By Allie Lembo and Julia Naftulin
On Monday, a tech startup CEO was fired after he took a microdose of LSD before a work meeting.
Former Iterable executive Justin Zhu told Bloomberg he took a small amount of LSD, a psychedelic drug, to improve his focus during a 2019 meeting. In an email to staff, Zhu's co-founder Andrew Boni said Zhu violated company guidelines and would be terminated as a result.
The move reignited a conversation about the potential benefits of microdosing, which Steve Jobs previously touted.
In short, microdosing involves taking very small doses of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or psilocybin mushrooms, on a semi-regular schedule in order to experience reported benefits such as increased perception and creativity levels and decreased anxiety and depression.
Only three studies have looked into the science behind microdosing in humans, so evidence of the method's therapeutic effects remains inconclusive.
One self-reported study from February 2019 found people who microdosed LSD or psilocybin were more open-minded, experienced better moods, and felt more creative than those who didn't take any drugs. Another February 2019 study found people who microdosed psychedelics regularly reported better mental health and a better ability to focus.
A March 2020 study from researchers at Imperial College London, however, found that microdosing's reported benefits could be attributed to a placebo effect.
Amanda Feilding, the founder and director of the UK-based nonprofit Beckley Foundation, hopes to add to existing research with a study documenting the effects of microdosing on a person's creative and cognitive abilities.
Fielding's study is currently in progress, and preliminary findings suggest LSD microdosing can increase pain tolerance.
Here's what we currently know about microdosing.
Microdosing is not designed to get you "high"
The dosage of a substance like psilocybin or LSD should only be approximately one-twentieth to one-tenth the regular dose designed to "trip," according to Dr. James Fadiman's research. That's 5 to 10 micrograms of LSD or 0.1 to 0.4 grams of psilocybin mushrooms. Because personal tolerances differ, the exact amount can differ person-to-person, but the ideal is to be in an increased state of perception, rather than a hallucinating state.
The general consensus from those who have tried microdosing is to not do it every day. Psychologist, experimenter of psychedelics, and author of "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys," Dr. James Fadiman recommends a three-day cycle. A dose is supposed to be taken on day one, and then not again until day four, as to not build up a tolerance and to experience day two leftover effects. There's also an emphasis on journaling and taking notice of how your body handles it.
It's important, however, to remember that extremely limited research has been done on this topic and it is still illegal to purchase magic mushrooms or LSD in the United States.
Not everyone is talking about the same drug when they're talking about microdosing.
While psilocybin, commonly known as 'shrooms or magic mushrooms, and LSD are currently the most popular forms, Third Wave also lists cannabis, ayahuasca, mescaline, and DMT as possible substances for micro-dosing.
People who have tried microdosing say it increases their creativity and others say it boosts their mood.
Steve Jobs, cofounder and previous CEO of Apple Inc., was open about his LSD experiences. "Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there's another side to the coin, and you can't remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could."
According to Jobs, use of LSD contributed to his simplistic Zen-inspired design aesthetics for Apple products and packaging.
His friend and early Apple employee Daniel Kottke revealed that although Jobs apparently halted this practice once he launched Apple, the late creator's LSD habit has been taken up by the creative minds of Silicon Valley. For those with overflowing schedules in tech and/or startup environments, microdosing is seen as a way to get ahead by staying productive through exhaustion or by sparking creativity.
Others, in California's Silicon Valley, for example, are saying microdosing is making them more productive.
Ayelet Waldman chronicled her experiences of microdosing LSD for 30 days to alleviate mood swings she suffered during menopause in "A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in my Mood, My Marriage, and My Life." She claims that microdosing changed her life by regulating her mood swings and therefore, positively improving her relationships with her family members and herself.
Erica Avery, a 27-year-old from Germany, microdosed for 8 months to manage her depression. "It lifted me out of a pretty deep depression. I think it has changed me [in the long-term]."
A paramedic anonymously told The Guardian, he microdosed LSD to treat his depression when his antidepressants did not work for him. "What struck me was that there was no discernible difference at first…Weirdly, it's not until the next day, in retrospect where you look back, that you realize you handled things or reacted to things differently. It's so subtle it's easy to miss. But it definitely worked."
One Canadian study recruited people from online forums to ask about microdosing habits and mental health. The research found that nearly 25% of users reported a sharpened focus and heightened energy and 13% said microdosing assuaged their existing anxiety and stress. Further, more than 20% reported that their mood and outlook on life improved.
Overall, however, there's a lack of scientific research to back up the practice.
Though there's a lack of scientific research to support the use of microdosing, there have been significant studies done on the effects of psychedelics.
Two of the most prolific studies on psilocybin, one by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the other, at NYU showed promise. In both studies, a single dose of psychedelic drugs appears to alleviate the symptoms of some of the most common and tragic illnesses of the brain, including depression.
Further studies have shown evidence that psilocybin significantly reduces anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, that ketamine might have benefits as a rapid-fire antidepressant, and that MDMA (ecstasy) improves outcomes for people suffering from PTSD.
Though many argue that using these drugs is too risky, the scientific community seems to, in general, be more open to the idea that these drugs could be beneficial.
This consensus from many in the scientific community, however, seems to be limited to "trip treatments," taking a single, large dose of the drug, and not microdosing.