Although the term microdosing has been in use only recently, this phenomenon has a long history. How did people come up with the idea of taking small doses of powerful psychedelics?
The First Human
Most people are familiar with Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. But have you heard about Terence McKenna’s ‘stoned ape theory’?
Terence McKenna was an American philosopher who dedicated his life’s work on the nature of human consciousness. He became known for ingesting high-dose psychedelic substances and explaining the so-called ego death or “breakthrough” (a powerful oneness experience in which you are no longer aware of your ego or “self”). The theory described by him, called “the stoned ape theory” explains how psychedelics caused the Homo erectus to eventually become Homo sapiens.
Better vision and increased awareness thanks to (psychedelic) mushrooms?
According to McKenna’s theory, described in his book “Food of the Gods”, the North African continent was becoming drier and drier, turning into grasslands towards the end of the most recent ice age. Our ancestors, who previously lived in the trees, had to adapt in order to survive. McKenna claims that our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who followed and hunted animals, but at the same time ate fruits and plants. As they were in the vicinity of herds of animals, it is very possible that they found psilocybin-containing mushrooms. These mushrooms grow in the droppings of the cattle they hunted.
An experiment by psychologist Roland Fischer in 1970 shows that low doses of psilocybin (microdoses!) improve our vision. This vision improvement would have helped our ancestors hunt, gather food and discover predators.
It is thought that with the introduction of these mushrooms in the diet of early humans, they could live more consciously and learn more skills. In this way they would have been able to move up to the top of the food chain. That would be the beginning of the symbiotic relationship between magic mushrooms and humans. This theory as a whole can hardly be proved, at the same time it sounds plausible.
The First Wave: Indigenous Cultures
All over the world, herbs, roots, plants, seeds and mushrooms which have a psychoactive effect can be found. Native cultures have discovered these, in many cases thousands of years ago. The shaman (more often called vegetalista or curandero in South America) traditionally has both the role of doctor and spiritual leader of a community, and the psychoactive plants brought him or her into contact with ‘the higher’. They believe that such plants are the embodiment of a plant spirit and by consuming these plants (often) the shaman is able to improve the contact with this wise primal force. This happens not only in high doses, but also in low doses.
Tangible evidence that mushrooms were consumed in the Old World comes from cave drawings of 10,000 B.C. on the Tassili plateau in the Sahara of Algeria, showing dancing anthropomorphic mushrooms. On various images of mushrooms for, and objects from the Bronze Age that were decorated with mushroom-like images. The ‘Mushroom stones’ of Mexico – dancing figures with a mushroom hat date from 1000-500 BC.
The Second Wave: the Western ‘Discoverers’ and the ’60s
Dr. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss pharmacological researcher, accidentally invented LSD in 1938 while trying to synthesize another drug from the ergot fungus. He spilled some of this drug, LSD-25, on his skin and experienced a mild psychedelic trip.
Hoffman examined the substance in the lab for possible pharmaceutical effects, but accidentally breathed in a little bit of the volatile molecule. This is what he later wrote about: “At home I lay down and fell into a not unpleasant drunken state, characterized by a very stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with my eyes closed (I found the daylight unpleasantly powerful), I saw an uninterrupted flow of fantastic images, extraordinary shapes with an intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors”.
A few days later he wanted to conduct more testing. Because he wasn’t yet aware of how potent the substance was, he ingested far too much, resulting in an intense and unpleasant trip. He recovered from this, but the drug was deemed unsafe and the project abandoned.
In the fifties it was taken off the shelf again. It was thought to cause schizophrenia in test subjects and it was hoped that in this way the disease could be further investigated. This was followed by a series of experiments with LSD, which, according to current ethical and scientific standards, would be completely irresponsible.
In the 60’s, LSD came into circulation as a recreational drug in hippie culture, culminating in the Summer of Love. Several scientists such as Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert were avid users themselves and promoted it as the drug that would solve all the problems in the world at that time if everyone was to take it.
In 1966, under the leadership of James Fadiman, the ‘Psychedelic agents in creative problem-solving’ experiment took place. 27 highly educated subjects were administered psychedelics at a relatively low dose in order to investigate whether they were better able to carry out assignments from their own professional practice. The results were very promising. However, not much later the War on Drugs made its appearance and the FDA made it impossible for science to further investigate the effects of psychedelics.
Back to Albert Hofmann. We know from him that he microdosed for a few decades. He mainly did it on walks in the woods, where it helped him to think even more clearly. He turned 102 and at the age of one hundred he still gave long lectures. He is the one who introduced the concept of microdosing to others, and has always said that this is a subject that should be researched scientifically.
All articles about microdosing lean on the work of James Fadiman, PhD. In his book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys (2011) extensively discusses microdosing. By the way, he was made aware of the idea of microdosing by scientist Robert Forte, who knew that Albert Hofmann had had positive experiences with it.
As an independent researcher, Fadiman has been collecting data via reports from those who have been experimenting with microdoses for many years, some of which can be read back in the book. Fadiman put together a protocol for those who wanted to try microdosing themselves, with a number of concrete clues and the assignment to keep a daily diary of your experiences.
You probably won’t be surprised that he has been receiving a lot of inquiries since then. More and more people want to try microdosing, for various reasons. At this moment he has received more than 1500 reports, part of which has been analyzed by him and Sophia Korb.
Fadiman let us know that at the moment, he prefers to only receive reports from those who are microdosing for medical reasons. Soon more information via the website of the study.
The Third Wave: You and Me
The third phase is that of worldwide recognition of psychedelics and microdosing, at least in the Western world, as a result of a surge of media attention. This started in 2015 with articles in Rolling Stone Magazine, Forbes and a podcast by Tim Ferris – and continues today.