This article has been medically reviewed by Katrina Oliveros, MSN-ED, BSN
Microdosing is the act of integrating sub-perceptual doses of psychedelics, such as LSD, san pedro, or psilocybin mushrooms, into your weekly routine for enhanced levels of creativity, energy, focus, and improved relational skills.
When we say “sub-perceptual”, we mean that the tiny amounts used, usually less than 1/10th of a standard recreational dose, are so small that you won’t experience any strong psychedelic or hallucinogenic effects. What microdosers do notice are profoundly positive changes to how they think and feel, which is what’s driven the explosion of interest in this approach to working with psychedelics to support health and wellness.
What’s the History of Microdosing?
The deeper history of microdosing in ancient cultures is contested, with disagreement among researchers on just how prevalent it was. However, we think that cultures such as the Aztecs used low doses of psilocybin mushrooms for various purposes.
In more recent times, the story of microdosing as we know it begins with James Fadiman, Ph.D., and his 2011 book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys, which explores microdosing as a subculture of psychedelic use. In 2015, Fadiman gave a podcast interview with entrepreneur and author of The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss, which introduced microdosing to thousands of his fans and attracted mainstream journalists’ attention.
Ferriss wasn’t the only author to notice Fadiman’s work. Inspired by The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, Ayelet Waldman turned to microdosing to calm the mood swings playing havoc with her career and relationships. The results were profoundly positive and became the core of her 2016 book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in my Mood, My Marriage, and My Life.
Mycologist and psilocybin-enthusiast Paul Stamets has also had a hand in pushing microdosing into the mainstream. One of the most reputable, decorated, and self-practiced mycologists in the world, Stamets has dedicated his life to the study of medicinal and psychedelic fungi. His most recent patent application is for a nootropic stack (a combination of cognitive enhancers) that contains a microdose of psilocybin, Lion’s Mane mushrooms, and niacin. He would like to see this supplement available as a vitamin, claiming that its efficacy in epigenetic neurogenesis has the potential to initiate “the next quantum leap in human consciousness.”
Now microdosing has hundreds of thousands of proponents worldwide—the r/microdosing subreddit alone has almost 150,000 users. No longer limited to Silicon Valley biohackers, people from all walks of life use microdosing to improve their mental health, creativity, and well-being.
LSD and psilocybin mushrooms (“magic mushrooms”) are the two most common substances used for microdosing. However, microdosing can be done with nearly any psychedelic. The particular protocols for each will vary for things like preparation and dosage, so it’s important to learn as much as possible about whichever psychedelic you choose to microdose.
To that end, we’ve developed in-depth guides for microdosing several different psychedelics.
Each guide provides an overview of each psychedelic and includes topics such as History, Science & Research, How-To Guides including preparation and dosages, Benefits & Risks, FAQ’s, and Resource Articles.
What are the Best Substances For Microdosing?
If a substance is psychoactive, you can be sure that someone has microdosed it. People have tried microdosing mescaline, N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ayahuasca, LSA, 2-CB, cannabis, ibogaine, ketamine, and pretty much anything else you could think of. But the two most commonly used, well-researched, plus most ethically and sustainably-produced substances for microdosing are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin.
Microdosing with LSD is a fairly straightforward process. Essentially, you need to prepare your microdoses by volumetric dilution, consume the microdose at the appropriate time, and follow a month-long protocol to maximize your benefits. A standard protocol would be to microdose ten micrograms every third day, i.e., one day on, two days off in between. An essential part of this is what Fadiman called “observation”, where you keep a journal of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that come up for you while microdosing. This practice allows you to become more aware of your progress and build a positive self-reflection habit. We also recommend that you take periodic breaks from microdosing altogether every six to eight weeks to evaluate your experience and avoid building up a tolerance to the practice.
Preparing psilocybin mushrooms or psilocybin truffles for microdosing involves more steps than microdosing with LSD but is still straightforward. The trickiest part is estimating how much psilocybin is in a particular mushroom. Different species and strains of mushrooms will not only have different quantities of psilocybin, but fresh and dried psilocybin mushrooms do, too. Even different parts of the mushroom can contain slightly different amounts.
For Psilocybe cubensis, the classic magic mushroom, a typical microdose is 0.1 to 0.3 grams, although that amount may be smaller for people with clinical issues. Psilocybin truffles are usually milder, so you may require a slightly higher dose. Many wood-loving psilocybin mushrooms, such as Psilocybe cyanescens, are stronger, so you would need to take less.
Once your doses are prepared by grinding to a powder and encapsulating, you can follow a similar protocol to that used for LSD, use the Stamets stack and dosing regimen, or work with us to develop your own protocol via our Microdosing Course or coaching services.
