The idea of microdosing psychedelic drugs has been around for a long time. But thanks to its trendiness among high-performance tech startup types and creative professionals, researchers are taking a new look at microdosing’s possible therapeutic potential. As with other illicit substances, there’s more anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of microdosing than hard data. But a new study is lending some weight to the proliferating stories of its many benefits. Publishing their findings in Chemical Neuroscience, researchers from UC Davis say that microdosing DMT produces positive effects on mood and anxiety.
New Research Points to Therapeutic Uses of Psychedelic Drugs in Small Doses
N,N-dimethyltryptamine, better known as DMT, can produce some of the most intense psychedelic experiences in existence. DMT naturally occurs in both plants and animals, but humans have traditionally extracted it from the shrub Psychotria viridis by brewing a tea the Quechua people call ayahuasca. DMT is also commonly available in crystalized form, which people smoke. Both methods, brewing tea, and smoking, produce powerful hallucinogenic states. But a trip from drinking ayahuasca will last for a long time. Smoking DMT will produce a short, but extremely intense trip.
Neither of those methods, however, can produce the long-term therapeutic results increasingly associated with microdosing, researchers suggest. Microdosing won’t—or shouldn’t—produce a hallucinogenic state. But researchers hypothesize that tripping isn’t necessary to obtain a psychedelic drug’s healing benefits. And that’s exactly what UC Davis neuroscientists set out to demonstrate.
DMT Microdoses Made Lab Rats Less Depressed, Anxious and Fearful
Since DMT, like other hallucinogenic compounds, is broadly illegal, it’s not really possible for publicly-funded researchers to conduct clinical trials with humans. But there are no laws against dosing rodents with drugs. So, using rats, UC Davis researchers compared the effects of microdosing DMT with the effects of a large single dose.
Researchers looked specifically at how DMT doses affected rats’ behavior in four areas: mood, anxiety, cognition and social interaction. Comparing the chronic microdose group to the one-shot large dose group, researchers observed distinct behavioral and cellular effects. “We found that chronic, intermittent, low doses of DMT produced an antidepressant-like phenotype and enhanced fear extinction learning without impacting working memory or social interaction,” the study concludes.
In other words, microdosing produced positive effects on mood, while still allowing rats to function normally. But it didn’t seem to make the rats more creative or improve their cognitive function, as creative professionals claim. As for the rats who received one large dose of DMT, they tripped hard, researchers say, and were not nearly as functional or as anxiety-free as the microdose rats.
Could Psychedelic Drugs Replace Prescription Anti-Depressants?
James Fadiman wrote the book on psychedelic drug use—literally. That 2011 tome, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, brought the concept of microdosing into the popular imagination. Since publishing that book, Fadiman says a steady stream of successful microdosing stories keeps trickling out of the San Francisco area. “It’s an extremely healthy alternative to Adderall,” Fadiman says.
But could psychedelics be a healthy alternative to other prescription drugs aimed at improving mood and cognition? That’s a question researchers are keen to answer, especially as more people seem to be answering it for themselves. Mood and anxiety disorders are among the leading causes of disability around the world. And antidepressants remain one of the most highly prescribed medications in the United States. Yet for many patients, these medications prove to be ineffective. Developing novel treatment strategies is therefore a critical clinical need. Yet peer-reviewed studies into microdosing psychedelics, despite its increasing popularity, are scarce.