No Ego Revisited: The Whys, Whats and Hows of Psychedelic Microdosing

This article is ambidextrous. On the one hand, it is nothing more than a non-fiction book review. On the other, it is a fully-featured 3,000 word guide to psychedelic microdosing.

The book in question is A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life by Ayelet Waldman. The title is a little coy – presumably so she can slip under society’s anti-drugs radar. Waldman is talking specifically about psychedelic microdosing, the habit of taking a very small dose of a psychedelic drug in the same way you’d take a microdose of caffeine with your morning coffee.

Waldman’s experiment lasted a month and follows the advice of Dr Jim Fadiman, who has been collecting informal reports from psychedelic microdosers for the last ten years or so. Once in every three days, Waldman would start her morning with a drop or two of diluted LSD, then continue her day as normal, recording observations on her mood, relationships and productivity at work. This book is her lab report.

Are you ready for this? So we begin, in conventional book review fashion.

The book review

Ayelet Waldman is perhaps the perfect person to write this book. She’s a former criminal defence lawyer who used to consult for the Drug Policy Alliance. She’s a fierce advocate of drug law reform, but also a rigorous researcher and a talented writer. She’s a mother of four, with a husband and a nice house in California. She’s honest, funny and properly middle class. She’s normal, which will come as a huge relief to anyone resistant to reading about the possible benefits of illegal drug use.

Other books written by Ayelet Waldman include Playdate With Death, Death Gets a Time-Out, and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. She’s not a hippy, she’s not a dead-head, she’s a populist. This makes me optimistic that psychedelic drug use is becoming socially acceptable and that our culture might yet come to think about psychedelics in a more mature, evidence-based way. But more on that later.

For those of you simply wondering whether to invest in this book, I’m not going to waste any more of your time. There is one circumstance under which you absolutely must buy A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman and that’s if you’re seriously contemplating running an experiment with microdosing for yourself. Read the whole book, cover to cover. Waldman is an entertaining and informative host and her interviews with Jim Fadiman are worth the £13.99 alone (Day 7 and Day 16 for the browsers among you). Think of this as an update on Fadiman’s 2011 Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. (And if you haven’t already read that, please do so.)

For the rest of you, for whom time and money are short, go down to your nearest bookshop and browse for five minutes.

  • If you’re worried about the dangers of psychedelic use, browse the middle six pages of Day 3 (each chapter represents one day of Waldman’s experiment). Teaser, quoted from a 2008 peer-reviewed article: “There have been no documented human deaths from an LSD overdose.”
  • If you want to know how LSD works and how it might be more effective than legally prescribed pharmaceuticals, including anti-depressants, browse the seven pages of Day 5.
  • If you’re curious about psychedelics, especially why they’re still illegal for personal use and why they really shouldn’t be, browse Day 27. I thought these were the best fifteen pages of the book.
  • If you’re wondering what effect a course of microdosing might have on your life or the lives of your loved ones, browse the six pages of Day 30.

If you’re not hooked in five minutes, don’t buy it. You can’t say fairer than that.

Okay, the review part of this book review is already over. What follows are some observations on the whys, whats and hows of microdosing, based both on Ayelet Waldman’s book and my own research, beginning with the first question I’m always asked.

Wait, isn’t this illegal?

That depends on where you live and on what psychedelic substance you are using. In Holland, the answer is no. In Amsterdam, you can buy psilocybe mushroom truffles over the counter and prepare microdoses yourself.

Substances like LSD are illegal for personal use across most of the world, but there are exceptions. In Switzerland, for example, certain psychologists have been licensed to use LSD as part of their therapeutic practice with their patients. In other countries, it is legal for certain church organisations to use psychedelics during their religious observances. Probably the most famous of these is the Santi Dime church that originated in Brazil.

Essentially, however, yes: the consumption of LSD in the UK is illegal. In fact, it’s a Class A drug, meaning that you could find yourself imprisoned for up to 7 years for possession of even a microdose. As I understand the law, you must be caught in possession and be prosecuted within six months of the offence taking place. I’m not a lawyer, though.

Whether or not this puts you off any experimentation will come down to two things: your respect for drug laws and how desperate you are. Ayelet Waldman came to LSD microdosing because, after decades of prescription drug use to manage her bi-polar-like symptoms, she was desperate for something that might actually work.

Hopefully you’re not at the point of last resort, so I’ll address instead the question of how much we should respect our current drug laws.

