Microdosing lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) involves taking a very small dose of the substance. Advocates of LSD microdosing claim the practice has numerous health benefits, such as improving cognition and mood and reducing pain. However, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to prove these claims are true.
Microdosing involves taking 5–10% of the amount necessary to induce psychoactive effects. Generally, the practice also means taking this amount at regular or semiregular intervals. While it may offer some benefits for mental health conditions, studies examining microdosing LSD are limited.
Keep reading to learn more about microdosing LSD, including the potential benefits and risks. This article also looks at microdosing LSD versus other psychoactive compounds, such as psilocybin.
While microdosing refers to a common process in developing medications, it also involves taking low doses of psychedelic drugs. In pharmacology, microdosing is a practice that aids in drug development and drug selection, where an individual takes a very small dose of the proposed medication. Researchers can then assess its pharmacokinetics, or how it interacts with the body.
In a pharmacological context, microdosing typically involves taking around 1% of a drug’s potential pharmacological dose. In the context of psychedelics, such as LSD, microdosing involves someone taking 5–10% of the dose that elicits psychoactive effects.
Psychedelics are a class of drugs that cause complex psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects by activating the serotonin 5-HT 2A receptors. Serotonin is a hormone that causes feelings of happiness and well-being and helps stabilize mood. Examples of psychedelics include LSD, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, commonly known as DMT.
The practice of microdosing psychedelics dates back to at least the early 16th century, when a Spanish friar noted that Aztecs took low doses of psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms, to relieve fevers and rheumatism. The study of psychedelics gained popularity following the discovery of LSD in 1943. By some accounts, LSD helped researchers achieve several major scientific breakthroughs, including the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. The late Apple founder Steve Jobs even credits the substance as playing a major role in his life and achievements.
Yet despite mounting evidence suggesting that taking psychedelics may improve elements of creativity and cognition, research in the field has been stagnant due to government restrictions over concerns regarding recreational drug use. To date, there is little to no statistically-significant scientific evidence to support or reject the use of psychedelics or microdosing for positive health benefits.
Microdosing LSD involves taking small doses of LSD that are not strong enough to induce psychedelic effects, cause intoxication, or significantly impact consciousness. Typically, a person takes these small doses of psychedelics routinely, such as every set number of hours or days for an extended period. There is no set amount of LSD that someone should take when microdosing. However, the dosage is often around one-tenth to one-twentieth of a recreational dose.
According to a 2019 review, most people who microdose psychedelics, such as LSD, tend to follow one of three microdosing rules:
- taking microdoses for two consecutive days following two consecutive days of nondosing
- taking microdoses Monday through Friday and not any on the weekends
- taking microdoses every other day
In the review, most people engaged in microdosing psychedelics in periods lasting between 1 week and 2 years. The review also concluded that around half of the participants created their own protocol around microdosing.
It is important to note that researchers have yet to establish whether microdosing LSD has any true health benefits. In one of the few modern studies exploring microdosing LSD, researchers found that it had no impact on mental focus.
Most human studies exploring the use of microdosing psychedelics are also considered unreliable. This is because they usually rely on
However, anecdotal evidence and some preliminary research suggest microdosing LSD may have numerous benefits. These include the ability to:
- enhance cognitive processes and abilities
- increase energy levels
- improve emotional balance and mood
- reduced anxiety
- help treat depression
- help treat addiction and reduce substance misuse
- help reduce pain
- help improve migraine and cluster headaches
- help reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder
- enhance senses
- improve cardiovascular endurance
- increase sleep quality
- reduce sensitivity to trauma
Additionally, a 2020 study found:
- 21% of respondents said they engaged in microdosing to help treat depression
- 7% microdosed to help reduce anxiety
- 9% microdosed to treat other mental health conditions
- 2% used the practice to reduce or cease substance use
Though modern-day research is very limited, between the 1950s and 1970s, researchers also explored the use of LSD to treat various psychological disorders, such as:
- psychosomatic conditions, where physical symptoms occur without a medical explanation
There is no set rule as to whether microdosing any psychedelics is a type of substance misuse.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) states that substance misuse in terms of hallucinogenics is “A problematic pattern of hallucinogen (other than Phencyclidine) use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period.” By this definition, microdosing is not substance misuse.
Therefore, microdosing psychedelics is technically not substance misuse because it does not involve taking drugs in excess or for an unintended purpose. However, authorities have still classified psychedelics as illegal drugs in the United States. Additionally, most psychedelics remain illegal throughout the world, despite increasing evidence of their potential benefits in treating numerous conditions.
It is unclear whether microdosing LSD has any specific risks or if it increases the risk of addiction. However, some studies involving rodents found that taking a low dose of LSD every other day for several months resulted in side effects. These side effects lasted weeks following the end of microdosing and included:
- increased aggression
- scruffy appearance
- trouble or inability to feel pleasure
Drugs that activate serotonin receptors can also potentially cause serotonin syndrome, which can cause:
- skin jerking
- hyperthermia, when the body has issues maintaining its normal temperatures
In general, health experts do not consider LSD in very small or recreational doses as addictive. The substance also has no links with compulsive use.
Other studies, some using rodents, such as rats, found that in some cases, microdosing LSD caused:
- temperature regulation problems
- numbness or tingling
- reduced appetite
- gastrointestinal symptoms
- issues with focusing
- reduced energy
- reduced mood
- cognitive problems, such as racing thoughts, poor memory, and confusion
Very little research supports the benefits or side effects of microdosing psychedelics such as LSD and magic mushrooms. However, in some self-reported surveys, people who microdose magic mushrooms reported the following effects:
- increased creativity
- helped manage stress
- improved visual and language capabilities
- improved productivity
- increased spiritual awareness
- increased energy
- improved mood
- improved cognition and concentration
- reduced anxiety and depression
- helped treat addiction
- reduced pain
Clinical experiments in the 1950–1970s also explored the use of magic mushrooms to treat:
In self-reported surveys, some people who microdosed magic mushrooms also reported experiencing negative side effects, such as:
- physical discomfort
- emotional difficulty
- cognitive interference
While people have only become aware of the mind-altering potential of LSD, people around the world have used magic mushrooms for thousands of years for both ceremonial and medical purposes.
Experts discovered LSD in 1943, and it belongs to the psychedelic class of drugs alongside magic mushrooms.
Microdosing LSD involves taking very small doses of LSD routinely, typically for an extended period of time. Proponents of microdosing LSD and anecdotal evidence suggest the practice may have health benefits, such as improving mood and cognition and treating mental health disorders and addiction.
However, these claims require more research before scientists can come to any strong conclusions, and experts have discovered reports of negative effects following the stopping of microdosing. These include hyperreactivity and increased aggression.
To date, research in microdosing relies heavily on self-reporting and self-medicating, so scientists must continue to study the effects of LSD in larger, more controlled studies before making firm conclusions regarding the potential risks and benefits of microdosing this substance.