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How Should I Properly Microdose Cannabis?
Microdosing cannabis is relatively easy, once you find your ideal dose. While it’s possible to microdose cannabis by smoking or vaping, we’ve found that the simplest and most reliable method is by using low-dose edibles. The Marijuana Policy Project has designated 10mg of THC as a standard dose per serving, so anything below that can be considered low-dose.
Products that call themselves low-dose tend to be in the 1mg to 5mg of THC range. We tend to recommend 2.5mg as a good starting point for microdosing, but always experiment to see what is best for you. Potency levels vary greatly between products and brands, and everyone’s personal tolerance level is unique. As a general rule, it’s best to take it slow and steady. After taking a microdose, wait at least two hours to see the full effects before taking more. This precaution is crucial with edibles, as they can take a relatively long time to take effect.
It is also not uncommon to hear of people microdosing CBD in conjunction with microdosing psilocybin mushrooms.
Should I Microdose MDMA?
Microdosing MDMA is not as common as LSD and psilocybin, but with the general rise in interest in microdosing, some have wondered if the practice could enhance their mood and boost their energy. While some people have reported success with an MDMA regimen, we do not recommend it. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that frequent MDMA use can be detrimental to your health. After all, MDMA is not like classic psychedelics; it’s an amphetamine and a stimulant that does very different things to your body and neurochemistry than a tab or microdose of LSD.
How Can I Be Sure I Am Microdosing Safely?
Apart from legality, the key factors around safe microdosing are substance, dosage, and effects.
- Substance: Is this psychedelic what I think it is? Where legal, source your psychedelics from reputable suppliers. If this isn’t an option, ensure your substance is pure by using free drug-checking services or test kits to make sure you have unadulterated LSD rather than 25I-NBOMe or 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI). If you are using psilocybin, make sure your mushrooms are the correct species by learning to identify them or only sourcing them from someone who can reliably do so. For mushroom sourcing tips and reliable vendor recommendations, check out Third Wave’s Ultimate Guide to Sourcing Psychedelic Medicines.
- Dosage: Carefully measure your microdose using accurate scales for mushrooms, or by diluting your LSD so that it’s practical to take a small amount. Be aware that the strength of any psychedelic, natural or not, can vary. Some mushrooms are stronger than others, and one blotter can contain more LSD than the last.
- Effects: While microdosing should be sub-perpetual enough to avoid interfering with your everyday life, be aware of how you are feeling and perceiving on days that you have dosed. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while adversely affected! Pay attention to any adverse changes in mood or other unwanted side effects. These are signs that you might need to pause or adjust your protocol.
What’s the Supporting Science Behind Microdosing?
Even though clinical trials on psychedelics are ongoing, the basic neuroscience of how they interact with our brains is well-established. Much of what we understand about how psychedelics work involves serotonin, a chemical that is among the brain’s most important neurotransmitters. Serotonin affects nearly everything we do, from how we feel to how we digest our food. Psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin share a similar structure to serotonin and mimic the chemical’s effects.
Because serotonin is so important to mood stabilization, common antidepressants (called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs) increase serotonin levels in the brain, which can make you feel happier.
Psychedelics work more directly by mimicking serotonin. One of psilocybin’s main effects is to stimulate a serotonin receptor called “5-HT2A” located in the prefrontal cortex, which leads to two important results:
- The production of “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor” (BDNF), a protein that is “like Miracle-Gro for your brain,” according to Waldman. BDNF stimulates growth, connections, and activity.
- The increased transmission of “glutamate,” a neurotransmitter responsible (in part) for important brain functions such as cognition, learning, and memory.
These effects have spurred an explosion of research into the psychopharmacology of psychedelics, including how microdosing compares to traditional antidepressants. Scientists are investigating psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to alleviate conditions such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder. If successful, these therapies could profoundly change the practice of modern psychiatry.
Compared to higher doses of psychedelic drugs, there has been relatively little scientific research into microdosing. But this is rapidly changing as well, with more peer-reviewed articles published about microdosing in 2020 than there had been in the entire previous decade.
Participants in microdosing research consistently report improvements to cognition and mood, and multiple studies have found that microdosers experience increases in creativity. A 2019 systematic study of microdosing found that it led to longer-term improved mental health and improved concentration. Interestingly this same study found that microdosers’ expectations didn’t alter their experiences, suggesting the benefits of microdosing aren’t just a placebo effect.
Like full doses, microdoses of psychedelics appear to encourage neuron growth, so we can expect future research to branch out into investigating new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and companies such as Eleusis are already pursuing this. Recent research also indicates that low doses of LSD can reduce perceptions of discomfort, suggesting the potential for a whole new approach to pain relief.
