by Isabelle Grabski
figures by MacKenzie Mauger

When you hear the term “psychedelics,” you might think of hallucinogenic and mystical experiences. Popular psychedelics include LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), magic mushrooms (containing the psychedelic psilocybin), and DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine, part of the spiritual medicine ayahuasca), all of which can cause intense psychological experiences colloquially known as “trips.” However, there is an emerging push within the scientific community to study these known recreational drugs as treatments for psychiatric conditions that could potentially be more effective with fewer side effects than traditional psychiatric medications.

This psychiatric interest in psychedelics is nothing new: in the 1950s and 60s, thousands of patients were experimentally given various psychedelics to treat alcoholism and other mental health disorders. It was only when the U.S. 1971 Controlled Substances Act was passed that much of this research came to a grinding halt. After a nearly 40 year pause in this work, scientists are beginning to resume this research. Landmark trials from 2014 and 2016 have already shown that LSD and psilocybin respectively improved mood and anxiety in patients with various life-threatening illnesses for up to a year after treatment, with many more studies underway. 

Alongside this renewed interest in psychedelics is an increasing popular approach known as microdosing. Microdosing is when patients take a dose of psychedelics that is too small to produce any perceptible effects, generally between 5 to 10% of a standard dose. Despite the small amount of drug taken, there is evidence to suggest that microdosing can still bring about some of the benefits observed with full-dose treatment without causing the intense and sometimes negative hallucinatory experiences. Nevertheless, some scientists are skeptical that these results are spurious, or worse, that microdosing may even be harmful. 

The potential mechanisms of microdosing

Figure 1: One potential mechanism for psychedelic drugs. The drug may bind to a molecular region known as the serotonin 2A receptor, and cause the cortex to become excited and form new neuronal connections. 

Psychedelics are known to primarily affect serotonin, a chemical messenger that helps nerve cells communicate with other cells in the body. Serotonin is popularly portrayed in the media as being responsible for happiness, but in reality, its functionality is much more complex and widespread. In fact, serotonin is associated not just with mood, but also with cognition, sleeping, eating, thermoregulation, memory, and even physiological processes like vomiting. 

Since serotonin is so widely important in the body, there are molecular regions called serotonin 2A receptors located throughout the central nervous system. Chemicals can bind to these receptors in order to stimulate or block the serotonin system. Although this mechanism is not fully understood, these receptors are believed to be the targets of psychedelics. One hypothesis is that when these drugs bind to the serotonin 2A receptors, the brain cortex, responsible for cognitive, sensory, and motor functions, becomes excited, ultimately leading to hallucinations and other effects. Some studies have even found psychedelics to increase neuroplasticity, which leads to the creation of more connections between neurons and could potentially explain the novelty of these intense psychological experiences. Microdosing is thus theorized to work in the same fashion, albeit to a milder degree.

Some research also suggests that microdosing may work by fighting inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the result of the body’s immune system protecting you from infection, but can cause damage when the immune system is activated without any real danger. Long-lasting or chronic inflammation is implicated in a number of disorders, including auto-immune diseases and even mental health conditions like depression. Studies on animals have shown anti-inflammatory effects from microdosing, leading some scientists to speculate that this could point to another potential mechanism of action.

The early research on microdosing

Research on microdosing is still new, and thus there are a relatively limited number of studies available to understand its effects on humans. As for 2020, the first clinical trials exploring microdosing as a treatment for mental health conditions are now underway. Until those results are available, most human research has been limited to surveys of those who have tried microdosing on their own.

These survey results have largely been positive. For example, in one international survey, 79% of respondents reported improvements in their mental health after microdosing. In other surveys, participants described experiencing better creativity and productivity, in addition to decreased levels of anxiety and depression. Although promising, these results must be taken with a grain of salt. Because these are surveys, there is no way to confirm or enforce the dosage, scheduling, and type of psychedelic used, and indeed, some studies have already noted that experiences can vary depending on these factors. Moreover, these results are susceptible to the so-called placebo effect, in which just the knowledge that you are taking some kind of a treatment can cause you to experience benefits, even if the treatment is not directly causally related to the effects. If this is the case, then microdosing might have very little to do with the reported improvements.

Figure 2: In one experiment, microdosed rats continued attempting to escape a pool even after a long period of time, whereas untreated rats gave up in the same time interval.

There has been some animal research to back these survey findings. In one prominent study, researchers at UC Davis administered microdoses of DMT to rats and observed responses similar to those arising from antidepressants. Both microdosed and untreated rats were placed in a pool with no escape, and the microdosed rats continued swimming in an attempt to escape after the untreated rats had already given up. This suggests some degree of improved resilience and optimism in the microdosed rats. Another study microdosed some rats with psilocin (another psychoactive component of magic mushrooms) and others with a different psychedelic called ketamine, and found both to mildly alleviate anxiety in rats experiencing a stressful maze. 

