Microdosing Psilocybin Mushrooms – Testing the Hype with Double-Blind Study

  • out-of-lab
  • neural oscillations
  • ERP

Microdosing with psychodelics has definitely gained popularity in recent years. But does it have noticeable subjective effects? Can we measure these effects physiologically with EEG? Is there evidence that support improved mood, enhanced mental wellbeing creativity and cognitive function?

In recent years, microdosing psychedelics, particularly psilocybin mushrooms, has captured the imagination of many, promising a range of benefits from enhanced creativity to improved mood and cognition. However, amidst the anecdotal reports and fervent claims, a critical question looms: what does the science say? A groundbreaking double-blind study conducted by Federico Cavanna and his team sought to uncover the truth behind microdosing, offering insights that challenge conventional wisdom and shed light on the potential of this practice.

The allure of microdosing lies in its promise of subtle yet transformative effects. Enthusiasts often describe it as a way to unlock untapped potential, offering a glimpse into a heightened state of awareness and creativity. But until recently, empirical evidence to support these claims has been scarce. Cavanna’s study aimed to fill this gap by rigorously examining the acute and short-term effects of psilocybin mushrooms in a controlled setting.

The study recruited 34 individuals who were embarking on their microdosing journey with psilocybin mushrooms. Using a double-blind placebo-controlled design, participants were administered either a low sub-perceptual dose of psilocybin mushrooms or a placebo, with neither the researchers nor the participants knowing who received which substance. This methodological approach is crucial for eliminating bias and accurately assessing the effects.

Subjective effects are definitely there

What did the study reveal? The results were both illuminating and surprising. Participants who received the active dose reported significantly more intense acute effects compared to those who received the placebo. Interestingly, this difference was only observed among participants who correctly identified their experimental condition, hinting at the powerful role of expectation in shaping subjective experiences.

EEG theta rhythm is evidently decreased

Moreover, the study uncovered changes in EEG rhythms, with a reduction in power observed in the theta band among participants who received the active dose. This alteration in brain activity suggests that even low doses of psilocybin can induce measurable changes in neural functioning. However, these changes did not translate into significant improvements in well-being, creativity, or cognitive function, contrary to the anecdotal claims surrounding microdosing.

EEG neural oscillations and ERP analysis psilocybin vs placebo
a. Logarithmic Power Spectral Density vs frequency averaged across channels. b. The same as a. but devided in bands. c. Topographic distribution of spectral power and Lempel-Ziv complexity. e. Results of the local-global ERP analysis. Left: global deviant minus local deviant ERPs located at AFz for the the placebo condition. Center: local deviant at AFz for placebo vs. psilocybin. Right: same as in panel C but for the global deviant.

Other benefits of microdosing are still speculative

While the acute subjective effects of microdosing were evident, including altered EEG rhythms, the study did not find substantial support for the other reported benefits. This challenges the prevailing narrative surrounding microdosing and underscores the importance of empirical evidence in evaluating its efficacy.

Despite these findings, the study offers valuable insights into the practice of microdosing and its potential mechanisms of action. By uncovering changes in brain activity and subjective experiences, the study advances our understanding of how psilocybin interacts with the human brain. However, it also highlights the complexity of this interaction and the need for further research to elucidate its long-term effects.

Mindset plays a crucial role

One of the most significant takeaways from the study is the importance of expectation in shaping the microdosing experience. Participants who correctly identified their experimental condition reported more intense acute effects, suggesting that mindset plays a crucial role in determining the outcomes of microdosing. This has profound implications for future research and clinical applications of psychedelics, emphasizing the need to consider psychological factors alongside pharmacological effects.

Moreover, the study highlights the challenges associated with studying microdosing, including its underground origins and lack of standardized procedures. Without clear guidelines and protocols, researchers face obstacles in conducting rigorous studies that yield meaningful results. Addressing these challenges will be crucial for advancing our understanding of microdosing and its potential therapeutic applications.

In conclusion, while the allure of microdosing psilocybin mushrooms may be compelling, it’s essential to approach the practice with a critical eye. While the acute effects are evident, the evidence for its reported benefits remains inconclusive. Cavanna’s study offers valuable insights into the complexities of microdosing and underscores the need for further research to unlock its true potential. As we continue to navigate the hype surrounding microdosing, a balanced approach that combines scientific rigor with open-minded exploration will be essential for separating fact from fiction and harnessing the true power of psychedelics.

Original paper can be found at the nature translational psychiatry website.

Recommended reading