Everything is a microdose

Two months ago, to deal with a nasty bout of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I started eating a gluten-free diet. Almost immediately my symptoms cleared up – no more bloating, nausea or diarrhoea. It was a remarkable success and, after two months of a happy stomach, I felt brave enough to re-introduce a small amount of gluten, in the form of a wheat tortilla. Mmm… Mexican food. My stomach didn’t show any anti-gluten sentiment, but after lunch I got a sharp headache that lasted into the evening. The next day, the same thing happened again. I recognised these distinctive headaches, a piercing needle through the temple: I’ve had them before. I also knew that I hadn’t had them for two months.

I started out on a gluten-free diet to relieve symptoms of bloating, nausea and diarrhoea, not to relieve these after dinner headaches. I don’t know about you, but headaches can have a profound affect my behaviour. I become sensitive to light and noise, so I retreat from public spaces. I find it hard to concentrate and want to do nothing but lie down in a darkened room. If I’m forced to concentrate or socialise, I’m less productive and more irritable. I’m still the same person, but I’ve shifted 10% further along the particular scale of myself, in the direction of closed-mindedness, isolation and irritability.

Everything we ingest has a biological effect on our bodies, a psychological effect on the way we feel and hence consequences for our behaviour. In this sense, I think of gluten-containing foods as being, for me, microdoses of crappiness.

Now, I don’t particularly want to go in that direction, so I won’t be rushing out to eat gluten anytime soon. But if you knew there was a substance that could reliably shift you along the particular scale of yourself in a direction you wished to go, would you take it? This is what many people find psychedelic microdoses do for them.

It comes down to personal inclination. Plenty of us take microdoses of caffeine to improve alertness, microdoses of alcohol to lower social inhibitions, or microdoses of sugar to boost energy. Each of these are legal in our society, while microdosing psychedelics suffers from the stigma of illegality.

This is a shame because, according to many informal reports, a microdose of a psychedelic has both a gentler and more pronounced effect on alertness, sociability and energy than any other enhancing substance. Psychedelics seem not to have any of the unpleasant side-effects associated with coffee, alcohol and sugar: there’s no addiction, no hang-over and no diabetes.

The law that criminalises LSD while allowing more harmful drugs like alcohol and less effective pharmaceutical products like Adderall (a prescription amphetamine used to treat ADHD in the US) seems to be arbitrary. And this opinion on the law is beginning to hold sway: sensible decriminalisation seems to be the current global trend. The legal sale and use of marijuana in eight US states has drawn a lot of publicity recently, but Portugal successfully decriminalised possession of all drugs way back in 2001. Hard-line Republican judge Richard Posner called for the US to follow suit in a 2014 New Republic article on prison reform. Just last year, the General Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, made a similar appeal, writing in the Huffington Post.

I truly believe that everything we ingest is a microdose and that humans have a fundamental right to experiment with their own consciousness. Alcohol prohibition failed in 1920s America for good reason. I sincerely hope that our fifty-year psychedelic prohibition will also fail and that soon I’ll be able to buy a safe microdose of a psychedelic in the same way that I can buy a safe microdose of painkillers for my gluten headaches.

Why microdose?

Based on numerous reports from informal experiments, most people seem to believe there are two conditions under which microdosing is a particularly useful tool.

  1. When you have a specific goal that you want to tackle with your full concentration. Website coding, film editing, warehouse paperwork, drawing up architectural plans, surfing: all manner of tasks have been reported as productive and enjoyable activities under the influence of a microdose. Some people find that they are able to do two or three times the amount of work than on a normal day, that the work is of a higher standard and that they are more satisfied with their results. However, motivation for the task must exist before supplementation. Without clear goals and motivation, a day of microdosing can feel instead like a wasted opportunity.
  2. When you have an important social event, particularly one that might go late into the night. This is especially relevant if you’re not a natural socialite, find it difficult to talk to strangers or tire early in the evening. Feelings of enthusiasm and openness that arise while microdosing can make social occasions much more relaxed and enjoyable. You might feel more interested in other people, more prepared to listen without judgement, quicker to laugh, more connected and more able to help others open up as well. Without completely vanishing, mild social anxiety seems to dissipate, helping you relax even when not part of the conversation. The extra 2-3 hours of wakefulness that often comes with microdosing could help you socialise late into the night. Beware of combining a microdose with other psychoactive substances such as alcohol, however.

