Microdosing psychedelics has emerged in mainstream culture: artists, musicians, and even entrepreneurs are now harnessing the power of sub-psychedelic doses of hallucinogens to enhance creativity and cognitive function. But what really happens in the brain after a nibble of psilocybin mushrooms or a diluted drop of LSD?
The largest placebo-controlled trial on psychedelics ever performed suggests that the effects of microdosing might all be in our heads. But this claim might sound a bit too reductionist for many people that have experienced the benefits of microdosing psychedelics.
After all, a few small studies have confirmed that microdosing does indeed improve wellbeing, creativity, and cognitive function in some people. Many anecdotal accounts also point to the benefits of microdosing in cases of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
However, some scientists claim that the self-reported benefits of microdosing are subject to bias. The research in question managed to enrol 191 participants into a self-blinding citizen science experiment.
The volunteers filled out surveys about their experiences while taking both an actual psychedelic microdose and a placebo, without knowing which was which. While the surveys indicate that microdoses did seem to impart psychological benefits, so did the placebo doses.
However, we need to look at this study with some scepticism, as it lacked the strict measures in place during a clinical placebo-controlled study. But the results do raise interesting questions. Can our brains—and the power of placebo—really improve our cognitive function? And could we tap into that ability at will and heal ourselves?