Mushrooms: A Comprehensive Guide to Microdosing
Disclaimer: Psilocybin is a potentially illegal substance, and we do not encourage or condone the use of this substance where it is against the law. This guide is designed to ensure the safety of those who decide to use the substance legally.
When we say the words magic mushrooms, what springs to your mind? Maybe trippy visuals, people hugging trees or those hippie wall hangings you thought you saw the last of in your college days? Or maybe even the kaleidoscope eyed teens who flocked to San Francisco in the 60s in search for free love and expanded consciousness? While these associations may not be entirely misplaced, the uses of psilocybin are appearing to evolve to suit the needs of our modern lifestyles and pressures. And while the psychedelic fungi are still widely harnessed for their mind-expanding potential, they appear to also be appealing to a whole new demographic - regular members of society looking to subtly enhance their performance while simultaneously improving their mental wellbeing.
Shake out the image of wide-eyed teenagers in tie-dye T-shirts, the modern-day psilocybin user may look more like a Silicone Valley tech-bro or a mum dashing in between school runs - and this is all thanks to something called ‘microdosing’. Microdosing is a trend that emerged in the west coast of America less than a decade ago, and it features the user taking around one-tenth of a typical recreational dose of psilocybin for a specific number of times each week. Unlike the mind-bending experience that can be achieved through taking a full dose of the drug, the purpose of microdosing isn’t to get you high, and instead has been reported to subtly improve a range of processes including our mood, sleeping habits, eating habits, concentration, and the ability to think creatively.
With anecdotal reports of microdosing only growing by the day, the use of magic mushrooms is appearing to rise through the ranks of the underground psychedelic community into mainstream society. Everyone from athletes, artists, to busy mothers are appearing to hop on the psychedelic bandwagon, and in addition to sporadic research into the matter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even regarded psilocybin as a ‘breakthrough therapy’ in 2018. But before we all empty out our medicine cabinets to make space for this natural self-care and performance-enhancing remedy, much more about the practice and the substance should be explored first.
So join us as we take you on a trip (pun intended) through the origins, culture, benefits and risks of microdosing psilocybin, before outlining what the up to date research actually says about the practice. But before anything else, let’s start with defining what magic mushrooms actually are.
What are magic mushrooms?
Psilocybin mushrooms, more commonly referred to as ‘magic mushrooms’, or ‘shrooms’, are a group of fungi that, as the name suggests, contain psilocybin. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound that is predominantly responsible for the psychedelic nature of the fungi. When psilocybin is consumed it’s converted into ‘psilocin’, and this is what induces the mind-altering effects the drug is famous for. These effects include a sense of euphoria, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, and in extreme cases, even spiritual experience. However, adversely, the conversion of psilocybin can also reportedly induce nausea and panic attacks.
The most common varieties of magic mushrooms are known as ‘Liberty Caps’ and ‘Fly Agarics’ - and each type comes with varying levels of potency. They’re typically consumed after they’ve been dried out and extracted of moisture, and they can be eaten straight, brewed into tea, or infused into various other types of food or drink.
What is a microdose?
Depending who you ask, a microdose is typically equivalent to around a 10th of a recreational dose. In other words, it is the act of consuming sub-perceptual amounts of psychedelics - which means the effect of the substance is supposed to be subtle and have no noticeable influence on your perception or ability to function.
History of psilocybin use and microdosing
While psychedelics were only brought to a mainstream audience in the latter half of the last century, the ritual use of psilocybin mushrooms actually dates back thousands of years. The earliest recorded use of the substance dates back to 9000 BC in North Africa, where the existence of the fungi was recorded by aboriginal Saharan tribes in stone paintings. In accordance with this, the use of psychedelic mushrooms has also been alluded to in paintings, symbols and statues that emanate from a range of Native American cultures from the Mayas to the Aztecs.
It’s widely understood that members of these ancient tribes took the hallucinogenics as part of religious rituals, that belonged to a range of beliefs from indigenous shamanism to syncretic forms of Christianity. However, in addition to using these substances to communicate with deities and deceased ancestors, they also served more mundane functions, such as healing ailments. It is from these central American indigenous cultures that psilocybin mushrooms were first introduced to the modern world, and this is largely due to two Americans who travelled to Mexico in the 1950s, named Gordon Wasson and Allan Richardson.
Wasson, a city banker, and Richardson, a photographer from New York, participated in the sacred Mazatec ritual, the velada, and wrote about their experience in a 1957 piece for Life Magazine titled ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’. This exposed the west to the psychedelic powers of psilocybin mushrooms and even sparked a series of pilgrimages to the Mazatec city by cultural icons like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger. This growth in exposure jumpstarted the use of mushrooms in the western world, helped to create what is now known as the hippie counterculture of the 60s, and even inspired prominent figures like Timothy Leary to take a closer look into the potential of psychedelics.
Jump to the modern-day, and the first time microdosing psilocybin was ever alluded to was in a 2011 paper by Dr James Fadiman called ‘The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys’. It was in this paper where Dr Fadiman, renowned for his extensive work in psychedelic research, formally introduced the term microdosing into the mainstream and acknowledged the practice as a subset of psychedelic use. His research outlined the appeal of microdosing psilocybin and noted that it held promise in improving concentration and focus. This performance-enhancing potential was soon swept up within the circles of Silicon Valley, and just like that, the same plant once harnessed to connect ancient societies to divine spirits was being used to solve some of the biggest problems in the tech industry.
Why do people microdose?
So, why do people bother microdosing? And what does it actually feel like if you do it? Well, after a person takes their microdose, it takes around an hour or two before any difference is noted. Then, after the dosage starts to take effect, it has been reported to affect the user in a range of different ways - from helping the mind to stay more present and focused, to relieving feelings of anxiety and depression, and even soothing physical symptoms of pain.
So, without further ado, let’s jump into the reported benefits of microdosing psilocybin, and what evidence out there backs it up.
Improves mental health
A key reason why people are becoming curious about microdosing psilocybin is because of it’s supposed potential in reducing levels of anxiety and depression. While using psychedelics to improve mental health is nothing new, an increasing amount of research is now suggesting microdosing the substance could be just as beneficial. Also, since its categorization as a ‘breakthrough therapy’ by the FDA in 2018, the mushrooms active ingredient has been approved for medical use in the United States, and psilocybin therapy is now being investigated in an increasing amount of clinical trials. And with rates of anxiety and depression only growing globally, rolling out solutions to try and tackle this problem in a controlled, safe, and legal way may be a massive step forward in reducing the spike in mental health issues. So, what does the research say?
A variety of studies into the relationship between micro-dosing psilocybin and mental health have concluded that the compound does indeed have long-term positive effects on those suffering from a range of mental health conditions. One of the earliest studies into the therapeutic potential of microdosing was conducted by James Fadiman, who collected trip reports from people already experimenting with taking sub-perceptual amounts of the substance over a five year period. His research, published in January 2016, concluded that there was indeed a positive correlation between the act of microdosing and the reduction of drug-resistant symptoms of depression and anxiety.
More recently, in 2018, a study from the University of Bergen into the effects of microdosing found that the respondents reported mostly positive effects on their mental health. Most of the participants noted their mood improving, and the fact that these positive effects “often served to counteract symptoms especially from conditions of anxiety and depression.” These results are also correlated with a 2019 study that concluded that a lower level of stress and depression was found amongst those who microdose. However, the study also reported that some participants experienced a slight increase in neuroticism, which highlights that even though results seem promising, more research into the substance needs to be conducted before it is considered a cure-all for mental health conditions.
Increases creative thought
Another reason an increasing amount of people are becoming curious about microdosing mushrooms is because of its supposed ability to enhance cognitive creativity. With the trend gaining popularity in Silicon Valley for some time now, microdosing the substance has been thought to help out with flexible thinking, problem-solving strategies and general creativity. This makes taking trace amounts of psilocybin seem very attractive for workers who are constantly tasked with innovation in high-pressure industries such as tech, as well as those who operate within creative industries such as musicians, writers or artists. But, what research is out there to back it up?
Although research into the relationship between psilocybin and enhanced creativity is sparse, a range of studies does highlight its power in boosting creative thought. In a 2018 study that was published in the journal Psychopharmacology, 38 volunteers were tasked with solving a range of creative problems, and the results showed that microdosing psilocybin did indeed increase creativity - especially with regard to convergent and divergent thinking. Furthermore, in the same study at the University of Bergen that showed a relation between microdosing and improved mood, a relationship was also found between taking trace amounts of psilocybin and increased creative thought, backing up the belief that microdosing shrooms really can help you think outside of the box.
Reduces addictive behaviours
Another supposed cognitive advantage to microdosing psilocybin is the promise is shows in reducing addictive behaviours. Addiction is an issue that plagues a large amount of the population and with substance abuse issues costing the NHS around £36 billion each year, finding a reliable and safe method to curb addictive habits will be beneficial to society in a variety of ways. Luckily enough, although research into psilocybin and addiction is preliminary, definitive links in the substances ability to reduce addiction have been drawn.
In a study by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, it was found that 80% of the of 15 participants, who smoked heavily, were able to abstain from smoking for 10 months after first undergoing psilocybin treatment. In addition to this, a 2015 study by the Journal of Psychopharmacology also found that the administration of psilocybin treatments helped heavy drinkers cut back on their drinking days. So, even though we’re a long way off conclusively understanding the relationship between addiction and psilocybin, promising foundations have been laid out.
Reduces aches and pains
In addition to the cognitive benefits that microdosing magic mushrooms are believed to elicit, it’s also been suggested that taking tiny amounts of the substance can also with relieving pain. With around 8 million people suffering from chronic pain in the UK alone, finding a safe and effective pain-relieving remedy is becoming more important than ever. Luckily, with more information on psychedelics and their benefits coming to light, an increasing amount of research is focusing on the physical applications of substances like psilocybin.
whole research facilities focusing on the physical benefits of psychedelics have been set up.
According to a review by the Psychedelics and Health Research Initiative (PHRI), an array of studies have linked consuming small amounts of psychedelics to significant and lasting reductions of pain associated with cluster headaches, phantom-limb pain, tinnitus, and other chronic pain conditions. However, much more extensive research into the subject needs to be conducted before psilocybin can be used to relieve pain in non-clinical settings.
How does psilocybin work in our brains?
So, now the benefits of microdosing psilocybin and the supporting evidence has been outlined, we have a greater understanding of its therapeutic and practical applications. But you may still be wondering - how is all of this actually made possible? To understand this, we need to look inside the brain, to see what neurological changes are made when we start microdosing mushrooms. So, these are the main ways that small amounts of psilocybin influence brain activity.
Psilocybin mimics serotonin
One reason why psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD have such a notable effect on our neurochemistry, (even in tiny doses) is because they share an incredibly similar structure to serotonin. This means that they are able to successfully replicate the effect of the chemical, which is significant because serotonin affects nearly everything our mind does - from how we process information to the way that we feel. In addition to influencing many of these key functions, microdosing psychedelics like mushrooms also stimulates the serotonin receptors called 5-HT2A in the pre-frontal cortex - and this is significant for two different ways.
- It produces the protein ‘Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
Don’t be scared off by the technical name, BDNF is simply a protein that plays a key role in neuronal growth and survival. Commonly described at ‘Miricle-Gro for your brain’, when BDNF is increased, it stimulates activity and connections in the brain, and this is likely why microdosing psilocybin is understood to open up neural-pathways and facilitate creating thinking.
- Increases Glutamate production
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that plays important roles in cognition, memory, and learning. It works closely with the BDNF in ways that haven’t been extensively explored - but similarly to the protein, Glutamate is understood to improve neuro-plasticity and creative thought.
Decreases DMN activity
The ‘Default Mode Network (DMN)’ is a network of brain regions that are active when humans are occupied with mental activities such as self-reflection, daydreaming, or ruminating about the past or future. Basically, the DMN is the most active when we’re in a mental state that is not present, and often, the higher activity of the DNM, the increased chance that we’ll question ourselves, over-analyse ourselves, and ultimately be less happy.
When we take psychedelic drugs, even in sub-perceptual amounts, DMN activity has been understood to reduce. This explains in part why the remedial use of psychedelics can help our thoughts stay more present, and even have the power to lower feelings of depression and anxiety.
Another reason that reduced DMN activity is thought to correlate with increased well-being is through its ability to increase mental flow states. Flow states are mental states where we becoming fully immersed and present in the moment. They help us to become more focused on the task at hand, and due to higher levels of serotonin being found during these states, they are also typically pleasurable experiences. Although research into microdosing and flow-states is still limited, the established relationship between psychedelics and accessing this state suggests that it could also be induced by smaller, regular doses.
How do you microdose?
Microdosing psilocybin is a fairly simple process - you just need to prepare them correctly, and then know when to take them and what sized dose is appropriate for you.
When it comes to preparation, drying out your mushrooms makes it easier to grind them up and separate them. All psilocybin mushrooms contain different levels of potency so for this reason, it is important that you do your research first. After the mushrooms are dried out and ground up to a dust-like consistency, it’s a good idea to separate it out into 0.1g or smaller doses, so you can start small before working your way up to your desired amount.
There are lots of different ways to consume your microdose of mushrooms, but to save unnecessary fuss, it might be wise to allocate your doses into capsules. This improves efficiency while also masking the, somewhat acquired, taste.
When it comes to how frequently you should take your microdose, it is widely agreed that you shouldn’t be taking it every day and that the morning is the most optimal time to take it. James Fadiman, American psychologist famed for his work into psychedelia, recommends that it is wise to take your dose once every three days. This is because the effects of psilocybin can be felt for a couple of days, and your tolerance will be raised if you take it more frequently.
What are the risks?
As it currently stands, magic, or psilocybin mushrooms, are illegal to own, to give away and to sell in the UK. They are considered a class-A drug, so getting caught with them in your possession could lead to serious legal consequences. For this reason, it’s important to check your local law before microdosing. However, the criminal status of magic mushrooms varies from country to country, and in certain places like the Netherlands, the use of psilocybin in certain forms has been decriminalised.
May inflame pre-existing conditions
Even though consuming psychedelics in such small doses is unlikely to prompt any negative reactions, if you currently suffer from mental conditions such as severe anxiety, psychosis or schizophrenia, use of psilocybin could likely exacerbate underlying conditions. This is only likely to occur if the recommended dose is exceeded, but to play it safe if you suffer from pre-existing mental conditions it is safer to avoid the practice altogether.
May increase anxiety
Since psychedelics amplify current feelings and emotions, if you exceed a sensible dose of psilocybin when you are experiencing anxiety of any other form of emotional turbulence, it’s possible for these undesirable feelings to be heightened. For this reason, it is important to be conscious of your emotional state before you decide to microdose.
To summarise, psilocybin mushrooms have a rich and diverse history, and as research into their applications grows in the modern-day, they are becoming increasingly recognised for their therapeutic values. Due to the minuscule nature of a microdose, it is highly unlikely that you will be faced with any adverse reactions or experience an altered state of consciousness if you decide to partake in the practice responsibly.
However with this being said, research into microdosing psilocybin mushrooms is still very much in its preliminary stages, so it’s crucial to take this into consideration before any final decisions are made. It is important to follow the advised guidelines and to only practice microdosing if you are able to do so in a safe, and legal way. Also, due to the potent nature of psychedelics, it’s wise to be mindful about the risks involved beforehand and to not take them as a remedy for any long-term physical or mental health condition.