For Martijn Schirp, it's a way to make an ordinary day just a little bit better.
A former poker player and recent graduate in interdisciplinary science in Amsterdam, Schirp has been experimenting with a new way to take psychedelic drugs: Called microdosing, it involves routinely taking a small fraction of a normal dose of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or magic mushrooms (the latter is legal to purchase in coffeeshops in Amsterdam but not the former).
Microdosing has gained a cult following amongst a small group of hallucinogen enthusiasts like Schirp, who now writes at HighExistence.com. Proponents report improvements in perception, mood and focus, minus the trippy tangerine trees and marmalade skies normally associated with psychedelics.
Schirp said he prefers to microdose when he's immersed in creative or contemplative activities, such as writing, painting, meditating or doing yoga.
"It's like the coffee to wake up the mind-body connection. When I notice it is working, depending on the dosage, time seems to be slowing down a bit, everything seems covered with a layer of extra significance," Schirp told Live Science in an email.
Given his positive experiences with higher doses of psychedelics, "microdosing offered a way to get a taste of this without [the experience] completely overwhelming me," Schirp said. [Trippy Tales: The History of 8 Hallucinogens]
But while the effects Schirp and others describe are plausible from a physiological perspective, microdosing is uncharted territory, said Matt Johnson, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who has studied the behavioral effects of psychedelic drugs. Scientists have yet to run a clinical trial to assess the effects (or lack thereof) of microdosing. Johnson added that taking a smaller dose of a psychedelic is safer than taking a large dose, but the way people tend to do it — regularly taking small doses every several days — could have long-term side effects.
Just a little bit
The idea of taking small doses of psychedelics has been around for a while. The inventor of LSD, Albert Hofmann, was known to microdose in his old age and told a friend that microdosing was an under-researched area. But microdosing gained greater visibility when James Fadiman, a psychologist and researcher at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, described it in his book "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide" (Park Street Press, 2011).
Since then, Fadiman has received about 50 anecdotal reports from microdosers around the world. Most report positive, barely perceptible shifts while microdosing, Fadiman said. [Images: Scientists Analyze Drawings by an Acid-Tripping Artist]
"What people say is that whatever they're doing, they seem to be doing it a little better," Fadiman told Live Science. "They're a little kinder, a little bit nicer with their kids."
People with creative jobs report improved focus and an ability to enter the state of flow more easily. Some report a desire to eat healthier or start meditating, Fadiman said.
"It's like they tend to live a little better," Fadiman said.
Still others report taking the teeny doses of psychedelics for psychiatric conditions, said Brad Burge, the director of marketing and communications at Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, California, where scientists study the effect of psychedelics on medical conditions such as PTSD.
"I've heard anecdotally of people using it for depression, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder]," Burge told Live Science. "With microdoses, the point would be to create subtle changes in people's psychopharmacology or experience, in much the same way as most traditional pharmaceuticals are used now."