What are the Positive Effects of Microdosing?
According to a study in the Harm Reduction Journal, the benefits of microdosing include:
- Improved mood (26.6%) – Peacefulness, overall well-being, calmness, happiness, and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. This includes more emotional connection, a general sense of optimism, and an improved outlook on life.
- Improved focus (14.8%) – Covers skill sets like the ability to focus or concentrate and enhanced self-awareness.
- Creativity (12.9%) – Aside from a general sense of improved creativity, this also includes behaviors such as being more open, enhanced curiosity, ability to shift perspectives, and divergent thinking.
- Self-efficacy (11.3%) – This applies to such behaviors as ambition, self-motivation, self-confidence, and a sense of agency. It also relates to improved mental health, including increased introspection, the practice of meditation, and other aspects of behaviors tied to self-care.
- Improved energy (10.5%) – In this case, “energy” refers to things like mental stimulation, wakefulness, and alertness.
- Social benefits (7.6%) – Outside of more engagement with others, this category also includes more empathy, a greater sense of connection, and more extroversion.
- Cognitive benefits (5.8%) – When microdosing, users experience heightened mental clarity, better memory recall, and improved problem-solving ability.
- Reduced anxiety (4.2%) – This applies to a reduction in both general and social anxiety.
- Physiological enhancement (3.0%) – Includes enhanced visual acuity, cardio endurance, reduction of migraines and headaches, and higher sleep quality.
In helping people learn how to microdose, the feedback we’ve received via participant questionnaires tells a similar story. Participants in our programs frequently report improvements in their mental health, creativity, and cognition.
“When microdosing, I observed several benefits, including reduced social anxiety, better confidence when leading groups, the further flourishing of my writing practice, enhanced creativity, and courage on a day-to-day basis. Third Wave’s program gave excellent guidance on how to properly microdose with LSD and mushrooms. Personally, I enjoyed the journaling aspect the most.” –Miki L, Writer
What’s the Benefit of Microdosing vs Macrodosing
If a microdose involves taking a small amount of a hallucinogenic substance, macrodosing is just the opposite—taking a dose that will produce profound emotional, perceptual, and even spiritual effects. It isn’t the case that one approach is better than the other. They serve different purposes, and you choose them for different reasons.
The benefits of microdosing are subtle and build up over time. You won’t have the same experiences when microdosing as you could have with a fully psychedelic dose. But microdosing is easier to fit into your weekly schedule, and integrating is much less challenging—there is typically no chance of a “bad trip” or experience when done properly.
Some people find that microdosing is a good way to develop their relationship with a psychedelic drug and get a feel for how it interacts with their unique brain and body chemistry before taking the more daunting step of a full macrodose. There is also growing interest in using microdosing to help integrate the psychedelic insights from high-dose experiences.
Potential Negative Effects of Microdosing
If you aren’t careful in measuring your microdose, you might end up taking more than intended. While this is highly unlikely to cause you any ongoing problems, it can be extremely inconvenient if you intended to have a solid day of work but instead find yourself being one with the Earth.
More seriously, even small doses of psychedelics can amplify current emotions and mental states, so assessing your mindset is always important. This amplification means that if you have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it is essential you discuss the risks with a medical professional before microdosing.
Since there has been relatively limited scientific research on the safety of microdosing, it’s best to avoid doing it for extended periods (longer than a few months). In fact, chronic microdosing does come with potential heart risk, though there is reason to believe that this may be relatively minor.
Other potential negative side effects and challenges that microdosers have reported include:
- It’s Illegal (29.5% of reports) – One of the most frequently cited concerns about microdosing is that it’s illegal. While the cultural, poltical, and legal landscape continues to shift in a favorable direction for some psychedelic substances, this remains a concern for many.
- Physiological discomfort (18.0%) – Includes disrupted senses (visual), temperature dysregulation, numbing/tingling, insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, reduced appetite, and increased migraines and/or headaches for some.
- Impaired focus (8.8%) – Some reported poor focus, distractibility, and absent-mindedness.
- Increased anxiety (6.7%) – General, social, and existential.
- Impaired energy (7.2%) – Both excessive energy (restlessness, jitters) and inadequate energy (fatigue, drowsiness, brain fog).
- Impaired mood (6.9%) – Mood deterioration (sadness, discontent, irritability), emotional difficulties (over-emotionality, mood swings), and impaired outlook (fear, feeling unusual).
- Social interference (2.6%) – Awkwardness, oversharing, and difficulties with sentence-production in social settings.
- Cognitive interference (2.3%) – Confusion, disorientation, racing thoughts, and poor memory.
