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Microdosing Addiction: Understanding The Risks

What is the difference between a dose of drugs and a microdose of drugs? While the answer may seem obvious, there are many reasons for purposely taking a smaller dose of drugs.

Those responsible for popularizing the microdosing trend began this type of drug use in order to obtain enhanced creativity and mood. This new style of substance abuse is often used by entrepreneurs and inventive professionals looking to enliven their business ideas and vision. It should not be surprising, then, that Silicon Valley has become the hub for experimental microdosing.

The Dangers of Microdosing

Microdosing may be used for LSD, MDMA, and many other drugs. Why take a small dose and experience a slight effect rather than the full, expected, and anticipated effect? Numerous reports from first-time and frequent microdose users note that consuming just a fraction of the standard recreational dose enhances their inspiration, motivation, mood, and the overall stimulation needed to complete their daily tasks. The popular verdict seems to be that microdosing is beneficial.

However, microdosing can lead to serious risks for addiction and can have fatal consequences. This is especially true when microdosing is unregulated or unsupervised due to the belief that such a small dose is harmless.

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) surveyed 12,300 people in 2016 and of those, 6.2% reported that they had microdosed LSD, between 10-30 micrograms, at least once in their lifetime. Of those participants, 66% reported that they just guessed at how much a microdose would be for them.

Of course, consuming any illegal drug is dangerous. Yet many people have the misconception that consuming a drug at a low dose or a drug that is not considered addictive has no harm. However, illicit substances, including the drugs used during microdosing, are more likely to be laced with other substances like fentanyl, ketamine, or methamphetamine.

Is Microdosing Addictive?

person microdosing drugsMicrodosing is also fairly harmful because this new trend is not fully understood and there is not much research yet into this type of drug consumption. Instead, the media reinforces the idea that only recreational use or overdoses are harmful, not the use of small doses over time. So far, medical researchers and clinical scientists can only infer the potential risks of microdosing, which can include dependence, tolerance, abuse, and addiction. Addiction is absolutely possible, if not inevitable, with microdosing. There is this risk for addiction because the user is consistently exposed to the same dose of potent drugs over and over again, which increases the risk of addiction.

Now let us examine microdosing of three popularly-used substances: LSD, mushrooms, and mescaline, specifically.

Microdosing LSD

The most popular drug abused through microdosing is LSD. LSD alters the perception of time and creates visual and auditory hallucinations, a sense of expanded consciousness, and a heightened sense of paranoia. The difference between microdosing LSD and using LSD recreationally is the goal of the consumption. Microdosing LSD is not used with the intention to cause hours-long hallucinatory experiences. Rather, a dose of ten to twenty micrograms, once every four days, is claimed to intensify alertness, originality, physical and emotional energy, and overall well-being.

Although many people who try LSD microdosing are professionals in high-pressure workplaces, this microdosing practice has no scientific backing or replicable research on the topic. The only evidence that users have to believe LSD microdosing is beneficial comes from past anecdotal evidence, with reports of the positive side effects suggestive of benefit, but there are very few scientific studies to back this up. In fact, there are other studies on microdoses of LSD and psychedelic drugs that contradict this belief. These studies demonstrate that microdoses of these drugs actually reduce creativity by decreasing activity in specific areas of the brain once the high fades.

Microdosing LSD also does not address the risks that come with the consistent consumption of a potent drug. These risks include becoming dependent on the drug for daily functioning and possible flashbacks or psychosis, which can come in waves or be chronic.

In one case, a small controlled study provided participants with a combination of therapy and microdoses of LSD. The results of this study showed only slightly alleviated symptoms of anxiety in some trial participants. However, too much LSD has the potential to induce psychosis, worsen mood disorders, trigger schizophrenia, and alter other psychotic disorders in some users, as well.

Many people think that since LSD is not considered addictive, microdosing of this drug could not be addictive either. However, users who are experiencing environmental stress, have a genetic risk, live with untreated mood disorders, or simply have any other underlying condition that makes an individual prone to abusing drugs are at risk of becoming addicted to this substance at any dose.

Microdosing Psilocybin Mushrooms

Another common drug taken in microdoses is psilocybin, often referred to as “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms.” The reported benefits of microdosing psilocybin are similar to those of LSD including enhanced creativity, positive mood, and increased physical energy. Psilocybin is a psychedelic that has been correlated with subsiding cluster headaches, a treacherous form of chronic pain that is not fully understood and which, as of now, has no certified medical treatment.

Microdosing Mescaline

Mescaline, the chemical found in the peyote cactus, is another substance that is commonly microdosed for the same desired effects. Mescaline and psilocybin have been demonstrated in controlled pilot studies to help with mood disorders, like anxiety and depression. Without larger cohesive studies, however, it is difficult to confirm if these substances, taken in microdoses, can become possible medical treatments or if this trend of substance consumption will ignite a new epidemic of substance abuse problems.

Microdosing MDMA

For other users seeking different effects, the microdosing trend has expanded into the use of MDMA, more commonly referred to as Molly or Ecstasy. Just like microdosing psychedelics, there is weak scientific evidence that microdosing MDMA has a beneficial impact. A few small-scale studies suggest that very small doses of MDMA, coupled with psychotherapy, can alleviate symptoms from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression. However, the risk for addiction from microdosing is higher with MDMA since it is an amphetamine drug, unlike LSD or mescaline, so taking even small doses can do more harm than good.

The Risks of Experimental Microdosing

Overall, while professionals using drugs in microdoses to boost their career performance is a fairly new concept, microdosing drugs to understand their effects on their brain has been an essential part of medical research for years. The initiators of the microdosing movement have been engaging in this practice since the 1960s, so the concept of microdosing for improved brain function is many decades old. In controlled environments, the observed effects from a microdose of a drug can aid in how the substance is understood to interact in human subjects without risking serious danger from larger or excess doses.

Outside of a research environment, however, users without any medical training are microdosing on their own without proper knowledge of proportions and dosage. In fact, much of the reported use of the popular drugs used in the microdosing movement includes guesswork as to what a “microdose” looks like for their body compared to what a recreational dose would look like for them. Some users participating in the microdose trend may rely on popular literature which suggests ten micrograms every third or fourth day, depending on the type of drug. This poses a significant risk.

Even with microdoses of an intoxicating drug, individuals can develop a tolerance to the substance rapidly, causing them to increase their dose to the level of a standard recreational dose or even higher. This mechanism is what makes the microdosing movement dangerous. With increased doses, the drug becomes addictive, and in the end, the user will likely experience a substance abuse problem.

If you or somebody you love is struggling with psychedelics or any type of substance abuse, contact Boardwalk Recovery Center for more information on how we can help heal the damage caused by addiction and develop a treatment plan that will improve health and quality of life.

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