Microdosing Psychedelics for Mental Health: Going Beyond “Turning On, Tuning In and Dropping Out”

Psychedelics were once viewed as hippie counterculture drugs aimed at expanding one’s consciousness and awareness by “tuning in” to one’s inner self and advocating for individuals to detach themselves from conventional societal structures, institutions and anything that seemed oppressive or limiting.  Today a new generation of scientists, healers and people in general are awakening to the physiological and mental health benefits of psychedelic medicine.

What are psychedelics?

Psychedelics (also known as entheogens) are substances that can profoundly alter perceptions, thoughts and emotions.  They can induce unique and transformative experiences, expand our awareness and provide a different lens through which we view the world.  Common psychedelics are Psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD (acid), Mescaline (Peyote or San Pedro Cactus), DMT and Ayahuasca.

How do psychedelics work?

Psychedelics improve your brain’s neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change in structure or functioning response to experience - The Heritage Dictionary 5th Edition) and enables neurogenesis (the creation and development of neurons).

Three things happen in the brain when we take psychedelics:

  • Serotonin receptors called 5-HT2A are stimulated.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with mood, cognition and sleep to name a few.  People with depression and anxiety, those suffering with PTSD and/or addiction have low levels of serotonin.  Historic and current treatment trends are to treat these conditions with SSRIs which boost levels of serotonin available to brain cells - on a limited basis, for a limited time.  It can take weeks for improvement to occur, if at all.

    With psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD, scientists can see changes in brain neuron connectivity within 30 minutes and these changes are not temporary.  Below is a diagram showing the amount of neural connections in the brain with Placebo and with psilocybin.  (Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris et al., 2016)
  • Activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN) is dampened.  Our DMN is a set of brain regions and pathways that exhibit strong activity when a person is not focused on what is happening around them.  DMN is our brain’s “auto pilot” and in people with depression and anxiety is associated with higher levels of rumination involving regrets, failures, shame, anger, worry, anxiety and dread.  Below is a diagram depicting the amount of neural connections as evidenced by fMRI in a group being given placebo vs. one given psilocybin.  (https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsif.2014.0873)

Psychedelics are possibly the most immediate way to interrupt this rumination process, creating new connections and enabling us to see and feel things from a new perspective, sometimes quite suddenly.

  • Transmission of glutamate (responsible for cognition) is increased throughout the brain.  This neurotransmitter plays a major role in shaping learning and memory.

What is Microdosing?

Microdosing involves taking small, sub-perceptual or non-hallucinogenic doses of psychedelics on a regular basis.  The goal is to experience subtle benefits without the more intense hallucinogenic effects often experienced with larger doses.  A typical microdose is equal to 1/10th of a full dose and is taken 3-5 days per week.

There are several commonly accepted protocols:

  • Stamets Protocol - 4 days on and 3 days off
  • Fadiman Protocol - 1 day on and 2 days off
  • Every other day
  • Intuitive dosing

The general recommendation is to do a 30-90 day “round” followed by a month off to integrate any lessons learned during the dosing protocol.

Why Microdose?

Some immediate benefits reported are:

  • Improved energy and motivation
  • Increased alertness and focus
  • Increased self awareness
  • Improved sleep and dreams
  • Increased mood
  • Improved sex drive
  • Increased empathy and patience
  • Long term benefits reported are:
  • Decreased depression
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased ADHD
  • Decreased burn-out and irritability
  • Decreased addictions
  • Heightened spiritual awareness
  • Decreased sadness, loneliness, fear and apathy

Microdosing Safely:

Psychedelics are very safe and pose little to no risk of dependence or addiction.  (https://www.drugscience.org.uk/mcda-comparison-of-drug-and-alcohol-harms-in-the-uk)

As with any medicine, certain considerations must be taken when thinking about microdosing including:

  • Contraindications with other medications
  • Exacerbations of certain mental health disorders
  • Proper dosing
  • Regional legality
  • Ability to function in daily activities

Conclusion:

Microdosing can be a great way to introduce psychedelics into one’s life gently but must be done with thoughtfulness to gain the greatest and longest lasting benefit.  Each one of us brings our own unique physiology, mindset and experience level to the microdosing experience.  It takes intention and attention to build one’s relationship with psychedelics. There is no one “right” way to microdose as it is as much an art as it is a science and each journey is as unique as its journeyer.

Psychedelics are not a “cure all” but they can be a catalyst to helping us activate our best self, loving ourself, loving others and our shared existence.  When used with thoughtfulness, intention and in conjunction with other powerful tools like mindfulness, therapy, journaling, exercise and nutrition we can maximize our potential and begin to heal parts of our psyche we once thought incapable of healing.

References:

The Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition

Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo: Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris et al., 2016

Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks: G. Petri , P. Expert , F. Turkheimer , R. Carhart-Harris , D. Nutt , P. J. Hellyer and F. Vaccarino, December 2014 (https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsif.2014.0873)

MCDA Comparison of Drug and Alcohol Harms in the UK: Professor David Nutt, Leslie King et al., 2010

Author Bio:

Sarah is currently enrolled in the Integrative Mental Health Coaching program through the Nickerson Institute.  Sarah has been practicing nursing for 30 years and has recently partnered with a therapist to form Transformative Solutions LLC.  They will be providing psychedelic assisted therapy, microdosing coaching, traditional therapy, mental health coaching and couples Rekindle weekend experiences using a powerful heart opening medicine.  In her spare time Sarah enjoys walking on beaches with her husband of 28 years, spending time with her 2 grown kids and 3 grandkids and being mauled and slobbered on by her 3 big canine kids.

Blog Post written by:

The Nickerson Institute of Integrative Health Training deeply appreciates the contribution of this article from our guest health professional. If you would like to submit an article for consideration, please visit https://www.nickersoninstitute.com/blog-contributor-form

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