These are the two most frequently reported conditions under which microdosing has a profound and positive impact on people’s lives. Other positive conditions include:

  1. Microdosing to help find deep relaxation, perhaps in conjunction with meditation or yoga.
  2. Partners using a microdose to help strengthen channels of communication in both personal and working relationships. Ayelet Waldman discusses her and her partner’s use of MDMA for the purpose of marital therapy.
  3. Microdosing as part of a training programme, athletic or intellectual. Microdoses seem to make you more in tune with your body, but also more open to new ideas and learning. Some people report being able to train harder and for longer, or perform at a higher standard more easily.

These are all examples of conditions under which the potential benefits of microdosing a psychedelic seem to be most present. I’ll now be more specific about what those various benefits might be, as well as the possible negative side-effects, as reported by microdosing experiment participants, including Ayelet Waldman.

Potential benefits of microdosing LSD

According to Jim Fadiman, people who microdose have reported:

…improvements in their experience of depression, anxiety, vascular conditions, eating patterns, exercise patterns, creativity, relationships, and, in some cases, increased libido and diminished chronic pain.

Adding to that list, here is a collection of all reported benefits I have uncovered during my research, divided into four categories: emotional, intellectual, relationships and physical.

Please note: These are drawn from the self-reports of psychedelic microdosers. As such, this is far from implying causation– as Ayelet Waldman points out, it could just be one hell of a placebo effect!

Emotional
  • Contentment.
  • Increase in equanimity, an even temper, calmness.
  • Impulse control.
  • Reduced anxiety.
  • Elevated mood, happiness, delight, euphoria.
  • Feeling open and accepting.
  • Alleviation of depression.
  • Feeling like you’ve had a really good day (this is Ayelet Waldman’s favourite).
  • Increased appreciation of nature.
  • More positive outlook on life.
  • Increased self-appreciation.
Intellectual
  • Increased productivity.
  • Losing track of time.
  • Easier access to “flow” state.
  • Ability to sustain creativity for longer.
  • More effective problem-solving.
  • Improved focus.
Relationships
  • Less frequent conflict with others.
  • More reasonable during arguments.
  • More likely to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Increased compassion.
  • Better able to relate to other people, including strangers.
  • Reduced social anxiety.
  • Increased sense of empathy.
Physical
  • Pain relief. Ayelet Waldman reported that her frozen shoulder started to loosen up during her experiment. Other microdosers report reduced incidence of chronic conditions, such as cluster headaches.
  • Increased libido.
  • Heightened awareness.
  • Increased energy.
  • Improved diet, possibly due to heightened awareness of the body.
  • More regular exercise, also possibly due to heightened awareness of the body.
  • Reduced dependency on (other) stimulants, including caffeine and ADHD medication.
  • Increased athletic performance.
  • Reduced dependency on addictive substances, including cigarettes.

Potential Negative Side-effects of Microdosing

Many people have also reported undesirable side-effects of microdosing a psychedelic. It is worth pointing out, however, that these are usually mild and off-set by a range of positive benefits.

  • Sleeplessness. Short sleep duration. This could be the price paid for increased energy levels during the day.
  • Stomach upset, nausea or diarrhoea. These symptoms seem to dissipate once the psychedelic has passed through the stomach.
  • Flushing or hotness.
  • Agitation, restlessness and irritation.
  • Mild dizziness or tingling in the body. These could be a sign that the dose is slightly too high.
  • Anxiety. Ayelet Waldman’s husband noticed that she seemed more anxious than usual on microdosing days.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Extreme fatigue on non-microdosing days. According to Jim Fadiman, this has been the only reason that anyone has dropped out of the 30-day experiment.
  • Prison. The only man-made side-effect!

It goes without saying that if you experience undue discomfort or disquiet while taking any psychoactive substance, you should cease immediately and seek professional medical advice.

Non-existent negative side-effects

In an effort to dispel the more absurd myths that surround psychedelic use, the following have not been reported as side-effects of microdosing.

  • Weight gain.
  • Loss of libido.
  • Visions or hallucinations. Microdoses are deliberately sub-perceptual. If you do experience visions, your dose is too high.
  • Addiction. LSD doesn’t work on the brain in the same way as addictive psychoactives like nicotine or heroin. Daily LSD use leads to drug tolerance, not addiction. This is why Jim Fadiman’s protocol calls for two rest days between microdoses, to give the body a chance to reset.
  • Psychosis.
  • Death. I quote again: “There have been no documented human deaths from an LSD overdose.”

Contraindications

There are no known contraindications for psychedelic microdosing because there have been no proper medical trials. If in doubt, ask the advice of a pharmacist. If you have a chronic condition that is managed by regular prescription medicine, only proceed with extreme caution.

