Can microdoses of LSD improve your mental health?

Elianna Lev
Close up of white pill with smiley face on a hand held by a young, ginger girl
Canadian researchers are looking into the psychological benefits that microdoses of psychedelic drugs can have. (Getty)

Canadian researchers are looking to learn more about the effectiveness of microdosing, the practice of taking small amounts of psychedelic drugs to help with mood and mental health challenges like depression.

Earlier this year, PhD students Thomas Anderson and Rotem Petranker published their findings on the subject from research they conducted, which is one of the largest formal studies of its kind.

An online questionnaire was posted on the sub-Reddit forum r/microdosing, as well as other social media sites. It asked participants to report their behaviours with microdosing and how it relates to “dysfunctional attitudes, wisdom, negative emotionality, open-mindedness, and mood.” Respondents also were asked to perform a task of finding as many unusual uses for common household items like a knife or brick, to assess their creativity.

The results found that people who microdosed were more open in wisdom and open-mindedness, higher on creativity and lower in negative emotions. However, these findings don’t conclude prove that microdosing works. While this particular study is limited as a result of being an online survey, the researchers involved hope to take their field work further. The pair are behind the recently launched University of Toronto Center for Psychedelic Studies, which will further examine the effects of microdosing.

“The findings from this paper...is promising,” Anderson, a PhD student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Toronto, told Yahoo Canada. “We can’t say that microdosing did anything because we don’t have this randomized control trial, and no one does. So there’s this gap in scientific knowledge. People are microdosing and we don’t know if this practice does anything and we want to find out scientifically. It seems like a promising avenue to go down because of the anecdotes.”

He says that he and his colleagues intend to do an in-lab study, which would be the first of its kind in Canada. They are currently working on getting an exemption from Health Canada, since psychedelic substances such as LSD and psilocybin are considered Schedule III drugs, under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. A private donor has already been lined up to fund the study, and a Go Fund Me has also been set up.

The online survey found that the prevalent drawback to microdosing was circumstantial, rather than physical. Respondents reported feeling uneasy about the use of illegal drugs.

“The fact that it’s illegal makes people a bit anxious,” says Anderson. “Having to interact with a drug dealer, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting...we’d be more wary of taking Tylenol if every pill had a different amount of Tylenol in it.”

Insight into microdosing can prove to be useful when exploring alternative treatments for depression and other mental health issues. While there are plenty of pharmaceuticals to treat these problems, they don’t work for everyone.

“Depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders are prevalent in society,” says Anderson. “The pathways for new potential pharmacological agents that would help with these problems would be good. Microdosing looks like it has a lot of potential for mood stuff but we can’t say it does because we haven’t tested it. So we should test it because maybe it might.”

Anderson expects to see some kind of regulation of microdosing in the future, which could mean that one day it could be prescribed by a doctor.

“There’s a conversation going on right now amongst people in this field about how we’re going to move forward,” he says.