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Are you microdosing psychedelics? The benefits might be a placebo effect

Insights from the largest-ever placebo-controlled study of microdosing.

Are you microdosing psychedelics? The benefits might be a placebo effect
[Photo: serefozdemir/iStock; Annie Spratt/Unsplash]
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You know how taking small doses of  a psychedelic drug every few days is all the rage among a certain set of affluent types with good drug dealers? See: Ayelet Waldman’s book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life.

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A new study suggests that all the hype about microdosing might be more hype than reality. Researchers in London undertook the largest-ever placebo-controlled study of microdosing, and it suggests that all the creativity, uplift, and cognitive improvements may be a placebo effect.

The study’s design is creative, as is essential when studying a black-market psychedelic: Researchers found 191 people who were already microdosing, and then had them mix placebos in with their doses, without knowing which were which (the doses were barcoded). Participants took the pills for four weeks while undergoing cognitive testing and tracking their experiences, including feelings, mood, energy, creativity, and anxiety.

The psychoactive drug takers reported big benefits to their psychological well-being—but so did the placebo takers. “These findings suggest that the benefits are not due to the drug, but rather due to the placebo-like expectation effects,” said lead author Balázs Szigeti, a research associate at Imperial College London, U.K., in a news release.

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This was news to the microdosers. “Many participants who reported that they experienced positive effects while taking the placebo were shocked to learn after the study that they hadn’t been taking the real drug,” Szigeti added.

This finding is not a definitive answer—participants provided their own psychedelics, which negates any apples-to-apples comparisons of participants—but the results do raise doubts as to whether microdosing benefits most people. (It is conceivably possible that microdosing is very impactful on some, but not others.) Stay tuned for more research.