Results from animal research, of course, are not automatically transferable to humans. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that beneficial effects from psychedelics are plausible, spurring greater motivation for ongoing clinical trial research. 

Safety concerns

The question, however, is not just whether microdosing is effective, but also whether it’s safe. Until clinical trials are complete, we will not have a full answer, but there is already research to suggest that certain people may be vulnerable to negative side effects. In particular, some people may have psychotic episodes or other mental health issues triggered by taking psychedelics, especially if they have a history of psychosis or pre-existing risk for serious psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Although microdosing involves a much lower amount of the drug, it is still possible that the negative consequences may hold true.

Furthermore, survey research has revealed side effects specific to microdosing. Some people have reported unwanted symptoms such as migraines, over-stimulation, difficulty sleeping, physical discomfort, and sometimes even anxiety, despite the promise of these drugs to alleviate it. It is not yet well-understood how these symptoms relate to the exact dosage, scheduling, and type of drug taken, but they do show that negative effects can potentially occur. 

All in all, it is still far too early to say whether microdosing is a viable way to harness the potential of psychedelics for mental health treatment. Much more research needs to be done to understand not only how it works, but what the potential consequences and side effects are. If clinical trials confirm the safety and efficacy of microdosing psychedelics, these could represent a new avenue for mental health treatment. 


Isabella Grabski is a 3rd-year Ph.D. student in Biostatistics at Harvard University.

MacKenzie Mauger is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at Harvard Medical School, where she is studying the role of condensate formation in epigenetic memory. You can find her on Twitter as @MacKenzieMauger

Cover Image: “Beach Mushrooms” by vladeb is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

For More Information:

  • This review article summarizes the beneficial and harmful effects of microdosing.
  • Check out this article to learn about the potential mechanisms of microdosing. 
  • This article summarizes the current state of microdosing for psychiatric treatment.
  • To learn about potential therapeutic benefits of microdosing psychedelics, read this scientific paper.

28 thoughts on “Can Microdosing Psychedelics Improve Your Mental Health?

  1. Great stuff Isabelle and Mackenzie,

    Will be interesting to see the science play out on microdosing vs. macrodosing.

    What’s your bet?

  2. I have mild depression and an anxiety disorder. Would this have any good benefits for me or just negative? And what other health factors would not be beneficial when it comes to micro dosing? Has research improved the prompt towards more people trying this method?

    1. Psychedelics are still schedule 1 drugs in the U.S. meaning they are illegal at the federal level. This creates problems with reliable and safe sources for the drugs. Potency is not standardized, so 500mg of one mushroom vs. 500mg of another or a microdose of different types of LSD could produce extremely varied results. There are also safety concerns if the supplier is less than scrupulous.

      If you wanted to truly try microdosing, you might consider going to a state where marijuana is decriminalized and purchasing some edibles like THC gummies. These are standardized doses that could be cut to reliable microdoses. Remember, microdoses are supposed to be “subperceptual”. You should NOT feel “stoned”. Sometimes these drugs can intensify your symptoms temporarily. If you have a negative reaction, then microdosing is not for you.

      If you respond positively to THC without negative side effects, you might consider graduating to true psychedelics. You truly need to have someone sober that you trust with you during your first experiment. Save a second dose of whatever you’re trying in case you need medical attention, so that the doctor can know what you took. There are many articles and books about microdosing. Inform yourself. Again, the biggest hurdles are the risk of criminal prosecution and safe reliable suppliers. You might want to consider volunteering for a clinical trial of psychedelics at Johns Hopkins if you are in the Baltimore area. You might also consider a “retreat” in a country where psychedelics are legal. These are full dose experiences, but two treatments are showing amazing results treating depression, curing addictions, and helping patients with end of life anxiety.

      1. Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more with this suggestion. I wouldn’t ever direct anyone towards THC as an indicator or precursor to psychedelic use… I have been doing both for along time and they are totally different animals. You should absolutely use caution with either and furthermore I think you should use caution making suggestions like that.

        1. I agree fully. THC is a very different animal, to say the least. And there are significant qualitative differences between the THC from sativa and the THC from indica strains of cannabis.

