Article by Growth Op
Research on the efficacy of microdosing psychedelics is limited, but a new study suggests that the placebo effect may play a factor in positive outcomes.
Although microdosing, taking regular small doses of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, has been popular for years, a study from Imperial College London suggests that the benefits derived from the practice could be shaped by people’s expectations.
Researchers took an unconventional approach to the study, as performing analysis on illegal drugs is not an easy thing to do, especially in the time of COVID-19.
More than 190 members of the public participated in the placebo-controlled trial, according to a news release from Imperial College. Participants were already microdosing LSD and implemented placebo-control measures in the comfort of their own homes and with instructions from the research team.
While the study revealed that a number of psychological parameters improved in individuals who microdosed for several weeks, similarly positive results were also observed in the placebo groups.
“Anecdotal reports about the benefits of microdosing are almost certainly biased by the placebo effect,” lead author Balázs Szigeti says.
“Our findings confirmed some of the beneficial psychological effects of microdosing from anecdotal reports and observational studies, such as improved sense of well-being and life satisfaction. But we see the same improvements among participants taking placebos. This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug, but can, instead, be explained by the placebo effect.”
According to the researchers, the unique approach to the study could help shape future clinical trials.
The study participants followed instructions from the researchers to prepare gel capsules at home that contained either a low dose of LSD or were left empty. The capsules were then mixed together, with participants left unaware if they were consuming LSD or the placebo.
Researchers were able to track which capsules were being ingested via QR codes, which participants scanned.
Within a few hours, most participants who consumed LSD reported improvements in mood, creativity and anxiety. Those who consumed the placebo, however, reported similar benefits.
“Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users’ expectations can lead to a strong placebo response,” says senior author David Erritzoe. “Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies,” Erritzoe suggests.
The researchers add that while the approach to the study was a success, there are still a number of limitations to account for, such as variance in the potency of the LSD as participants sourced their own drugs. Overall, however, the team stands by the results and the study cost a fraction of what a traditional clinical study would have.
“We hope this self-blinding methodology will be used in other areas as well,” Szigeti says. “We certainly plan to use it in further studies both about psychedelics and other psychoactive substances.”