- Self-interference (1.2%) – Self-processing concerns (dissociation, depersonalization) and self-sabotaging (rumination, over-analysis).
- Increased symptoms (other) (6.2%,) – After-effects (psychological dependence and concerns about potential addiction, substance tolerance, comedown or hangover) and also more concerning, but rare, adverse psychological events (0.7%).
Here is a basic overview of the microdosing protocol laid out by James Fadiman, Ph.D., based on microdosing research he has carried out since 2012.
- Dosing – A true microdose (or low dose) in which the effects are sub-perceptual is about 1/10th of a standard dose, although this varies on an individual basis. Typically, a standard ldose of LSD is 100 micrograms, meaning a microdose is 10 micrograms. For psilocybin, a standard dose is 3.5 grams of dried mushrooms. Thus, a microdose of mushrooms is between .1 to .3 grams.
- Observation – Throughout the day, track your experience by journaling. Note any changes in mood, perception, mental state, or feelings that arise on your microdosing day and the day after.
- Calibration – Many factors contribute to calibrating the proper dose level, including body composition, mental state, and experience with psychedelics. When calibrating, make incremental changes in the amount you take. This will help to optimize the experience.
- Timing – Dr. Fadiman’s protocol calls for one day on, two days off, one day on, two days off. If the first dose is taken on Monday, wait until Thursday to take the following dose. Pause your protocol after microdosing for 6-8 weeks to evaluate the impact of the experience so you can adjust as needed. Breaks are also important so you don’t build up a tolerance to microdosing.
Is Microdosing Legal?
Microdosing is only as legal as the psychedelic fungi or substances you’re working with, in the country or state where you’re working with them. This means that, in most places, microdosing LSD remains illegal (despite its excellent safety profile and therapeutic efficacy). While we support changing the laws that create this situation, we do not recommend breaking them. Knowing the law where you are is vital for avoiding legal difficulties and finding the least legally problematic options.
Accessing quality psilocybin mushrooms can seem challenging, especially when you’re unsure of the local laws or how to choose a reputable vendor. That’s why we compiled our tips and resources into the Ultimate Guide to Sourcing Psychedelic Medicines.
The third wave of psychedelics is possible because of the work of researchers across the globe. Organizations like MAPS, The Beckley Foundation, Heffter Research Institute, Johns Hopkins, Usona and others are paving the way for a new paradigm in mental health.
To date, clinical trials are not yet being conducted on the effects of microdosing, though some studies are in the works.
Below are a few of the key non-clinical studies which demonstrate the benefits of microdosing psychedelics:
- Microdosing psychedelics: personality, mental health, and creativity differences in microdosers
- Exploring the effect of microdosing psychedelics on creativity in an open-label natural setting
- Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: six-month follow-up
- Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms
- A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics
- This Is Your Brain on Microdoses of Psilocybin
- Powerful substances in tiny amounts: An interview study of psychedelic microdosing
The Beckley Foundation is leading the charge, where they are administering several placebo-controlled microdosing studies. An area of focus for this research is the therapeutic benefits of taking low doses of LSD. This microdosing study will allow scientists to determine if there is evidence to support the idea that psychedelic drugs affect brain activity, mood, creativity, and cognition.
How Can I Create Lasting Change with Microdosing?
Whatever your goals, the best way to create lasting change with microdosing is to mindfully pay attention to the changes you experience when doing it and consciously create new and positive habits. This is why the “observation” step in Fadiman’s microdosing protocol is so important.
Because microdosing can enhance our ability to create new neural pathways, it gives us a great opportunity to gradually learn to think and act in ways that allow us to live more fulfilling lives and experience greater well-being. The subjective effects of taking a microdose fade, but the positive changes to your brain that come from the conscious cultivation of constructive ways of thinking and working will last for much longer.
How Can Third Wave Support Me on My Microdosing Journey?
As well as our extensive collection of guides to microdosing different substances near the top of this guide, Third Wave offers a range of ways to enhance your microdosing experience. By connecting you with experts who have specialist skills, knowledge, and experience, you’ll learn how to microdose in the right way for your unique situation.
Based on Dr. Fadiman’s work and enhanced by feedback from over 3,000 participants, our Microdosing Course outdoes the one-size-fits-all model by giving you step-by-step instructions to personalize your microdosing experience to your unique body, goals, and situation.
We can also connect you with experienced microdosing coaches who can provide personalized guidance, feedback, and mentoring to help you reach your goals and set you up for lasting success.
And, if you’re looking for the ultimate in microdosing education and support, you can join the Microdosing Experience, a live six-week immersion program using microdosing, intention, and breathwork as tools for accelerated growth. The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, so we would love to be with you on this part of your journey.