Like any drug fad, microdosing—ingesting small amounts of hallucinogens over a long period of time to gain insights into creativity and psychic identity—comes surrounded by lots of lore.
Rolling Stone recently pegged the typical microdoser as an über-smart twentysomething curious to see whether it “will help him or her work through technical problems and become more innovative.” However, the article was notably lacking in first-person descriptions of self-administration—while dosers reported feeling “great” and “productive,” the semiweekly experience of drugging oneself with substances associated with outdoor concerts or communing with nature was left to the reader’s imagination.
Whereas Silicon Valley programmers now use microdosing to boost their output—much like video-game power-ups—the practice has yet to influence other cultural subsets. Research suggests that hallucinogens can provide a useful alternative to harmful pharmaceutical medications, delivering more positive results and literally no physical aftereffects. But the legalities of studying hallucinogens leave medical science unresolved on the issue.
Looking for guidance, I discovered that the federal government recommends conducting a 14-day preliminary study on “two different animal species (one rodent and one nonrodent)” to determine acute toxicity levels. Having used hallucinogens several dozen times already, I decided to eschew this preliminary research and conduct the experiment on myself.
Marijuana legalization proves that illegal drug therapies can only gain widespread acceptance if they take root in mainstream cultures. My goal here is to establish a rough guideline for regular people who wish to microdose. Since I’m a freelance writer, I spend my days much like coders—typing away in front of a screen—so my lifestyle is a suitable comparison to those who have pioneered this growing trend.
You may know how to get your drugs already. If not, you probably know someone who’s been to Burning Man. Ask there first.
Having already ingested hallucinogens some 40 times in the past—in whatever amount had been pressed into my hand, at a concert or rave or hot spring—I can report that my experiences have been mostly pleasant, with some amazing visual effects (rolling clouds, moving carpets) and minor revelations about my identity (listening to eight hours of Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon” on a couch).
But with microdosing, the idea is to take minuscule amounts over the course of a couple weeks. And then … enlightenment? I was eager to dive down this rabbit hole.
Mushrooms or LSD?
A number of factors make dosing with LSD problematic. One must ideally wear plastic gloves while handling LSD to prevent skin oil from nullifying the drug. The paper square—the length of an eyelash—must be cut into pieces with a razor. LSD also deteriorates under heat and light and so must be kept in the refrigerator, in an amber vial wrapped in foil.
But the idea of wearing gloves while brandishing a razor cutting drugs in the dark appeals to me as much as keeping a two-foot bong in the house. The best method of LSD dosing seems to be placing the drug in an amber vial and filling it with vodka, then waiting 24 hours before administering the oral solution via dropper. But neither method is dependable for anyone but scientists—and unless your acid is lab-tested, it’s almost certainly cut with harmful substances.
Mushrooms, on the other hand, are ready to go: grown from soil, pure, and impervious to heat and light. Once the doses are separated, they can be easily transported and stored. And even without weighing, users can self-administer mushrooms using the “half-peanut” method.
My first dose was a mushroom chunk the one-half the size of a shelled peanut (hence the name). Recommended microdoses are anywhere from 0.1 to 0.4 milligrams every two to four days. (Since the brain’s serotonin levels need resetting after dosing, the hallucinogen should not be taken daily.)
I decided that 0.1 grams every 72 hours was a safe model. I bought a milligram scale, but this turned out to be unnecessary: A “half-peanut” dose measured via eyeballing was always around 0.1.
Of course, ideal doses will vary depending on one’s weight, age and tolerance. But exercising caution is the best approach. The first couple of doses should be taken when the user feels comfortable embarking on a journey that society’s mental conditioning has trained us to reject.
I took my first dose in the afternoon, sandwiched between two slices of banana to hide the flavor. Make no mistake: If you microdose, you will feel high—from about an hour after taking the drug through the next couple hours.
I found that my pedestrian activities were filled with great focus. I spent the afternoon cleaning house. My energy was consistent, like a fast car roaring down a desert highway. I segmented my work by grids, thinking how I would clean the bathroom while mopping the floor. I also made a butternut squash soup from scratch without really knowing I was making it.
While shaving the squash, I became aware of a secondary motivating force beneath my conscious actions. During my house cleaning, I took mental notes on a theater project I had finished the previous week, similar to computers performing two equally important tasks simultaneously. As I fried bacon for the soup stock, I also worked through the details of an upcoming film pitch. This bifurcated focus is the slipstream of working efficiently—only rarely can I prompt this state from my non-medicated brain. The microdose turns out to be a muse you ingest.
I took my second dose in the late morning and worked a full day. I was excited to do more intellectual work, anticipating the experience like a concert or a movie.
Finding motivation is a big problem for writers, whose job is basically to sit around imagining what fake people say. This actually requires a massive amount of mental acuity. Creativity is only as abundant as the food you’ve eaten, the exercise you’ve had, the sleep you’ve gotten, the people in your life who have energized you, etc. When these factors are depleted, your clarity becomes blunted.
I noticed a higher level of productivity while dosing. I wrote a half-dozen grant applications and worked on a handful of plays and pitches, realizing gradually that microdosing pulls the shoelaces of your consciousness tight.
