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What is Microdosing? What is Psilocybin?

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

They were formerly on the fringe, but psychedelics are making a serious comeback. Specifically, using psychedelics in very, very small doses is receiving a lot of attention.

Azza mushroom blend microdose capsule with mushroom caps behind.

As a recent “wellness hack,” microdosing is receiving macro recognition for its potential to boost creativity, improve cognition and mood, and support overall wellbeing. But what is microdosing? Let’s take a look at how these barely-there doses of psychedelics like psilocybin work, and the risks and benefits of microdosing.

What is Microdosing?

Microdosing is what it sounds like: the practice of consuming a small amount— a micro dose— of a psychedelic substance, typically one-tenth or even one-twentieth of a regular amount.

The term psychedelic was coined in the 1950s and is derived by the Greek words for “mind” and “to manifest.” Understanding psychedelics as something that is “mind manifesting” helps us recognize that these substances can be utilized to explore the true potential of the human mind.

While even high doses aren’t associated with risks in healthy people, using small amounts of these substances is thought to unlock this potential—all without some of the side effects that might come with a typical “recreational” dose. Also, unlike recreational use of psychedelics, the microdosing benefits are best achieved when the practice is repeated over an extended period of time.

A range of substances can be microdosed, but LSD and psilocybin are two of the most common.

What is Psilocybin?

“Psilocybin” has become interchangeable with terms like “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms.” Psilocybin (PY, 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is the main psychoactive component in hallucinogenic mushrooms, and is found in more than 200 species on all continents aside from Antarctica! After being ingested, psilocybin is converted to psilocin, which is also found in smaller amounts in hallucinogenic mushroom species.

Many psilocybin-containing mushrooms grow naturally. In fact, you’ve probably heard about one popular psychoactive mushroom, Psilocybe cubensis, which prefers humid climates and is known to grow in cow dung. More commonly, however, strains of these “cubes,” like Penis Envy or Golden Teacher, are cultivated artificially, using oats, corn, or brown rice as a substrate (the material the mushroom grows in).

The mushrooms are foraged or cultivated, dried, and then often found in their whole form or ground into pre-measured microdose capsules. Speaking of which, how much is a microdose of psilocybin?

How Much to Take—and When?

Generally speaking, a nanodose is under 100mg and a microdose is 100 to 400 mg.

As with anything in the psychedelic world, it’s best to “start low and go slow.” If you have pre-measured capsules, you can even break one in half and mix the powder contents with local honey to make tea. With microdosing, you shouldn’t feel anything, so it’s best to start small, then make changes to find your sweet spot.

When you first experiment with microdosing, you may also want to choose a day that won’t require you to be in meeting after meeting, or rush to meet a deadline. It’s best to see how you react to the microdose when there won’t be a risk of you losing your train of thought during a presentation, or becoming fixated on how beautiful your office lights are when chatting with your boss!

As the effects of mushrooms can last between four to eight hours, many people also choose to microdose in the morning. While anecdotal reports suggest that it can facilitate some pretty interesting dreams, many people want to harness microdosing’s benefits for the activities that fill their daily lives. As a good rule of thumb, microdosing before 10am is suggested.

How Does Microdosing Work?

So what happens when you take a microdose? To understand how microdosing works, it’s important to consider the pharmacology of psilocybin and psilocin.

Both psilocybin and psilocin are structurally similar to serotonin (5-HT), the neurotransmitter we often associate with mood—especially feelings of happiness. When psilocybin becomes psilocin in the body, it interacts with serotonin receptors as what’s called a “mixed receptor agonist.” Put another way, because it mimics serotonin, psilocybin can activate our brains’ receptors just like serotonin would.

This is what’s partially responsible for some of the commonly-reported effects following ingestion of psilocybin. These include feelings like relaxation, visual enhancement (seeing brighter colors), giddiness, and euphoria. Psilocybin is understood to bind most effectively to a specific serotonin receptor—5HT-2A—which is associated with memory, cognition, and learning.

What Will it Feel Like?

It’s important to remember that a microdose is at a sub-hallucinogenic or sub-threshold dose, so you’ll only experience “sub-perceptual” effects. This means that you shouldn’t notice things like visual enhancement, but may feel that your mood is slightly improved.

In fact, words like “slight” and “subtle” are those most common when it comes to microdosing experiences. If you really feel something, you might want to reconsider your dosage and try a smaller amount.

Microdosing Benefits and Challenges

While the effects are barely-there, we can consider microdosing like a “tune-up” for healthy adults. It can help to improve the overall functioning of our bodies. While many who microdose don’t use it to address a specific problem, they do report several “positive side effects”. Some of these include:

  • Boost in creativity

  • More focus

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills

  • More energy

  • Improved outlook on life

  • Boost in attention

  • Optimistic thoughts

  • Enhanced connection to emotions

  • Spiritual and emotional insights

  • Increased awareness

  • Increased interest in self-care practices (introspection, meditation, etc.)

  • Improved mood

  • Reduced consumption of other substances (caffeine, cannabis, alcohol)

  • Enhanced emotional connection

  • Feelings of being more present

  • Improved mental health

Can microdosing psychedelics boost mental health? While there are an increasing number of studies demonstrating the positive effects high-dose psychedelics have on mental health, researchers are really only just beginning to look into microdosing. Already, however, it’s been reported that microdosing has been associated with a reduction in negative mental health symptoms, like anxiety and depression.

While most of the research we have about microdosing is anecdotal and on websites like Reddit, it’s easy to find reports of people using microdosing in lieu of antidepressants, or as a way to replace drugs like adderall, or to experience a reduction in mental health symptoms that helps them “feel like themselves again.” Until microdosing research catches up, however, these accounts should all be taken with a grain of salt. Always consider any risks that may apply to your personal situation and consult a physician, pharmacologist, or psychiatrist before microdosing.

So, are there any downsides to microdosing? Well, the biggest one—by far—is illegality. Some people may also experience physiological discomfort (nausea, upset stomach, tingling, reduced appetite), and impaired mood and increased anxiety have also been reported. However, adjusting dosage may help to curb the potential for negative effects.

Dive Deeper

One of the best things about microdosing is that it can help you connect with yourself more often. It’s recommended to use intention and really think about what you hope to get out of the experience, optimizing your dosing or protocol frequency as needed. The practice of microdosing can help you go inward more often, helping you to dissolve your ego or release resentment. Before doing so, take a look at this article on mixing psilocybin mushrooms with other drugs like SSRIs so that you can access the many benefits of microdosing as safely as possible.

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