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Description: Here is a “design a study” challenge. You may have run across discussions of recent research looking at the therapeutic use of drugs that are or were considered recreational and illegal, e.g., LSD, Ecstasy, or Psilocybin (magic mushrooms). What you may not have run across yet are discussion of more recent research looking at the effects of microdosing, or, taking just 5 to 10% of a full dose of a hallucinogenic drug as a means of improving mood and general outlook on life. What would a properly designed study of microdosing involve (assume ethical clearance has been granted)? Who would participate? Would you use a no-drug control or a placebo control? What would you measure by way of dependent variables? How would you measure them? Beyond your hypotheses in the study you are designing, what do you think your results will tell you? Once you have your design sketched out and maybe written down in point form so you will remember what you decided to do, read through the article linked below that talks about a number of researchers’ attempts to design just such a study.

Source: More People Are Microdosing for Mental Health. But Does It Work? Dana G. Smith, Mind, The New York Times.

Date: Feb 28, 2022

Image by allyartist from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, did you include a placebo control? Would the people participating in your study all have volunteered because they though microdosing would really do something good for them? Did you include a question about which group your participants thought they were in (microdose or placebo control)? And what did you think of the suggestion that if microdosing produced changes in the brain consistent with those seen with full doses, it MUST be doing something? I suspect that the designing of an effective study looking at microdosing has turned out to be way more complicated than you though it would be. Most telling, I thought, was that two of the researchers who had done research on microdosing were planning to or were already switching back to studying full doses. Maybe more research in needed but also, maybe different research is needed if we are going to figure out the realities of microdosing (and the possible power of placebos)!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is microdosing?
  2. What are some of the challenges of using a placebo control in research into the possible impacts, or lack thereof, of microdosing?
  3. What sorts of research should be done next in relation to microdosing?

References (Read Further):

Griffiths, R. R., Johnson, M. W., Carducci, M. A., Umbricht, A., Richards, W. A., Richards, B. D., Cosimano, M. P., & Klinedinst, M. A. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 30(12), 1181–1197. Link

Kuypers, K. P., Ng, L., Erritzoe, D., Knudsen, G. M., Nichols, C. D., Nichols, D. E., Pani, L., Soula, A., & Nutt, D. (2019). Microdosing psychedelics: More questions than answers? An overview and suggestions for future research. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 33(9), 1039–1057. Link

Griffiths, R. R., Johnson, M. W., Richards, W. A., Richards, B. D., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2011). Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects. Psychopharmacology, 218(4), 649–665. Link

Carhart-Harris, R., Giribaldi, B., Watts, R., Baker-Jones, M., Murphy-Beiner, A., Murphy, R., … & Nutt, D. J. (2021). Trial of psilocybin versus escitalopram for depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 384(15), 1402-1411. Link

Hutten, N. R., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Theunissen, E. L., Holze, F., Liechti, M. E., … & Kuypers, K. P. (2020). Low doses of LSD acutely increase BDNF blood plasma levels in healthy volunteers. ACS pharmacology & translational science, 4(2), 461-466. Link

Cameron, L. P., Nazarian, A., & Olson, D. E. (2020). Psychedelic microdosing: prevalence and subjective effects. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 52(2), 113-122. Link

Marschall, J., Fejer, G., Lempe, P., Prochazkova, L., Kuchar, M., Hajkova, K., & van Elk, M. (2022). Psilocybin microdosing does not affect emotion-related symptoms and processing: A preregistered field and lab-based study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 36(1), 97-113. Link

Szigeti, B., Kartner, L., Blemings, A., Rosas, F., Feilding, A., Nutt, D. J., … & Erritzoe, D. (2021). Self-blinding citizen science to explore psychedelic microdosing. Elife, 10, e62878. Link

Madsen, M. K., Fisher, P. M., Burmester, D., Dyssegaard, A., Stenbæk, D. S., Kristiansen, S., … & Knudsen, G. M. (2019). Psychedelic effects of psilocybin correlate with serotonin 2A receptor occupancy and plasma psilocin levels. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(7), 1328-1334. Link