A new exploratory study has attempted to systematically measure the psychological changes produced by microdosing — or taking very small amounts of psychedelic substances on a regular basis. The findings, which appear in PLOS One, suggest that microdosing can improve several aspects of psychological functioning — but the effects are not necessarily what people expect.

“Over the last few years there has been intense media interest in microdosing. There are thousands of news stories and personal accounts online that describe a wide range of benefits associated with microdosing but there is very little scientific evidence on the topic. We wanted to see whether these claims were justified or whether the effects of microdosing could be explained by expectations or placebo,” said study author Vince Polito, a research fellow at Macquarie University.

The researchers recruited 98 microdosers, who provided daily ratings of their psychological functioning over a six week period. The participants, who microdosed LSD, psilocybin and mescaline, also completed a comprehensive questionnaire at the start and end of the six week period.

There were several positive short-term effects. The participants reported heightened levels of connectedness, contemplation, creativity, focus, happiness, productiveness, and wellbeing on days they microdosed.

The researchers also observed some long-term effects. Depression decreased and attention increased during the six week period, but neuroticism slightly increased as well. People with high levels of neuroticism are more likely to experience negative emotions. There were no significant changes in mindfulness, mystical experience, positive personality traits, creativity, sense of agency or overall quality of life from the beginning to the end of the study.

“This was very preliminary research, so our findings need to be taken cautiously. But we found indications that microdosing had a range of effects. We found reductions in depression, stress and mind wandering; and also increases in focused attention. We also found an increase in the experience of unpleasant emotions so the effects of microdosing appear to mixed,” Polito told PsyPost.

The researchers conducted an additional study with 263 participants to compare microdosers’ expectations to the actual effects experienced by participants in the main study.

“We also looked at people’s beliefs around microdosing and found that although people did have strong predictions about what they thought would happen, these beliefs did not match the actual psychological changes we saw when we tracked the experience of microdosers. This indicates that it was not just expectations that explain our results,” Polito said.

In particular, the participants expected that neuroticism would decrease rather than increase. They also expected that creativity, wellbeing, and mindfulness would increase.

“Because microdosing is illegal in most parts of the world we had to adapt our study design. This was not a direct, lab-based experimental investigation of microdosing. Instead we systematically tracked the experiences of people already microdosing using an anonymous online system,” Polito explained.

“This means that our results rely on the accuracy and honesty of participants’ reports. As such these results highlight some important possible effects of microdosing but more careful follow up research is needed to confirm these findings.”

The study, “A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics“, was authored by Vince Polito and Richard J. Stevenson.