There is a very fine line between drugs that have a nootropic purpose and drugs that are used for a recreational reason. However, there are a few ‘nootropic’ substances which do not necessarily have the “Go” from the medical experts but still appear very promising when it comes to therapy and cognitive enhancing. Those substances are widely known as psychedelics.

Now I know what you may be thinking: “Psychedelics are for junkies, I’m not getting addicted to that and ruining my life.” Well, let me tell you that there is a great difference between psychedelic drugs such as LSD and addictive stimulants such as cocaine. Psychedelics have been used ever since the 1960s as creativity and divergent thinking enhancers. The downside to psychedelics and the reason why others such as piracetam are preferred instead is that they have some slight, but pretty important side effects. Indeed, at a common dose for recreational purposes, you will definitely feel a boost in your creativity and cognitive thinking. The problem is that you may also be accompanied by a feeling of intoxication which may or may not render you unable to get any actual work done.

Microdosing LSD – An Under-Researched Nootropic

On my journeys around the Internet, I noticed that a new trend regarding psychedelic use had sprung forward, which is called microdosing. The idea of microdosing is to reap the cognitive and creative benefits of these drugs without feeling like a drunken person who shouldn’t have ordered that extra beer. The result would be something like a typical nootropic user that is sober and functions like a normal human being.

Why is it called “microdosing,” you may ask? Well, it’s actually pretty literal: you make the dose lower than one would use for recreational purposes – which brings it at around 1/10 of the original dose. If you take just enough so that the effects won’t be noticeable, you will find yourself subtly but surely with your creativity levels in the rising and with your cognitive functions much more elevated than in your normal state. “Less is more,” and in this case, with the dosage below the normal threshold for recreational purpose, you will no longer feel the inebriating effects of the psychedelic substance. The hope is that microdosing will be able to enhance your thinking while any impairment to the daily activities of the users is being diminished.

Microdosing is definitely nothing new under the sun. Albert Hoffman, the person who actually created LSD, usually used microdoses of LSD instead of the usual recreational doses. He would frequently point out that, sadly, microdosing isn’t as researched in psychedelics as is should be, and that people should definitely start looking more into this. It wasn’t until 2015 when the popularity of microdosing suddenly started popping up.

So how does microdosing work? Well, first, you need to get your hands on some psychedelics that will have an influence on your serotonin receptors (for example LSD, psilocybin, 2C-B or mescaline). These psychedelics have not had their impact very thoroughly researched simply because the government had them restricted as illegal drugs. At the same time, science seems to keep pushing against these limitations, and now we are able to find out that psychedelics can have a great role in improving the condition of the human mind.

Psychedelics that are generally used for microdosing act by ‘tickling’ the serotonin receptors (5-HT or 5-hydroxytryptamine). Therefore, before trying to go deeper into microdosing, we need to understand the role of the serotonergic system and how it affects the way we learn. Our nervous system has a large number of special serotonin receptors which can regulate everything from our mood to our gastrointestinal mobility. However, the receptors which are most involved with the process of learning and the memory are the 5-HT ones (1A, 2A, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7). In an individual who has not been previously intoxicated, the serotonin molecules would have bound themselves to these receptors, stimulating them and the neurons directly connected to them. As a result, they will also directly influence his/her memory, cognition and learning ability. The receptor mostly responsible for the cognitive boost is believed to be the 5-HT2A receptor, which acts as an agonist to the psychedelic.

I found a study made in 2003 by John A. Harvey from Drexel University. He didn’t use humans, but he used rabbits to test their cognitive response to LSD when administered microdoses. Harvey used a dosage which would average to 1µg/kg in humans, which means that the average person would take 70-100µg (which is actually the common dose used for recreational purposes. His result was that when the rabbits were on LSD, they would show greater cognitive skills during tests than the ones that have not been administered the drug. A similar research was done in 1966, when the LSD was replaced with mescaline, and the subjects were actual humans (mathematicians and engineers). Before taking any psychedelics, each of them was faced with problems which they had some issues solving. However, upon being administered 200 mg of mescaline, they found it much easier to make progress on the problems. Out of 27 subjects, only 4 of them couldn’t reach a solution while the others even came up with innovative ways to solve them.

Safety and Side Effects

As I previously mentioned, microdosing can be put into action with any type of serotonergic psychedelics. However, some of them are more popular and researched than others. A popular choice for users is generally found in the form of Psilocybin or LSD. As long as we already know the threshold, it can be fairly easy for us to microdose it to the point where it shows nootropic properties (although the exact dose will vary from person to person). 

Side effects can also vary, depending on the body of the user. Since it is a drug, it goes without saying that it will come with a number of effects, both positive and negative. There isn’t enough scientific and experimental evidence to support the claims for using this drug, so one needs to acknowledge that this information is purely anecdotal and it has to be regarded accordingly. Having said that, here is a couple of benefits that have been reported over microdosing with LSD or any other psychedelic:

  • It enhances cognition and creativity
  • It increases wakefulness and energy
  • It improves motivation and concentration
  • It improves the brain’s ability to learn a new material
  • It invokes positive changes in the mood
  • It improves empathy when interacting with others
  • It showed better performance and stamina when users took part in athletic activities

The positive effects seem to be charming, don’t they? At the same time, there are also some side effects that you need to keep in mind:

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Poor quality of sleep and insomnia
  • Personality changes that remain permanent (can be positive or negative)

It is true that addiction or withdrawal symptoms are something many people worry about when it comes to psychedelics. However, the ones that are most commonly used, both for recreational purposes of for nootropic reasons, haven’t displayed such addictive properties. One needs to understand that microdosing is not yet an exact science. While some psychedelics can enhance the user’s cognition, it may also make it harder for them to think analytically and clearly. Many people may find it harder to concentrate on the task at hand while microdosing and the nature of psychedelics may lead the users to focus on their own, internal problems instead of concentrating on the external ones.

Indeed, microdosing is supposed to prevent these effects when taken in lower doses that are less impairing. However, there is no guarantee that they will not happen. Some users may find microdosing of little to no benefits, which states my point that each result will vary depending on the individual.

Using microdosing for enhancing your cognitive skills is by no means a traditional kind of nootropic – it is actually far from it. Since there is no clinical evidence to prove its efficiency, users must be very cautious when using it. Still, the psychedelics that fall into the “common column” are generally considered safe to use, especially if they’re in low doses and do not cause physical and mental impairment. You will also need to be aware of the laws regarding psychedelic use where you live. These substances are still debated for being used for medical purposes, so while it may be legal in one country, it may be illegal in another.

At the same time, microdosing can still offer a fair amount of promise for its users. Due to the fact that it is becoming more and more popular, there is a great chance that it will be more thoroughly researched and offer us a glimpse of how these psychedelics actually work.    

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