“Microdosing” means taking a psychoactive substance at a dose too small to be mind-altering in order to achieve more subtle effects. For example, a microdose of psilocybin (the “magic” in magic mushrooms) does not cause hallucinations or delusions. The dose doesn’t interfere with the user’s normal daily activities.
Microdosing is rapidly becoming more popular but not exactly as a form of recreational drug use. Rather, the technique is more medicinal (though usually self-prescribed). It’s not unusual for users to microdose regularly only for a few weeks until their treatment objectives are met. Others use the technique on an as-needed basis to improve performance in some area of life. Besides psilocybin mushrooms, commonly-microdosed substances include LSD, cannabis, and various cannabis products, such as pure THC.
There is very little scientific research yet as to the safety or effectiveness of microdosing. Basically, all anyone has to go on are surveys of microdosing users and the small amount of research already done on how traditional larger doses work. That means we know how microdosing different substances typically feels, and we know why people microdose and what results they think they receive. But we do not know whether those results can really be credited to the microdosing (as opposed to, say, the placebo effect) or what the long-term consequences of microdosing might be.
With that uncertainty in mind, we can share some of what is known about microdosing psilocybin mushrooms, for those curious about the technique.
Note also that in most jurisdictions taking, or even just possessing, psilocybin-containing mushrooms is illegal and carries stiff penalties.
How to Microdose Mushrooms?
What Mushrooms to Microdose?
There are two main groups of hallucinogenic fungi, the Psilocybes and the Amanitas. The Amanitas are an interesting group, containing some hallucinogenic species, some toxic species (including several of the most dangerous mushrooms in the world), and a few that are merely and safely delicious. Of the hallucinogenic group, A. muscaria is the best-known. It has been used, apparently sacramentally, since ancient times, but it’s not especially popular among recreational users now, possibly in part because if not processed properly it is mildly but unpleasantly toxic. It’s difficult to find any research or media coverage of its use in microdosing at all—and yet some people do microdose it[i], reporting that it helps with focus and emotional control.
Much more popular is the Psilocybe group, these magic mushrooms contain psilocybin and are easy to grow. A. muscaria and its siblings do not contain psilocybin at all—their “active ingredient” is moscimol (plus the toxin, ibotenic acid, which must be processed out). The two substances do very different things in the body, accounting for the very different results of taking each. They are not interchangeable. It is the Psilocybes most people mean when they refer to “magic mushrooms” and “shrooms.” While they can cause nausea and other side effects, they are generally safer and reportedly more enjoyable to use than A. muscaria. The research and media attention on microdosing mushrooms is virtually all about the Psilocybes, as is the rest of this article.
There are dozens of known species of psilocybin mushrooms, several of which are commonly used, such as P. panaeolus and P. mexica, but by far the most popular is P. cubensis, a species now available in a huge number of cultivated strains, each with its own colorful name. Unfortunately, many people don’t differentiate between P. cubensis strains and the other species, referring to of all of them simply as “types of shroom.”
It’s not clear that the differences between species or varieties matter much for microdosers, except that the size of the dose needs to be adjusted, since potency varies (especially between species). People using macrodoses—tripping—do claim that different species, and even different varieties of the same species, produce different qualities of trip. One might be more physical, another more visual, and so on. It’s not clear whether they’re right or, if they are right, whether such variation makes a difference for microdosing when not tripping is the idea. In any case, people who discuss microdosing almost never specify which Psilocybe they meant—when they do, they specify P. cubensis, not one of it’s specific strains.
Dosage: What Amount to Take?
The first step (after acquiring some magic mushrooms, of course) is to establish the size of the dose. Unfortunately, people vary in their sensitivity, so there is no one-size-fits-all dosing guide. Mushrooms also vary in their potency (from one species to the next and also within species), making dosing harder to estimate than for other substances. Fortunately, there is an established procedure using “levels”.
- Dry and powder the entire batch and mix it thoroughly.
- Using a scale meant for MG’s measure out the smallest precisely measurable amount (level 1) and take it to see what happens.
