Is microdosing just placebo? Insights from the Beckley Foundation’s research programme

What is microdosing?

How does microdosing affect mood and cognition? A lab-based double-blind, placebo-controlled study

A Novel, Self-Blinding Approach

Participants either took 4 weeks of placebo (PL), 4 weeks of microdoses (MD) or 2 weeks of placebo and 2 weeks of microdose (HH) (Szigeti et al, 2020)

Microdosing led to lasting improvements to mindfulness, and some improvement to wellbeing. Dashes and asterisks at the top of the graphs represent degree of significance for placebo / half-half/ microdosing, respectively (Szigeti et al., 2020)
Szigeti et al (2020): The lines at the top of each graph show that guessing one has taken a microdose (longer lines) is a more significant predictor of changes to emotion than actually taking one (shorter lines). The same was true for mood, anxiety, and depression. No significant changes were observed for cognitive performance in any condition. Full figure available here.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Easy dose it

Nonspecific Amplifiers

Some participants went through 4 weeks of placebo, and yet were convinced that they’d been microdosing the whole time. As one participant reported, “I was indeed taking placebos throughout the trial. I’m quite astonished […] It seems I was able to generate a powerful ‘altered consciousness’ experience based only on the expectation around the possibility of a microdose.” It is the power of self-hypnosis, combined with intention, which can cause an empty capsule to produce a profoundly altered state of consciousness. Of course, nobody wants to take part in a month-long psychedelic trial and take placebo the whole time, so there may also have been a certain element of wish-fulfilment here.

Know Thyself: When the observer becomes the observed

Placebo or not?

Looking to the future

Hutten, N., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., & Kuypers, K. (2019). Motives and Side-Effects of Microdosing With Psychedelics Among Users. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol, 22(7), 426–434.

Hutten, N., Mason, L., Dolder, P.C., Theunissen, L., Holze, F., Liechti, M.E. Feilding, A., Ramaekers, J.G., Kuypers, K. (2020). Mood and cognition after administration of low LSD doses in healthy volunteers: A placebo controlled dose-effect finding study. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol, 41(41), 81-91.

Johnstad, P.F. (2018). Powerful substances in tiny amounts: An interview study of psychedelic microdosing. Nordic studies on alcohol and drugs, 35(1), 39-51.

Kirsh, I. (2014) Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect. Z Psychol, 222(3)
Sonawalla, S.B., Rosenbaum, J.F. (2002) Placebo response in depression. Dialogues Clin Neurosci, 4(1): 105-113

Szigeti, B., Blemings, A., Kaertner, L., Rosas, F., Feilding, F., Nutt, D., Carhart-Harris, C., Erritzoe, D. (2020). Is it just placebo? Exploration of psychedelic microdosing using novel self-blinding methodology.