As the stigma around drugs recedes and people are moving away from antidepressants and towards microdosing, can this be considered a good move? The article explores this in detail.
What is microdosing?
When low amounts or amounts not enough to trigger hallucinations, (also known as sub hallucinogenic levels) of a psychedelic substance are consumed, it is known as microdosing. In this case, the amounts taken of psilocybin or magic mushrooms or LSD are not enough to induce the feeling of a “trip”. But do enable the person to get in touch with their spiritual selves.
During microdosing, a person may resort to taking cannabis, MDMA, peyote, or any other hallucinogenic substance.
Is this okay?
These hallucinogens are still criminalised in many countries and procuring them can only be done illegally. However, what people are asking is if it is okay to take these small amounts of the drug regularly or according to a pattern.
John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine said to National Geographic “As far as we know, there are not many risks associated with microdosing. But it’s not at all clear, aside from user testimonials, that there are benefits.”
Do hallucinogens help?
The debate is still on about whether microdosing is of any help or not. Hallucinogens have long since been acclaimed for their medicinal benefits, especially in the case of people who have mental health issues.
MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine)
Also going by the name of Ecstasy and Molly, this is a psychoactive drug that has an effect on neurons in the brain that are affected by serotonin, dopamine, etc. Thus its intake can have an effect on mood, the reward system of the brain, sensitivity to pain, etc.
The drug has also been used for treating anxiety in terminally ill patients and also to calm down those who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A study was conducted by Johns Hopkins. The findings suggested that two doses of psilocybin when given to patients along with psychotherapy showed that there were rapid and large reductions in depressive symptoms.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Tim Ferriss, who supported the funding campaign for this study was quoted saying “I believe this study to be a critically important proof of concept for the medical approval of psilocybin for the treatment of depression, a condition I have personally struggled with for decades. How do we explain the incredible magnitude and durability of the effects? Treatment research with moderate to high doses of psychedelics may uncover entirely new paradigms for understanding and improving mood and mind. This is a taste of things to come from Johns Hopkins.”
Why are hallucinogens being preferred for mental health treatment?
In contrast to the traditional antidepressants that were administered to patients, hallucinogens are now being given importance. The reason could be because of the number of side effects that antidepressants have. These not only make a person feel numb but put a damper on them going about their daily life normally.
Allison Feduccia is the CEO of Psychedelic Support said to Vox “Mental health treatment hasn’t had a great breakthrough in many decades. Lots of people have been convinced to take a lot of antidepressant medications ... to help deal with stress, trauma, depression, and anxiety. But these substances have side effects, and they don’t always work out for people over time.” However, something to consider when it comes to the calming properties of hallucinogens is the placebo effect.
Is the placebo effect real?
The placebo effect basically aims to test if people are actually experiencing relief due to the drug they are taking or simply because they ‘think’ they are taking the drug. In order to see how prevalent this was, a study was conducted involving some 200 LSD and psilocybin microdosers. At random, some participants were chosen who would swap their usual drugs for placebos. Participants were not aware of what they were getting. After a month of taking the drug/placebo, depending on what each had got, various aspects such as cognition, well being etc were studied.
The results stunned everyone, as both microdosers, as well as those taking the placebo, reported feeling better. Garcia-Romeu, who helped to evaluate the research for the journal eLife said “This was a clever way to study a large number of microdosers in the current regulatory environment. The fact that so many placebo-takers reported benefits “calls into question the whole phenomenon of microdosing.”
This being said, as more and more people are resorting to microdosing in order to be more ‘in touch’ with themselves and life, what are the effects of it?
What are the effects of microdosing?
There are certain concerns that are associated with the phenomenon of taking hallucinogens in small doses. One is that the heart valves may get weakened over time. Another is that people may in some way get ‘immune’ to the doses if they take it for long periods of time. Conor Murray, a neuroscientist at UCLA said to National Geographic “If we introduce more of these types of substances, that might undercut their therapeutic efficacy when we really need them for medicine, such as for end-of-life distress.”
Doctors are also worried about the drugs causing impairment and thus inability to perform everyday tasks.