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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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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