The purported positive effects of microdosing psilocybin could be driven by the expectations of those taking the drug, according to the results of a recently published double-blind study conducted by researchers affiliated with the University of Buenos Aires.
The authors of the study, which was published last month by the journal Translational Psychiatry, note that microdosing psilocybin has gained popularity in recent years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the practice, which entails taking small, sub-hallucinogenic doses of the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, has several benefits. Those who microdose psilocybin often say that the drug can improve concentration, mood, creativity and cognitive function. However, there has been little scientific research conducted on the benefits of microdosing psilocybin or other psychedelic drugs.
“Ample anecdotal evidence suggests that microdosing can improve mood, well-being, creativity, and cognition, and recent uncontrolled, open-label observational studies have provided some empirical support for these claims,” the authors wrote. “While encouraging, these studies are vulnerable to experimental biases, including confirmation bias and placebo effects. This is especially problematic in the case of microdosing, since users make up a self-selected sample with optimistic expectations about the outcome of the practice.”
To conduct the study, researchers recruited 34 participants who already had plans to begin a psilocybin microdosing regimen using their own mushrooms. Study participants agreed to adapt their dose and schedule to the protocol designed by the researchers.
Participants were studied over a two-week period. During one week, they were given two half-gram doses of dried psilocybin mushrooms in a capsule. During the other week, participants were given a placebo of the same preparation and weight. The study was double-blind, meaning neither the participants nor the researchers knew which dose contained psilocybin and which was the placebo.
Participants completed questionnaires in which they self-reported any acute effects they experienced with each dose, such as distortions in time or space, and completed psychological measures including anxiety, positive and negative affect, well-being and stress. They also completed several tasks to measure creativity, perception, and cognition and were given EEGs to measure their brain activity. Additionally, participants reported their expectations for how their mental state might change in various areas including positive emotion and anxiety.
Effects Higher Among Those Who Knew They Were Taking Shrooms
The results of the self-reported questionnaires revealed significantly higher acute effects from psilocybin compared to the placebo. However, the effect was only significant among participants who had correctly identified whether they were taking psilocybin or the placebo, suggesting that the subjective effects of the drug were influenced by their expectations.
Although the results of the EEG tests showed altered brain wave rhythms, the research did not find any positive effect of psilocybin on creativity, cognition or self-reported mental well-being. In fact, a trend identified in the data suggested that taking psilocybin may have hampered the participants’ performance on certain cognitive tasks. The authors noted the trend is consistent with previous research that found that high doses of serotonergic psychedelic drugs can hinder some cognitive functions such as attention and decision-making.
In their discussion of the research, the authors of the study noted that popular perceptions of the benefits of microdosing might be influencing the experiences of those who try a low-dose psilocybin regimen.
“The reported acute effects were significantly more intense for the active dose compared to the placebo, but only for participants who correctly identified their experimental condition,” they wrote.
Overall, the findings did not support the anecdotal evidence that microdosing psilocybin improves well-being, creativity, or cognitive function. The researchers identified several limitations of the study, however, including the short-term length of the two-week dosing regimen. They also noted that the study cohort was made up of healthy subjects and that microdosing might have the strongest effect on those with mental health issues. The authors recommended further research to determine if microdosing psilocybin has mental health benefits, including the effect a longer microdosing schedule may have on participants.
The study, “Microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms: a double-blind placebo-controlled study”, was published in July by the peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry.