Large psychedelic study finds microdosing benefits are mostly placebo

Psychedelic microdosing has proven popular, particularly in industries that require creativity and quick thinking. Microdosers report a variety of alleged benefits resulting from taking minuscule quantities of psychedelics like LSD, but the largest placebo-controlled study of its kind has found that these effects are 'likely' the result of the placebo effect.

Psychedelic microdosing, which involves taking sub-perceptual doses of psychedelic substances, is purported to offer a number of benefits. Long-term microdose users report increases in creative thinking, empathy, energy levels, and similar things, as well as a reduction in anxiety, depression, and select other mental health issues.

A new study published in eLife details the largest placebo-controlled study on microdosing psychedelics, one that involved providing online instructions to users who engaged in a 'self-blinding citizen science' method.

The study involved 191 people who were already microdosing. Following the provided instructions, the participants mixed placebo pills with microdose pills, each marked with barcodes that were scanned to record whether a placebo or microdose was consumed.

Over the four-week dosing period, the participants took cognitive tests and filled out surveys. The results indicated that while participants did experience benefits, essentially the same benefits were reported even when taking the placebo pills. The study's lead author Bal√°zs Szigeti explained:

Our results are mixed: on the one hand, we observed microdosing's benefits in a wide range of psychological measures; on the other hand, equal benefits were seen among participants taking placebos. These findings suggest that the benefits are not due to the drug, but rather due to the placebo-like expectation effects. Many participants who reported that they experienced positive effects while taking the placebo were shocked to learn after the study that they hadn't been taking the real drug.