A growing collection of studies suggests that microdosing, taking tiny amounts of psychedelic drugs, can produce mental health benefits such as improving mood and concentration. A new study from the University of California, Davis demonstrated that microdosing relieved symptoms of depression and anxiety in rats, but also had the potential for negative effects.
Study lead author David Olson is an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine.
“Prior to our study, essentially nothing was known about the effects of psychedelic microdosing on animal behaviors,” said Professor Olsen. “This is the first time anyone has demonstrated in animals that psychedelic microdosing might actually have some beneficial effects, particularly for depression or anxiety. It’s exciting, but the potentially adverse changes in neuronal structure and metabolism that we observe emphasize the need for additional studies.”
For their investigation, the researchers microdosed male and female rats with N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a psychedelic compound found in ayahuasca tea. The molecular structure of DMT is also embedded within the structure of well-known microdosing drugs such as LSD and psilocybin.
Over the course of two months, the rats were given one-tenth of the estimated hallucinogenic dose every three days. The rats were regularly given behavioral tests relevant to mood, anxiety, and cognitive function beginning a couple weeks after the start of microdosing.
Using a test that is considered to be a model of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans, the researchers found that microdosing helped rats to overcome a “fear response.” The team also observed reduced immobility among the rats, which is the same effect that is produced by antidepressants.
Weight gain was identified as a risk among the males, and neuronal atrophy was a risk among the females. Despite the potential negative effects of microdosing, the research has shown that it is possible to separate the hallucinogenic effects from the therapeutic properties of these compounds.
“Our study demonstrates that psychedelics can produce beneficial behavioral effects without drastically altering perception, which is a critical step towards producing viable medicines inspired by these compounds,” said Professor Olson.
The study is published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.
Image Credit: Lindsay Cameron and Lee Dunlap