The Lab

A Case Study on Microdosing and Self-Care

SUMMARY

This case study involves a middle-aged man, Steven*, who had quite a bit of experience with high-dose psychedelics, including ketamine, ayahuasca, and MDMA.

Despite considerable spiritual and therapeutic work, he still found himself incredibly distracted and unable to engage in a number of healthy habits.

Only after establishing a psilocybin microdosing regimen was Steven able to focus on acts of self-care, such as healthy eating and meditation.

Microdosing facilitated shifts in his mindset and well-being, which high-dose psychedelics had been unable to achieve. Steven’s case report highlights the potential of self-care and microdosing as a supplement to full-dose psychedelic experiences.

Background on Case Study

Steven is a longtime entrepreneur. After running his own business for 30 years, he described himself in “a state of burnout, a kind of chronic fight or flight [mode].” He had been on antidepressants since 1992 — and though Steven did not explicitly identify as having depression or anxiety, he reported experiencing overwhelm, lack of joy, and a sense of emotional “flatness.”

Over the course of a couple of years, Steven participated in 25-30 ketamine sessions, in an attempt to improve his mental state.

He recounts that the medicine “started to help me just disengage a little bit from the ego, and it was really very powerful in that regard. But I didn’t necessarily have the anti-depressant results from it.”

The high-dose ketamine sessions were impactful—but not enough to initiate significant changes in Steven’s everyday wellbeing.

“It was really interesting and from a personal development perspective, I really enjoyed it,” he says of the high-dose psychedelic journeys. Yet, in their aftermath, he continued to struggle with self-care. Though Steven wanted to meditate, eat healthier, and work out more often, anxious thoughts would overwhelm and distract him from engaging in healthy habits. He experienced a great deal of mental resistance around self-care, which felt like a “chore”—something he was supposed to do, rather than something he wanted to do.

How Microdosing Made a Difference

Feeling stuck in his journey, Steven decided to try microdosing. He began to take low doses of psilocybin while still on a psychiatric antidepressant. Following experimentation with incrementally increasing dosages, across a few weeks, his mental landscape began to shift.

“I started noticing things differently,” he recalls. “Not cognitively, but perceptually.”

Steven reports that the psilocybin helped to “soften the resistance in my head,” and he finally felt motivated to engage in self-care. He began to veer away from “self-indulgence,” as he puts it, and to instead eat well and practice meditation. The microdose amount that ended up working best for Steven was a little over half a gram of psilocybin.

Outcomes

Since beginning a microdosing regimen, Steven has entered into a healthier phase of living and lost a tremendous amount of weight. He describes himself as feeling “much more optimized”—able to show up more fully to life and to connect to his motivation.

Microdosing allowed Steven to overcome mental blocks and streamline his energy.

“It provided me the fuel to engage in things that were more restorative,” he reports. “And what I can say is, wow, the quality and tenor of my life has shifted, and unequivocally I can attribute that to my microdosing.”

Specific Strategies

Microdosing is the consumption of a psychedelic substance at sub-perceptual doses, leading to subtle effects such as improved mood, focus, and energy. A microdose typically amounts to less than one-tenth of a standard recreational or ceremonial dose (i.e., a full dose or a “macrodose”). That’s not to say that a microdose is one-tenth as effective as a full dose—rather, a microdose can be just as effective, but in a different way.

Because microdosing does not induce intense psychedelic effects, individuals are able to function and perform everyday tasks even while under the influence of a microdose. Perhaps herein lies the benefit of Steven’s microdosing regimen: Whereas full-dose journeys demanded his full attention and therefore disrupted him from daily living, low-dose psilocybin experiences were smoothly incorporated and layered over his everyday reality. When there’s less of a distinction between “the journey” and “real life,” as in the case of microdosing, there’s less likelihood that a teaching will get “lost in transit” or “lost in translation.”

High-dose psychedelic journeys may impart powerful insights, profound emotional shifts, and even mystical experiences—but without adequate integration support, it can be difficult to apply these insights to daily life once the journey ends. Microdosing, on the other hand, allows for subtle shifts to accumulate across time, in a paced and coherent way—which decreases overwhelm and makes the process of self-transformation feel more accessible. Steven’s microdosing regimen built on the neuroplastic foundation set by his previous psychedelic journeys, while also giving him the push he needed to enact concrete changes in his life.

*Steven is a pseudonym. Some quotes edited for clarity.

Gregory Frederick Ferenstein, M.Sc.

Director of Research

Gregory Frederick Ferenstein, M.Sc. has been writing on innovation and psychology for over a decade. His peer-reviewed research was published in the leading journal of its field and his work appears in top media outlets, including New York Times, The Washington Post, and the BBC.

After designing large-scale economic reform in Congress, he conducted field research in Silicon ValIey and become convinced that mental health must be a national priority.

He is now dedicated to advancing world-class, personalized mental healthcare. He holds a Master’s in Mathematical Behavior Sciences, taught stastistics for jounalism at the University of Texas and resides in Austin.

Liz Zhou

Liz Zhou is a freelance writer and graduate student in the Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling program at Naropa University. She was a recipient of the 2018-2019 Watson Fellowship, a one-year travel grant through which she studied altered states of consciousness across cultures. Liz has conducted immersive research on shamanism and spirituality across 12 countries, and previously worked as a translator and facilitator at an ayahuasca center in Peru. Currently based in Boulder, Colorado, Liz aspires to bring science into conversation with spirituality through her writings on psychedelic healing. Her passions include singing, drawing, playing the steel-tongue drum, practicing yoga, and being a cat mom. She shares her personal experiences with medicines and meditation on her blog, arisingawareness.com.

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