        2. i agree. THC is the worst. i smoked cannabis, hash, and oil non stop everyday from the time i would wake up until i would go to sleep everyday for almost 20 years from the time i was 13 until 33. and when i said i would smoke it, snoop dogg wouldnt even beable to sit with me. my 1st joint of every morning would consist of around 1.5 to 2 grams. then i would smoke another ounce to a ounce and a half until nights end. i was addicted to it like a mad man. there was a time when things went down hill because of it and i lost everything because the addition got out of control where it was weed over anything. and i would get sick and violent if i didnt have it and ended up having an accident. when i woke up from my coma and ended up out of the hospital the 1st thing i did was light a joint and man did that ever hit me wrong. so wrong. it just made me feel weird and after that i never smoked it since.
          however psilocybin mushrooms had been something that i played with as a teenager and because i remembered back on how good i felt for weeks and months after a trip i ended up taking them again. and it changed my life for the better.
          so to get on point like you said THC as an indicator precursor to psychedelic use would be the worst thing anyone could do.

          1. May i ask what kind of dr did you see to monitor your micro dosing.. i feel i may have same issued of tolerance…

      2. Cannabis therapy is a different model altogether. No combination of THC and CBD (or any other cannabinoids) will result in the same therapeutic range of psilocybin potentials.

        It’s not interchangeable.

      3. Blue Ridge, you obviously have no first-hand experience with THC , magic mushrooms or LSD.
        Books and academia can certainly teach you a lot. However, first-hand experience is the greatest teacher. There are some things you just can’t get from a book/class/school/rade journal/survey/case study/website that *must* be experienced to really know what you’re talking about.

        If you truly care about the people you’re giving advice to, please consider refraining from giving this kind of advice every again.

    1. THC is nothing like mushrooms.

      Mushrooms have been very helpful for me while THC gives me terrible anxiety.

  3. I’ve been battling with moderate and often times severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for almost eight years now, and have had limited success with therapy and prescription drugs. I’ve been doing some research to determine whether it might be beneficial to microdose on shrooms. Some studies suggest that psychedelics may help to greatly alleviate symptoms of OCD, but research is extremely limited, so I’m wary of making any quick judgements. Although I’ve never personally tried shrooms or other psychedelic drugs, I’ve heard mostly positive things from friends of mine. My biggest concern, however is the that I could potentially have a “bad trip” that exacerbates rather than ameliorates my mental health problems. I’m not well educated on the likelihood of a experiencing a bad trip, but I’m aware that a safe environment and trustworthy people are crucial for avoiding a negative experience. I guess what I’m wondering is this: should I be worried about having a bad trip, and would it be worth the risk for me to microdose on shrooms in the hope that such an experience could help treat my OCD?

    1. I would just cool em up, make a little tea and just sip. Start with a couple sips and then try 3 so on and so forth. You would not be getting enough to send you into a “bad trip”. You are correct, environment is everything.

      So funny how mushrooms have been so demonized when in fact, FOR SOME, this could be huge in getting them off of a pill made by a lab coat. I truly believe if our country wasn’t ran by the large pharma companies tied in with the feds, we would be curing all sorts of stuff by now. With I could attach some articles here! Do your research. Was a cure for alcoholism back in the day up to the 70’s when the government shut it down. Hmmm 🤔

      1. And let me be clear, I’m not saying legalize psychedelics and have a bunch of people runnin around trippin out but if it can help people, mental health, my dad with his arthritis, kids stuck on a shitload of pills?! Why not… good luck!

    2. Hi Ethan – There is no tripping involved in micro-dosing. The right dose feels very light and engaging. Things are just a little crisper and nicer. Nothing more. I take .1gram and I’m 150 pounds. This is a very small dose but works for me. I’ve taken up to 1 gram at 1 time and never had a trip or anything close to it.

        1. I’m an addiction physician who recommends psilocybin for depression, and I personally take it.
          I have struggled with recurrent depressive tendencies and suicidal ideation my entire life. A year ago I strarted microdosing mushrooms. Started at 300-400mg (.3-.4g) of dried powder every other day. Within weeks there was a noticeable lightness of being. Less negativity. A year later, I have had no recurrence of depressive symptoms. I have never had a year without them. Now I take 200-250mg every other day (.2 -.25g). I don’t feel any side effects except a little tongue tingling. No psychedelic effects at the microdose.
          Alternatively – doses of 1500-2000mg (1.5-2g) one can have a very mild psychedelic journey. Your vision is enhanced/colors more vivid/love of nature and the intense giggles for hours. It is also a very therapeutic experience.
          I have yet to do a full psychedelic dose but plan to. THIS IS AN AMAZING fungi. So much better than SSRIs like prozac.

  4. I have schizoaffective bi-polar disorder.is it safe for me to try psychedelics in controlled environment.i have been taking meds for last 5 years but I have not improved much. I am in indian defence forces and been suffering since last 6 years. Plz help.

    1. I would be cautious with schizo types doing this, their issue is overactivity of their dopaminergic system. I would go for things that increase GABA. Probably Magnesium Threonate or BiGlycinate perhaps.

