One Month of Psilocybin Microdosing Improves Mood and Mental Health, Study Suggests
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Microdosing may result in “small to medium-sized improvements” in mood and mental health, according to a new study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports,
The microdosers in the study generally reported less depression, stress, and anxiety after one month of use, compared to their non-microdosing peers.
The researchers, who were from the University of British Columbia, also found that “stacking” microdoses of psilocybin with the lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) and vitamin B3 improved the psychomotor abilities of older microdosers.
Given the high prevalence of mood and mental health disorders and the current dearth of research investigating stacking, the researchers say that this new study highlights areas of importance for further microdosing research.
Microdosers report greater improvements in depression, anxiety, and stress
For this study on microdosing, the researchers collected data from more than 1,100 adult participants via an iOS app. Some of these participants were also involved in an earlier, larger microdosing study conducted by the same researchers, while others were newly recruited for this analysis.
“This study is an extension of our earlier manuscript published in the same journal, and we have further publications in preparation that are based on this same study,” study author Joseph Rootman told Forbes in an interview. “Our team has also been working hard to develop the next version of the study which will be used to generate findings related to psychedelic microdosing for years to come.”
Using the iOS app, the participants each completed a 30-minute-long assessment at the study baseline, which was then repeated around one month later. The assessment included questionnaires designed to assess general positive and negative mood, as well as specific feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Participants were also asked about their past-month psychedelic drug use, with the non-drug users forming a control group. Supplementary analyses also separated out those who reported microdosing at baseline, so that researchers could compare those who started microdosing during the study period to the non-using control group.
The researchers found that the microdosers reported greater improvements in depression, anxiety, and stress by the one-month follow-up, as compared to the non-microdosing group. This trend held true even when the analyses were restricted to the approximately 600 participants who had not reported microdosing at baseline.
“Notably, the subgroup of respondents who reported mental health concerns at the time of baseline assessment exhibited an average reduction in depressive symptoms that resulted in a change from moderate to mild depression following approximately 30 days of microdosing psychedelics,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“Considering the tremendous health costs and ubiquity of depression, as well as the sizable proportion of patients who do not respond to extant treatments, the potential for another approach to addressing this deadly disorder warrants substantial consideration.”
Outside of specific mental health concerns, the researchers also found that microdosers tended to report greater increases in general positive mood and larger decreases in negative mood, compared to the non-microdosers.
The effects of “stacking” psilocybin
Interestingly, just 40% of the participants involved in this study reported taking psilocybin microdoses alone. Around 32% reported taking amounts of Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) alongside their psilocybin microdose, with a further 28% saying they regularly used psilocybin with Lion’s Mane and vitamin B3.
This practice, known as stacking, is normally motivated by the belief that Lion’s Mane mushrooms’ supposed cognitive-enhancing properties could complement the psilocybin microdose. Vitamin B3 is also believed to increase the bioavailability of psilocybin.
In this latest study, the researchers saw no significant differences between psilocybin alone, psilocybin with Lion’s Mane, and psilocybin with Lion’s Mane and vitamin B3 in any of the mood or mental health assessments.
The iOS app also included several in-app assessments of cognitive and psychomotor ability. In one of these tests, an alternating finger tap test designed to test psychomotor ability, microdosers once again demonstrated a more positive change in performance than non-microdosers over the study period.
However, looking more closely at the data, the researchers also found that older microdosers (over the age of 55) who stacked psilocybin, Lion’s Mane, and vitamin B3 also recorded greater improvements than their peers who took psilocybin alone, or who stacked with just Lion’s Mane. This trend was not seen among the younger participant group.
This specificity for improving psychomotor performance “warrants cautious interpretation”, the researchers say, as the lack of other studies on stacking means that these findings are not yet supported by other data.
Microdosing: powerful or placebo?
Studying microdosing is a difficult endeavor, as it can be difficult to design studies capable of parsing out real pharmacological drug effects from expectancy or placebo effects.
For example, in contrast to these current results, another recent study on LSD microdosing found that the practice produced negligible effects on mood and performance. In this study participants were blinded to what they were taking and told that it could be any of several drug types, including psychedelics, stimulants, or sedatives, in order to minimize any expectancy effects.
Another study published last year in eLife found that microdosers might not need to be given psychedelics to feel the benefits – they just need to believe that they’ve taken them.
This study involved nearly 200 participants, making it the largest placebo-controlled trial on psychedelics at the time. Participants were given either a placebo or microdoses of LSD or psilocybin and asked to report any effects felt over the next four weeks. While those who were given microdoses often reported improvement in various areas of wellbeing, the researchers also noted equal benefits among the participants taking placebos who thought they had been given psychedelics.
The researchers behind the eLife study say that this would suggest that at least some of the benefits of microdosing may be due to a placebo effect. However, they also stated that more clinical trials are needed on microdosing before any solid conclusions can be made.