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Millions of Americans are microdosing, but what does that mean?

Americans are increasingly curious about microdosing, a practice involving the minimal consumption of psychedelics or cannabis over extended periods.

This escalating interest is unveiled in a comprehensive study conducted by scientists at the University of California San Diego, published in JAMA Health Forum.

Curiosity spawns microdosing boom

The researchers noted a tremendous 1250% surge in Google searches concerning microdosing from 2015 to 2023, recording a substantial margin of over three million searches in 2023 alone.

Responsible for unmasking this complex web of intrigue is Kevin Yang, M.D., a psychiatry resident at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and the primary author of the research.

Yang and his team’s fascinating study has served to enlighten us on how legislative shifts on substance use are influencing people’s inclinations and behaviors.

Legalization and relaxation

The study reflects a direct correlation between the uptick in curiosity around microdosing and the relaxation of local, federal, and state laws sanctioning recreational cannabis usage and the deployment of psychedelic substances in therapy.

Advocates of microdosing argue that it can enhance mood, cognition, and overall health without triggering the profound hallucinogenic effects that larger doses might instigate.

Despite the absence of concrete clinical evidence validating these health assertions, the last decade has seen an undeniable escalation in the popularity of microdosing.

The researchers utilized Google search behaviors to gauge public interest and comprehend how policy amendments have impacted this curiosity. This approach was deemed necessary given the shortcomings of current survey data on microdosing.

Power of policy reforms

The eight-year study period bore witness to substantial policy reforms concerning substance use. Colorado paved the way in 2012 by becoming the maiden U.S. state to authorize recreational cannabis use.

By 2023, half of the U.S. adult population was living in states that had followed Colorado’s lead. Concurrently, eight states had decriminalized the use of psychedelic substances in certain cities or counties, and two states sanctioned psychedelic-assisted therapy.

The researchers skillfully deployed a dynamic event-time difference-in-difference model to weigh the causal effects of these policy amendments on the interest in microdosing.

The results of their meticulous analysis illuminated the fact that policies mitigating punitive measures for psychedelic and cannabis use were linked to a spike in curiosity about microdosing.

What’s in a keyword?

Interestingly, the study revealed shifting preferences in the substances of choice for microdosing. Between 2015 and 2018, LSD dominated the search terms linked to microdosing.

However, from 2019 to 2023, mushrooms took the crown, with Adderall, cannabis, CBD, DMT, ketamine, and MDMA also featuring in the search terms.

These findings mirror the growing societal shift towards psychedelics and psychotropic substances as potential alternative therapies.

The headway on the legislative front, along with President Biden’s proposition to reclassify marijuana as less dangerous, has perhaps opened the doors for more extensive scientific investigation.

However, as Yang aptly points out, “As public interest in using psychedelics and cannabis for health grows, it’s crucial that the medical community conducts studies to establish a strong evidence base for their safety and efficacy.”

Caution in the mushroom fields

While microdosing is trending, there are still critical concerns about the market for microdosed products.

As emphasized by Eric Leas, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the UC San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and a senior author of the paper, these substances, like psilocybin, are Schedule 1 controlled substances.

This legality poses risks for consumers and raises apprehensions about product quality due to the lack of manufacturing standards.

Microdosing and American mental health

Indeed, curiosity about microdosing has spiked, likely driven by changes in policy and cultural attitude. However, the potential hazards concealed beneath the intrigue remind us of the critical role of research and clinical studies.

As Leas puts it, “We need to better translate clinical evidence for consumers and policymakers to understand the benefits and risks of microdosing and how policy changes drive interest in substance use.”

So, as interest in this phenomenon continues to expand, let’s remember the importance of knowledge, safety, and informed decision-making in this complex and enthralling world of microdosing.


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