Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or severe ADHD symptoms who practiced microdosing with psychedelics reported increases in mindfulness after four weeks, according to new preliminary research published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. The findings underscore the importance of conducting future placebo-controlled studies to validate whether these observed changes can be replicated in a controlled experimental environment.
ADHD affects millions of adults worldwide, characterized by symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Many individuals with ADHD have turned to microdosing psychedelics, taking low, sub-hallucinogenic doses of substances, to self-treat their symptoms and improve daily functioning. Recent research has explored how microdosing may alter personality traits and mindfulness in the general population, but its effects on individuals with ADHD have remained largely unexplored.
Mindfulness, defined as the ability to be present, allocate attention to the current experience, and react non-judgmentally to thoughts and sensations, has been linked to personality traits such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness. Previous studies have shown that individuals with ADHD tend to score lower on mindfulness and differ in personality traits compared to those without ADHD. However, it’s unclear how microdosing might influence these traits in individuals with ADHD.
To address this gap in knowledge, a recent study was conducted to investigate the effects of microdosing on mindfulness and personality traits in adults diagnosed with ADHD or experiencing severe ADHD symptoms. The study, part of a larger research effort, followed a prospective naturalistic design. Adults with ADHD or severe ADHD-like symptoms who intended to start microdosing psychedelics voluntarily were recruited for the study.
“We have previously demonstrated that individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) engage in the self-medication practice of low repeated doses of a psychedelic substance, commonly known as microdosing. This approach has been shown to result in improvements in ADHD symptoms and overall well-being,” said study author Eline C. H. M. Haijen (@ehaijen), a PhD candidate at the Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology at Maastricht University.
“Individuals diagnosed with ADHD typically exhibit lower levels of mindfulness characterized by difficulties allocating and sustaining attention to the present moment and a tendency to be non-judgmental and non-reactive toward emerging thoughts and emotions. Moreover, their personality structure differs from non-ADHD individuals, marked by heightened neuroticism (i.e., negative affect and emotionally unstable) and reduced conscientiousness (i.e., efficient and organized).”
“While prior microdosing studies have investigated alterations in mindfulness and personality traits after microdosing, these studies predominantly involved samples from the general population. We were interested in knowing if and how these traits would change after microdosing in adults with ADHD.”
The researchers collected data at four time points: baseline, 2 weeks after microdosing initiation, 4 weeks after initiation, and through daily surveys. They recruited participants online, provided them with information about the study, and obtained informed consent. There were 233 participants at baseline, 66 participants at the 2-week time point, and 44 participants at the 4-week time point. The majority of participants reported microdosing with psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
Participants completed various psychological assessments, including the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ-15) for mindfulness and the Big Five Inventory (BFI-10) for personality traits. They also reported their previous experience with psychedelics and mindfulness practices, any comorbid psychiatric diagnoses, and ADHD medication usage.
After 2 and 4 weeks of microdosing, participants reported increased levels of mindfulness compared to baseline. Specifically, they showed improvements in facets such as observation, description, acting with awareness, non-judging of inner experience, and non-reactivity to inner experiences.
“We found improvements in all facets of mindfulness after four weeks of microdosing,” Haijen explained. “However, when controlling for recent mindfulness/meditation experience, only the facets Description and Non-judging of inner experience remained elevated. So it seems that these aspects are in particular sensitive to change after microdosing.”
Description in mindfulness refers to the ability to put one’s experiences into words or to describe them verbally or mentally. Non-judging of inner experience, on the other hand, is a core aspect of mindfulness that involves accepting and observing one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations without attaching judgments or evaluations to them. It means not labeling experiences as good or bad, right or wrong.
“Their average mindfulness score at the 4 week time point was comparable to mean mindfulness scores of general population samples,” Haijen said.
The researchers also found that neuroticism, a personality trait often associated with emotional instability, decreased after 4 weeks of microdosing. Conscientiousness and extraversion increased after 4 weeks and 2 weeks, respectively, but these effects were not statistically significant when considering multiple comparisons. Agreeableness and openness remained unchanged.
“The personality trait neuroticism was significantly decreased after four weeks of microdosing compared to baseline,” Haijen told PsyPost. “However, this average neuroticism score was still higher than the average neuroticism levels of general population samples. So it seems that mindfulness and personality traits do change, in positive directions, in adults with ADHD after microdosing for a period of four weeks. However, controlled studies are needed to confirm these findings.”
But the study had some limitations, including a high dropout rate and potential bias due to participants who did not have a pleasant microdosing experience. Additionally, controlled studies in lab settings are needed to ensure uniformity in the substances and doses used. Future research could investigate whether these microdosing-induced effects on mindfulness and personality traits are long-lasting by conducting follow-up measurements several months post-microdosing.
“This study is a naturalistic prospective study, meaning that we measured participants over time without manipulating any variables such as substances and doses they used for microdosing during the study,” Haijen said. “In contrast to a controlled lab-based study, where drug- and dose uniformity is guaranteed. Also no control group was included, so we cannot say if this effect was purely because of microdosing, or if other factors, such as placebo- or expectancy effects, were the main force behind the changes we observed. So this study should be seen as a first step in this research direction, as more and controlled studies will hopefully follow.”
“Because of naturalistic studies, such as the current one, we gain more information about microdosing practices occurring in society,” Haijen added. “For example, it appears that the doses people use for microdosing vary widely. They seem to experiment with several doses and dosing regimens, eventually choosing a practice that works best for them. This calibration of dosing practices is challenging to capture in controlled lab-based studies, although it might be an important factor in measuring microdosing effects.”
The study, “Trait mindfulness and personality characteristics in a microdosing ADHD sample: a naturalistic prospective survey study“, was authored by Eline C. H. M. Haijen, Petra P. M. Hurks, and Kim P. C. Kuypers.