- If nothing happens, a few days later, take a slightly larger amount (level 2). Record the dose sizes in a journal.
- When the dose gets large enough to begin to interfere with ordinary activities or to cause hallucinations, then the previous dose (the largest one that did not trigger a “trip”) is the microdose for that batch.
- The next batch may well have a different dose, but start with the dose from the first batch and adjust larger or smaller as needed.
When to Microdose Mushrooms?
It’s usually considered better to take the dose in the morning, since that way the effects will be in full force during the day. Also, many people report trouble sleeping if they take the dose too late in the day.
Probably the easiest way to take the dose is in a pill—it’s possible to buy empty gel caps and make pills, each with the properly measured dose—then the measuring only has to be done once per batch. Some people prefer to sprinkle the powder in tea with honey. It doesn’t taste good plain.
Although the psilocybin only stays in the body for a few hours, the effects diminish gradually over the following two days.
Frequency of Dose
Most experts advise microdosing every third day (that is, skipping two days between doses) for a month, then stopping entirely, at least for a while. Since the effects last a few days, microdosing every day is unnecessary and could, moreover, cause desensitization. Stopping after a month not only also helps prevent desensitization but also gives the user a chance to re-evaluate; if the objective has been met, more might not be necessary. There are other protocols out there, too, but all share the idea of scheduled doses and days off over a period of several weeks.
After the initial few weeks of regular microdosing and then some time off, some people find it helpful to switch to microdosing on an as-needed basis, such as to deal with a particularly challenging day at work.
Many people wonder if it’s okay to microdose daily, we would suggest against that.
Pairings: What to Microdose Mushrooms With?
It’s not necessary to combine microdoses of psilocybin mushroom with anything, though some advocate taking it alongside lion’s mane mushroom, to promote neural growth, and niacin, to increase the effectiveness of the dose. Drinking enough water and otherwise taking good care of the body is important, too, since there is no sense taking mushrooms to feel better and not also taking these simple steps towards health.
Microdosing while drinking alcohol is one of those subjects not covered much. While the principle of “go about your ordinary activities” would seem to suggest moderate drinking while microdosing is fine, it’s also true that some people use microdosing specifically to help them stop drinking alcohol. Psilocybin at hallucinogenic doses is not known to interact badly with alcohol (though it’s unclear whether the matter has been thoroughly investigated) but drinking while tripping can make it harder for a person to judge how impaired they really are, possibly leading to risky behavior[ii]. All of this suggests that microdosing and drinking might not be the worst combination, but is still not an especially good idea.
Since psilocybin and cannabis can both be microdosed, the question is whether they can or should be microdosed together? Again, there are no known dangerous interactions between the two. There is also some overlap in their effects. At large, recreational doses, using a high-CBD cannabis strain shortly before tripping is reported to ease some of psilocybin’s side effects, such as nausea, while using a high-THC strain during the trip can intensify it[iii]. Microdosing the two together could therefore be a good idea, but since the results are difficult to predict, it’s probably best left to experienced microdosers.
People are starting to deliberately microdose caffeine, and informal caffeine microdosing (for example nursing a single coffee all morning long) is nothing new. The idea is to get a sight stimulant boost without over-doing it or risking a post-caffeine crash, though the jury is still out on exactly what the health effects might be[iv]. Some companies are also interested in selling coffee with microdoses of psilocybin in it—presumably the coffee would also contain a typical macrodose of caffeine[v]. What exactly these two substances do in combination seems unclear, as their is little data to go on currently.
Improved mood, more creativity, more energy, more focus, and “social benefits” (presumably openness, confidence, empathy, or some combination thereof) are the most commonly-reported benefits among surveyed microdosers—although, curiously, reduced focus is a commonly-reported problem.
Conditions often treated by microdosing psilocybin include obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression[vii], anxiety[viii], migraines[ix] and cluster headaches[x], all of which seem to respond to microdosing even where established treatments have proven ineffective. Anxiety can also be an unwanted side-effect, though.