Okay, we made it! We’ve got to the end of what, for some of you, will have been the preamble. I hope that the preceding 2500 words have given you an idea of what’s ahead and will help guide you through your own explorations of being.

How to microdose a psychedelic

In this section, I’m using LSD as an example. If you’re using a different psychedelic, refer to Jim Fadiman’s protocol.

Okay. You’re aiming for 10 microgrammes (mcg) of LSD. Dose is important, but don’t worry too much if you end up with 5-20mcg. The higher the dose, obviously, the more powerful the psychedelic effects. Reports suggest that higher doses in the range of 20mcg and above increase discomfort without any additional positive benefit. If in doubt, less is more in this case.

Your first task is to know what you’ve got. LSD usually comes either soaked into little cardboard tabs, or in liquid form. In either case, you MUST know how much LSD you have. This makes finding a reliable source for your psychedelic absolutely crucial. Unfortunately, without legal regulation, the best sources are those that come recommended from trusted friends.

Once you know what you have, you can divide the psychedelic into microdoses. If you have a tab, then you either need to get handy with some scissors, or you need to dissolve it in distilled water.

Make sure you keep track of your quantities. If you have a 100mcg tab of LSD, then dissolve this in 100ml of distilled water. Allow at least an hour for the LSD to dissolve fully. Now you can use a clean syringe to measure out 10ml of LSD-laced water for each of your microdoses.

If you have liquid LSD, then your job slightly more complicated. Liquid LSD comes in different concentrations: find out how much LSD is in each drop. If one drop contains 100mcg of LSD, then dilute one drop with 20 drops of distilled water. Each drop of the mixture will then contain 5mcg of LSD. Take two drops for a 10mcg microdose.

Whatever you do, keep track of what you’re giving yourself.

Some Recommendations:

  • Microdose before 10am, unless you’re prepared for a long night.
  • If using liquid LSD, it’s a good idea to store your psychedelic in the fridge.
  • Keep track of how you feel throughout your experiment. Microdosing LSD shouldn’t be undertaken lightly and you should treat your body with respect.
  • Make a few notes on your physical and mental health every day, including on the days you’re not taking a microdose. At the end of your experiment, you’ll have a picture of how microdosing affected your life.
  • If you’re prepared to take this as seriously as it deserved, then I highly recommend you follow Jim Fadiman’s protocol and register for daily check-ins with his research team. At the very least read his advice before starting. https://sites.google.com/view/microdosingpsychedelics/home
  • You can, of course, find a huge amount of information on psychedelics and microdosing on the internet.

One final word

Microdosing is NOT a miracle cure for life. According to Ayelet Waldman, Jim Fadiman and many others, microdosing is more like a key that allows you reliable access to your best self and consequently a life that more often pleases.

As the legal disclaimer for another popular psychoactive drug says: Enjoy Responsibly.

#21: Everything we know about psychedelics is wrong

1. 15.4% of UK adults have taken Class A drugs

My upbringing was most definitely drug-negative. I went to a school where “drugs” were for drop-outs. It would have astonished me to learn that more than a third of UK adults (11.4 million 16-59 year olds according to Home Office statistics) have taken illegal drugs in their lifetime – and almost a sixth (5 million 16-59 year olds) have taken Class A drugs.

Fear began to mutate into curiosity when, in my thirties, I first met people who were both well-adjusted and regular psychedelic users. Through them, I learnt that behind the fearful media image of psychedelics there was both science and history, which could, if we allowed, contribute to a much more mature and complete awareness of psychoactive compounds. Continue reading #21: Everything we know about psychedelics is wrong

#20: Three Lessons from a Vipassana Meditation Retreat

The Dark

I don’t mind admitting that a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat with no running, dancing, skipping or cycling, no meat or refined sugar, no speaking or smiling, no alcohol or caffeine, no reading or writing, no email or internet, no music or games, no computers or radio, no news or advertising, no physical touch and no mingling of the sexes at all sent me absolutely bonkers. To be more precise: by the end of the retreat, I was paranoid that everyone hated me. It was HARD. Continue reading #20: Three Lessons from a Vipassana Meditation Retreat

#19: Who, what, where or why is my Ego?

It’s always been there, chattering away up in my head, reflecting on the past, fantasising the future, judging others and working on its autobiography. But who, what, where or why is my ego? Continue reading #19: Who, what, where or why is my Ego?