Anxiety diminishes. You become interested in the stories around you instead of pushing them away. Other people’s energy doesn’t exhaust you; rather, you always find the right thing to say, because your ego works in concord with the physical world. You feel no need to defend your individuality, because the distinction between outer and inner realms falls away. The other person is you.
As a writer, I find going for a walk on some days as difficult as the two-hour turning of a freighter at sea. But while microdosing on mushrooms, I discovered that the moment my imagination summoned an objective, it became immediately available in the real world. Thus, “go for a walk” became me walking outside before I was aware of doing it. You’re not an amnesiac on microdosing—more like an expert dancer swaying to music she’s never heard. You body knows what to do before your mind can overthink it.
I took the drug in the afternoon, an ideal time to dose—the introduction of a mild hallucinogen kick-starting the brain.
Today, however, the extra energy produced by dosing made me overdo it while cycling. I almost fell off my bike while braking, skidding into a car bumper. That was because my muscles were acting efficiently, using no extra strength. So I was propelled forward, like a hose under high water pressure whipping around, before I noticed my erratic cycling.
The danger with microdosing turns out to be undercalculating the acceleration of your mental and physical processes. That acceleration may be great if you’re sitting at a desk writing code, but it can become problematic if you’re performing extreme forms of physical activity. All the same, by biking while dosing, I shaved 10 minutes off an hour-long ride.
A day of meetings. Once I overcame my suspicions that colleagues knew I was dosing—a conditioned anxiety quelled by breathing deeply three times while looking into a bathroom mirror—my conversations with people went better than before.
I am a hesitant conversationalist. At times, I noticeably become bored by people talking about TV shows, sports, politics, theater. But while dosing, another person’s interests become your own. You sense the right sentence before your mouth utters it. The topic of conversation doesn’t matter so much as the light in another’s eye and what it’s saying to you.
Humans, like cats, receive information through gesture. On the drug, I was able to read this gestural language like Braille. Much has been written about how mushrooms open up your “third eye,” allowing users to understand another’s thoughts without communicating verbally. This might be bullshit, but your senses do develop a laser-like focus on another person’s mood, behavior, clothing choices, hygiene and so on, effortlessly gathering information for conversations.
If you’ve never taken hallucinogens, microdosing might seem like a cure-all drug. After dosing for two weeks, however, I began to wonder if it was simply the effect of getting a little high every few days. The repetition weaves a web in your consciousness that influences all of the other times you face unaltered reality. But whether this was a temporary effect of rollercoastering my seratonin with hallucinogens, or some more lasting change in my consciousness, remained to be seen.
When you’re taking hallucinogens, environment matters. Even at low doses, being confined to a rainy concrete city grid proved to be an irritant to my accelerated mental processes. Albert Hofmann, the humble Swiss inventor of LSD, talked about this as “the Setting” and “the Set”: the external and internal factors under which one ingests hallucinogens.
If you’re stressed, angry, tired or confused—or surrounded by garbage, a dirty apartment, machine noise or bad people—microdosing will heighten your negative perception of these factors. That can be exhausting, even if you’re prepared for the amplified psychological onslaught.
I suffer from depression. Throughout the experiment, I was keenly aware of microdosing’s effect on this condition. After taking a dose, I experienced alleviation from all negative symptoms for the next six hours. But afterwards, I would sometimes be assaulted by waves of deep depression.
Even so, I was able to evaluate my depressed state objectively. Like an acupuncture session or a master cleanse, microdosing releases unresolved emotional issues buried in your consciousness. The ego here has no stake in your realizations; you must decide whether to acknowledge them or not. So I worked through complex emotional and spiritual problems without depression’s resulting self-punishment. Dosing didn’t dampen the sadness—rather, negative realms slid through me without impediment, like metaphysical turds flushed from the bowels of my mind.
Even so, dosing for the “topicial” treatment of immediate depression is not recommended. On an off day, I tried an extra dose while I was undergoing depressive symptoms—and it took until morning to be released from a minor bad trip. But overall, the symptoms of my depression improved over the accumulated days of dosing.
Albert Hofmann was history’s first known microdoser, taking hallucinogens consistently until his death at 102. Hofmann attributed his long life to the realizations fostered by dosing, such as choosing to live in a natural setting outside the city, among the birds and animals. Unlike his freewheeling counterpart Timothy Leary, Hofmann advocated a balanced lifestyle as the source of true longevity.
Undertaking this type of hallucinogenic hard reset must be done seriously. You must not drink any alcohol. You must smoke very little weed. And you must be honest with yourself about the effect that the drug is having on you. Microdosing should only be explored by people who wish to “know thyself”—and are ready for any leviathans that surface during the process.
I can wholeheartedly report that my condition as a human being on the other end of my microdosing experiment has undoubtedly improved. No drug will ever cure everything, but the mental and spiritual boost of microdosing has been revolutionary to me. I am writing these words two weeks after the last day I’d planned to dose. Instead of stopping, I will continue to microdose regularly, though now I’ve begun to space out my “half-peanut” doses every four days. Like Hofmann, I plan to keep taking this substance as long as it remains useful to me. It has given me balance.