What is microdosing?
Microdosing is the regular use of small doses of psychedelic drugs. At these small doses the hallucinatory effects are not present, but there is considerable amount of anecdotal evidence that microdosing can improve mood, creativity and psychological well-being.
Is microdosing backed by scientific evidence?
No, it is not. Currently, there is hardly any mention of psychedelics microdosing in the scientific literature. There are numerous experience reports pledging that microdosing can improve psychological well-being and cognitive functioning, but these reports should not be confused with high quality scientific evidence.
Why experience reports about the efficiency of microdosing are dismissed by the medical and scientific community?
Personal accounts are a weak form of scientific evidence, because they lack placebo control. The placebo effect has been demonstrated in a wide variety of medical contexts, hence double blinded placebo controlled clinical trials are the gold standard in medicine. To prove that a treatment is effective, it must be demonstrated that it yields better results than a placebo treatment. While this seems like a low bar, but placebo-like expectation effects can be surprisingly strong in particular for subjective outcomes such as psychological well-being.
Note that the positive personal reports are compatible with the possibility that microdosing is ineffective. It is possible that the microdose itself does nothing, nonetheless microdosers feel benefits due the placebo effect. Therefore, the real question is whether microdosers feel better because of the expectation of feeling better (i.e. placebo effect) or because of the pharmacological action of the microdose.
Why placebo control is especially important in microdosing studies?
It is likely that most individuals who decide to microdose would only take the legal risks and make the effort to microdose if they expect some benefit in return. Moreover, it is also likely that most microdosers have previous experiences with psychedelics that can create a positive mindset about these drugs. A strong expectation of a benefit and favorable associations constitute the perfect basis for a strong placebo response, thus, placebo-like expectation effects are likely to bias the anecdotal reports and studies on microdosing without control for expectations should be interpreted with caution.
What will this study add to the science of microdosing?
In our study, voluntary participants will microdose at home on their own initiative without the study team’s supervision. However, the unique component of this study is that we developed a procedure how microdosers can implement their own placebo control at home. We call this a ‘self-blinding’ or ‘DIY placebo’ study design. To the best of our knowledge, such self-blinding design is a novel concept for observational studies within medicine. We hope to aggregate data from microdosers following our design, thus, producing placebo-controlled data on psychedelics microdosing.
Who can participate?
This is a global study where all testing is done via the internet. Therefore anyone can participate who satisfies the following requirements: must be at least 18 years old, have a good understanding of the English, have prior experience with psychedelics, agree to follow the study’s manual and provide us with a valid email address. See further information on the sign-up page and manual.
Is there any data collected that could reveal my perosnal identity?
All obtained data is anonymous, we will not collect IP address and no personally identifying information will be collected. No data is shared outside of our academic team.
How the ‘self-blinding’ / ‘DIY placebo control’ is set up?
Briefly, microdoses will be placed into non-transparent gel capsules and empty, placebo capsules will be prepared the same way. Thus, participants will not know if a capsule contains a microdose or if it is an empty, placebo capsule at the time of taking. However, with information encoded by QR codes (smartphone readable 2-dimensional barcodes), we will be able to learn retrospectively which capsules were which at the end of the study.
How complex is to set up the placebo control?
While the set up process consists of several steps, but each of them are broken down to simple, easy to follow instructions. Overall, setting up the placebo control takes about an hour.
Will the study team provide the psychedelics? What psychedelics are studied?
No, the study team does not provide psychedelics, participants have to use their own. Currently in our protocol you can use:
The setup process is similar in all cases, but not identical, see the 'Study manual' tab for more details.
Is this study encouraging microdosing?
No, we are not encouraging people to microdose. Participants will have to take part based on their own initiative and they will have to use their own substance. Our intention is to observe people who already use psychedelics and to allow them to make their self experimentation scientifically more meaningful by adding the self-blinding component.
What are the pros and cons of this self-blinding study design?
The downside is that the study is not as well controlled as it ideally could be. For example, there will be uncertainty in the exact amount of psychedelics that participants will take with each microdose. The upside is that (hopefully) many more people will participate than what would be feasible in a clinical study. Having a large sample size (i.e. many participants) will be critical to differentiate between the true effects and false positives.
What is the hypothesis?
The central hypothesis of this study is that microdosing can increase psychological well-being and cognitive functioning in healthy subjects. In parallel, we also examine whether microdosing induces any negative effects such as anxiety.
How the effects of microdosing will be measured?
Throughout the study participants are required to complete a set of online questionnaires and to play a selection of online cognitive games. The questionnaires focus on examining the psychological state of participants, while the online games have been designed to measure cognitive performance.
How long is the study running?
We have now closed phase 1 of the study, the data collected so far will be published in a scientific journal Q1 of 2020. The study remains open and you can still participate. Data collected in this phase 2 will be analysed and published at a later date, likely in 2021.
What happens if the study shows benefits?
It is important to recognize that our study is neither a conventional clinical trial nor plain personal experimentation. Rather it is somewhere in between and as such the strength of the resulting evidence will be also somewhere in between. If we find promising effects above placebo, then such results can be used to apply for further research at medical and scientific agencies. Therefore, this study could be an important step on the long road towards establishing the possible role of microdosing in science and medicine.