The fact that psilocybin has been reported as both relieving and causing the same conditions (anxiety and lack of focus) is confusing, and although these uses are receiving some scientific study, none can be said yet to be “proven” or, really, even supported by research. The possibility that microdosing works for otherwise untreatable problems is certainly intriguing.
Other conditions that some people suggest microdosing might help include: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain, neuropathy, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, dementia, bipolar disorder, and tinnitus. Unfortunately, while some of these uses are being researched, results are not available, yet. There is no way to know if microdosing helps these conditions.
Users often report feeling very present and very socially connected while microdosing. If the dose is adjusted properly, there are no unusual visuals, but the texture of consciousness is definitely, if subtly, changed. Not being mentally present—daydreaming and ruminating—may actually feel impossible. People often feel more energy and more social confidence. Depression, if present, may lift, at least partially.
Most microdosers surveyed report a positive experience, even if they experienced side effects, although it’s worth noting that most studies have used designs that tend to select for people who like microdosing.
Side Effects, Possible Risks and Legality
The most serious risk associated with microdosing psilocybin is that of legal trouble, since in most jurisdictions the substance is illegal. Possession of even small quantities could lead to prison. There are some places where use has been at least decriminalized. It’s important to know what the legal situation in your area is before doing something that could risk prosecution.
There are no known long-term health risks associated with microdosing, but there could be unknown ones, since research so far has been minimal.
Over half of those surveyed reported no unwanted side-effects at all, while others did report short-term problems, most commonly impaired focus and physiological discomfort (which likely means nausea)[xi]. Anxiety can also be a problem.
One issue not directly related to the pharmacology of psilocybin is that microdosers often use the technique to treat themselves for serious medical problems without the supervision of any experienced, trained healer—a dangerous situation, given that some of these problems (such as depression and addiction) can kill people. Microdosing is often used when other, legal treatments have failed, or when financial or logistical barriers to legal treatment options have proven insurmountable. At that point, some users wash their hands of legal medicine. Even those interested in continued guidance from a professional will not likely find anyone willing or able to help someone microdose. Many users do fairly well self-treating, but the risk of a serious mistake is quite real.
Always check with your doctor before microdosing.
The Why (and Why Not) of Microdosing Mushrooms
People microdose mushrooms for, broadly speaking, either of two reasons: to add something they like to their lives (more creativity, more empathy) or to remove something they don’t like (bad habits or negative thought patterns). The latter seems somewhat more effective, based on surveys of users[vi].
Everything we know about microdosing psilocybin comes from either surveys of users, anecdotal reports, or extrapolation from studies of macro-dose use. There have been no double-blind clinical studies to see whether microdosing really works as a treatment for anything (meaning placebo effect or a combination of coincidence and confirmation bias are possible), and no studies on the safety of long-term, repeated microdosing. It’s important to keep that uncertainty in mind when deciding whether to use the technique.
Users’ opinions are split over whether microdosing psilocybin for any of the above uses is more effective, less effective, or the same as taking larger, hallucinogenic does—though there is something to be said for accessing the benefits while still going about one’s daily life, not something possible while hallucinating.
[i] Psychedelicaurosas (2020). Microdosing Amanita muscaria.
[iii] Grey, K.L., Aremu, F. (2020). Mushrooms and Cannabis: How They Compare and Interact.
[iv] Laurence, E. (2021). Meet Buzz Lite, the First Coffee With a Microdose of Caffeine.
[v] Haridy, R. (2019). Psychedelic Psilocybin Microdoses in Morning Coffee Proposed by Denver-Based Company
[viii] Hutton, N. R., P. W., Mason, N. L., Dolder, P. C., Kuypers, K. P. C. (2019). Self-Rated Effectiveness of Microdosing With Psychedelics for Mental and Physical Health Problems Among Microdosers. Frontiers in Psychiatry
[xi] Dolan, E. W. (2020). People Who Microdose Psychedelic Drugs Report That the Benefits Greatly Outweigh the Drawbacks.