  5. I’m on my 3rd week of microdosing and it has been a night and day difference for me. I have been dealing with anxiety and depression for years with antidepressants. I have stopped the antidepressants completely so it’s a life change for me. I could tell immediately after dosing. I’m lucky it’s legal to buy in the city close to me. I don’t plan to continue after another week unless I need to. I wish I could explain how light, happy and clear I feel. I’ve taken about 7 doses. No anxiety or depression after the 2nd dose. It’s really amazing!

    1. This is promising to hear. As Bella asked could you provide a bit more detailed information about dosing and type. Thank you.

    2. Wow! I just found out about the benefits of micro dosing and finally I can see a tiny bit of light in a very dark tunnel. I have major depression and recently an episode of psychosis stemming from deep rooted emotional trauma. Meds aren’t helping and therapy around where I live is limited. I live in Louisiana and I need to find treatment centers anywhere that will help me. I don’t know where to look though. I feel like I’m drowning and really need help because I know I’m better than this.

  6. Microdosing mushrooms was been amazing for me. Started taking a very small dose ( .1 gram) most days, a few years ago. I do think need to adjust dose based on a number of factors, 1 being weight. If you miss the mark it is really no big deal just take a little more until you notice something. Pretty hard to overdo up to 1 gram. Had huge benefits for me. Felt they were very healing for my brain and not just temporarily. Grew them for a while and then just sort of taper off because I felt like I had gotten from them what I needed. Take them occasionally at night before bed and wake up really nicely.

    THC and anything marijuana related, gives me terrible anxiety so I strongly disagree with comment above about trying THC as a substitute.

  7. Microdosing on THC is absolutely NOT the same as microdosing on magic mushrooms or LSD.
    It is inaccurate and bad advice to tell people to try microdosing on THC as a substitue to the actual magic mushroom or LSD. Even microdosing on LSD is not the same as microdosing on Magic mushrooms.

    First of all, I advocate following the laws in your locality. Having said that, if someone desires to microdose on magic mushrooms aka psilocybin mushrooms, the following suggestions *may* be of interest:

    Keep a journal/diary/log book of your experiences with microdosing every day, even on the days you don’t microdose. Do this for at least a couple of months. (I recommend actually keeping one indefinitely.) In this way you will have a much clearer picture and idea of what works for you and if something didn’t go the way you planned, you have a better chance of figuring out why and how to tweak it to your maximum advantage and benefit.

    Continously research microdosing and magic mushrooms as you’re microdosing.

    Also, do yourself a huge favor and buy yourself a digital mini scale. (They are about $8 to $15 on Amazon). You want to weigh each microdosage to avoid unpleasant surprises and any unnecessary mistakes. It’s easy to try to cut corners and eyeball your dosage, don’t give into that temptation. This is how a lot of people get into trouble, because they don’t measure their dosages correctly.

    Keep in mind the more consecutive days you ingest the mushroom, the more of a bit of a tolerance you’ll develop, which you can make work for you. Also, taking your microdose after a *full* & *complete* meal will lessen the chances of you having any kind body load effects.

    So you may want to think about doing 1 day ON a microdose and then 2 days OFF.
    Or 2 days ON and 3 days OFF. Some people microdose for 5 to 7 days in a row and then take 1 or 2 weeks off.

    For example, I’ve microdosed for 5 days in a row (3 times a day after a full complete meal). Due to a slight tolerance building, I’ll increase my dosage by 0.10 grams dried (that’s ZERO point then grams).

    If you are brand new to microdosing magic mushrooms start off with 0.10 grams dried once a day for a few days and then take a week or two off and repeat the cycle. Be sure you are off from work/school and you can stay at home so you can monitor yourself just in case the first 4 to 5 times you microdose, so you can find your sweet spot as far as dosage.

    All dosages below are dried mushroom.

    Day 1: 0.10 grams one to three times a day after every *full* meal (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
    DAY 2= 0.20 grams same way
    Day 3= 0.30 grams “”
    Day 4 = 0.40 grams “”
    Day 5 = 0.50 grams “”
    Day 6 = 0.60 grams “”
    Day 7 = 0.70 grams “”
    Week 2 OFF
    Repeat

    Some weeks I’ll break that up into 2 or 3 days ON and then the same amount of days OFF.

    Might also want to be sure not to take the microdose after 3 pm, if you find that you are having trouble sleeping with them. Also, be sure to space your microdoses properly, so that you don’t do too much too close together. Maybe give yourself 4 to 6 hours inbetween.

    If taken early in the morning, they can be a great boost for work outs and productivity. However, some people are able to sleep just fine having microdosed just a few hours before bedtime. Everyone is different.

    Microdosing mushrooms is *NO* substitue for mental health counseling, but can work very well in combination with it.

    These are all just opinions and information, and may/may not be of interest/use to you. Everything is up for debate and for entertainment purposes only. I am no medical/health professional.

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