Although the term microdosing has been in use only recently, the phenomenon itself has a long history. How did people come up with the idea of taking small doses of powerful psychedelics? The history probably goes as far back as the beginning of humanity. Learn about the history of microdosing.
The first humans: Evolution due to psychedelics?
Most people are familiar with Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution. But have you heard about Terence McKenna’s “stoned ape” theory’? According to the theory, psychedelics caused the Homo erectus to eventually become Homo sapiens. In his book, Food of the Gods, he explains 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 they were hunter-gatherers who were in the vicinity of herds of animals. Therefore, it’s plausible that they found psilocybin-containing mushrooms that are known grow on cattle droppings.
An experiment by psychologist Roland Fischer in 1970 shows that low doses of psilocybin (microdoses!) improve our vision. The theory states, that this vision improvement could have helped our ancestors hunt, gather food, and discover predators. The introduction of these mushrooms in the diet of early humans could have enabled them to live consciously and increase their learning and subsequently move up the food chain. That would be the beginning of the symbiotic relationship between magic mushrooms and humans.
The first wave: Indigenous cultures
Although the stoned ape theory has yet to be proven, it appears plausible. It’s true that psychoactive substances can be found in herbs, roots, plants, seeds, and mushrooms everywhere on the planet. It seemed only a matter of time before cultures all over the world discovered them and started to use them in various ways. Until this day, many indigenous cultures have a shaman, a person who serves both as a doctor and spiritual leader of the community. In South America, the shaman (also known as a “vegetalista” or “curandero”) uses psychoactive plants to get into contact with “the higher realms.” Many cultures believe that such plants are the embodiment of a plant spirit and that by consuming them, one can improve contact with this wise primal force. This occurs not only at high doses, but also at low doses, or microdoses as we have coined them today.
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 anthropomorphic dancing mushrooms. On various images of mushrooms 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'
When Albert Hofmann, a Swiss pharmacological researcher, accidentally synthesized LSD in 1938 while trying to synthesize another drug from the ergot fungus, and as the first person experienced a psychedelic LSD trip, and it marked the beginning of profound psychedelic research; it was the beginning of the second wave of psychedelics in Western society.
LSD was first utilized in psychotherapy and scientific study in the 1950s, mostly to treat anxiety, depression, addiction, and psychosomatic diseases. LSD was the subject of intensive (psycho) pharmacological study, which resulted in almost 10,000 scholarly papers. In the years that followed, medical experts, scientists, and even the U.S. government expressed an interest in the novel chemical. The CIA’s infamous MK ULTRA program looked at the use of LSD for “mind control” and chemical warfare. The scientific and ethical standards of the experiments were questionable, to say the least.
Psychedelics and increased performance
In 1966, a team of a scientist under the leadership of Dr. James Fadiman studied the influence of psychedelic agents on participants’ creative problem-solving skills. The “Psychedelic agents in the creative problem-solving” experiment took place. They’ve tested 27 people working in creative professions such as engineers, architects, scientists, and designers and gave them 200 milligrams of mescaline sulfate. This is comparable to 100 micrograms of LSD, so hardly a microdose. After that, each of them worked for a few hours on an assignment or problem they from their work. The results are positive. The participants came up with technologically advanced project proposals, products, and solutions that have been mostly accepted by their clients.
Participants reported various forms of increased performance:
- Less burden of inhibitions and fears
- The ability to see a problem in the right context
- Increased idea generation
- Better ability to visualize and use fantasy
- Better concentration
- Increased empathy for external processes and issues
- Increased empathy for people
- Access to unconscious information
- Increased motivation to complete a project
- Visualizing solutions
Shortly after this experiment, the FDA banned all scientific research on psychedelics. The influence of psychedelics on our creativity and problem-solving ability could not be investigated further for decades.
From macro to micro
We know from that Albert Hofmann microdosed for a few decades. When he microdosed, he took walks in the forest, where it would help him think more clearly. He turned 102, and at the age of one hundred, he still gave long lectures. He’s the one who introduced the concept of microdosing to others and has always said that this subject should be researched scientifically.
Eventually, Robert Forte, who was aware that Albert Hofmann had positive experiences with microdosing, made Dr. James Fadiman aware of the practice. Dr. James Fadiman started to independently investigate microdosing and has been collecting reports from people who experiment with microdosing at home; the vast majority of microdosers report extremely positive experiences. His book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, is the first book to extensively discuss microdosing, and most scientific articles about microdosing to date lean on the work of Dr. James Fadiman.
After years of independent research, Dr. James Fadiman establishes a microdosing protocol for those who want to experiment with microdosing. This protocol includes a number of concrete guidelines and the assignment to keep a daily diary of the experiences. Since then, the number of inquiries and reports has been rising exponentially. He has received more than 5000 reports til date, part of which he has analyzed together with Sophia Korb.
NOTE: At this moment, he’s solely interested in reports from people who microdose for medical reasons. Soon more information via the website of the study.
The third wave: Community and Therapeutic applications
The third phase in the history of microdosing is that of a rapidly increasing recognition of psychedelics and microdosing, at least in the Western world. This started out as a result of a surge of media attention in 2015 with articles in Rolling Stone Magazine, Forbes, and a podcast by Tim Ferris—and continues today.
Then, microdosing education and community followed with pioneering organisations like The Third Wave and the Microdosing Institute.
Although legal access to microdoses is not yet accomplished (with the exception of Caapi Vine and Truffles containing psilocybin in the Netherlands), those who wish to microdose safely and effectively have access to a variety of online courses, workshops, retreats and microdosing-assisted coaching.
Research into the effects and medical applications is rapidly increasing. The Beckley Foundation, Imperial College London and Maastricht University have been leading the way and we see many other institutions and companies working together to research the potential of microdosing a treatment for many conditions such as migraines, inflammatory pain, cluster headaches, ADHD/ADD, OCD, TBI, hormonal imbalances in women and much more to come.
- Fadiman, J. (2011) The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. Park Street Press.
- Fischer, R., Hill, R., Thatcher, K., et al. Psilocybin-induced contraction of nearby visual space. Agents and Actions 1, 190–197 (1970). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01965761Gregory, C (13 January 2006) Everything You Wanted To Know About Microdosing (But Were Afraid To Ask). Huffingtonpost.com Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/psychedelic-microdosing-research_n_569525afe4b09dbb4bac9db8.
- Harman, W. W.; McKim, R. H.; Mogar, R. E.; Fadiman, J.; Stolaroff, M. J. (1966). “Psychedelic agents in creative problem-solving: A pilot study”. Psychological Reports. 19 (1): 211–227. doi:10.2466/pr0.19188.8.131.52. PMID 5942087. S2CID 16508547
- McKenna, T (1992). Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge. Bantam Books (N.Y. et al.).