. Although most of their predictions were for change in the same direction as the limited changes that were actually observed in the first study, these participants' strongest predictions were for increases in creativity, wellbeing and mindfulness (in line with the positive media coverage of microdosing and generally positive chat in online forums), but in fact none of these variables increased over the course of the first study. Also, these participants predicted that neuroticism would decrease, when it actually increased.
The fact that the predictions of participants in the second study did not match the actual reported experiences of those in the first, argues against the experiences of the first group of participants being driven purely by their expectations and hopes. The mostly positive effects reported also chime with the findings from more controlled research of larger doses of psychedelics, which have mostly been positive. However, the researchers also noted that they did not observe a dose-response effect in the first study (there was no correlation between the doses the participants reported taking and the psychological effects), which is surprising, and "is a reason to interpret these findings cautiously," they said.
Overall, Polito and Stevenson said their tentative findings suggested several "disconnects" between media coverage and anecdotal chat around the effects of microdosing and actual experiences of microdosers as recorded systematically in this research. In particular, effects mostly did not seem to linger on non-dosing days, and the main changes over the course of the study were not in productivity and creativity as is commonly claimed, but "mainly involved reduced mental distress and changes in constructs such as absorption and mind wandering that are not as commonly discussed".
The researchers said that their "most surprising" finding was the observed increase in neuroticism, especially considered in light of the handful of open-ended descriptions of negative experiences. "In a context of considerable hype around the practice of microdosing, particularly with regards to its potential as a business tool, it is important to acknowledge that microdosing may not be universally beneficial," the researchers said.
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Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.