People in Silicon Valley are microdosing LSD to be more productive. And it’s probably a bad idea.

In Mind & Body, Philosophy & Culture
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What if there was a psychoactive drug you could take while working that increased your productivity? Imagine you could take it in low doses and it would help you focus with a slight bounce in your step.

Now imagine that the effects would be subtle enough to keep you behaving like everyone else in the workplace, yet impact is undeniable.

We’re talking about the drug named caffeine, which is legal, cheap and incredibly safe.

But if the amount of media attention recently given to “microdosing” lately, you may be forgiven for thinking that many of your work colleagues are taking small doses of LSD to increase their productivity.

The reality is that they’re probably not doing this.

The practice of microdosing has been around since at least 2011 when Dr. James Fadiman published The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guidein which he claimed that a small dose of LSD every few days could help in problem solving.

The amount of media attention around microdosing has been huge, with many outlets focusing on its increasing frequency in the workplace, particularly in Silicon Valley. Motherboard, Vox, NBC News, Time have all covered it. Forbes called it “the new job enhancer in Silicon Valley and beyond.” The Telegraph declared that “an increasing number” of Bay Area workers were trying it out.

As with many new trends, it’s likely to be completely media driven. There have been dozens of articles on microdosing, but Fadiman recently told The Daily Beast that he’s received fewer than 100 reports from people who microdose.

According to Fadiman:

“Since there was this barrage of articles, it has become more popular. I would say [it’s] probably enormously media-generated.”

As Dr. Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on drug addiction, says, “there is no evidence that this is a big thing.”

He continues:

“People are saying, ‘Oh gosh! This is the latest craze! Everyone in Silicon Valley is doing this!’ [But] there’s no data on that. What we do know is that there are a bunch of articles being written about this. And I’m sure some people are trying it because of reading those articles.”

Of course, it’s not difficult to see why microdosing has become such a compelling story. It’s got everything: Silicon Valley, illegal drugs and the promise of a short cut for success.

The types of claims that microdosing is said to provide are so subtle that it ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for those taking the drugs in response to the media claims. This feeds into the frenzy as people believe they have become more creative from taking the drugs.

In fact, Johnson claims that “the types of benefits that are claimed are so subtle that the effects sound a lot like what you get at about 200 milligrams of caffeine.” That’s equivalent to about two cups of coffee.

Without proper scholarly study, it’s difficult to evaluate the impact on creativity that microdosing actually has.

Yet there are many claims about microdosing as though they provide limitless mental powers. Check out the comments on this YouTube video, one of which reads as follows:

“I microdosed LSD during my exams and my scores were near perfect. Thanks for the video, man! More people should know about this!”

The problem with these anecdotes should be clear. The effects of microdosing can easily be chalked up to a placebo effect.

There is also the potential for overdosing, especially given the difficulty of figuring out the dosage in LSD after buying it.

It’s difficult to know about the purity of the original sources and that also provides a health risk.

There are many reports of people who have taken so little when microdosing that there’s no effect, as well as others who inadvertently take too much and have a “bad trip”.

It’s probably more interesting to focus not on whether Silicon Valley coders are microdosing to become more productive but instead turn our attention to whether psychedelics can help with mental illness.

Johnson and Fadiman both agree on this. According to Johnson, LSD interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain in ways that have not yet been fully-researched and therefore needs more research.

“The fact is most of the requests that I get for information are from people reporting anxiety and depression,” Fadiman said.

In The Daily Beast article, Johnson cited an unpublished study from John Hopkins that he says is looking into whether or not a large one-time dose of LSD can significantly reduce depression and anxiety in cancer patients.

“Given the pharmacology,” he said, “it would certainly be plausible that what’s being called ‘microdosing’ may have some benefit [for depression sufferers].” But until the anecdotes can be confirmed in controlled conditions, the doctor is quick to clarify: “We don’t know that.”

What do you think of the “increase of microdosing” in the workplace? Have you tried this before? If so, let us know in the comments. And continue the conversation at ideapod.com, the social network for you to share your ideas. There have been many ideas shared on #psychedelics.