Psilocybin Questions: Microdosing Mushrooms Safety and Science

There is evidence to suggest that psychedelic substances have been used for personal, cultural and spiritual reasons for millennia. The use of substances like psilocybin and LSD has only been popularized in the Western world since the 1960s counterculture movement, however. It’s even more recently (in the last decade or so) that microdosing— ingesting very small amounts of psychedelics below the threshold of inebriation—has become popular as a method of enhancing concentration, sharpening perception, and boosting mood.  

So, how do you microdose psilocybin safely? Scientific protocols for microdosing psilocybin set forward by James Fadiman and Paul Stamets, respectively, recommend a short period of microdosing followed by a longer abstinence period. These microdosing regimes ensure that dosage never accumulates to a perceptual level but still allows for positive mental effects. Both protocols are described in more detail below.

Anecdotal Reasons Why People Microdose with Mushrooms

When people in the 1960s were experimenting with psychedelics on a recreational level—including scientists, who were just as inclined to experiment with this fascinating new substance as anyone else—they began to notice that tiny amounts of psilocybin, amounts too small to cause perceptual changes, could still produce several different positive effects. Some of the effects reported include: 

  • Enhancement of “flow state” and increased concentration
  • Increased energy
  • Increased creativity
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased caffeine dependence
  • Decreased depression

These positive effects are achieved at a psilocybin dose that does not result in a perceivable “high.” Microdoses of psilocybin have been shown to have no negative effect on either problem solving or rational thought. On the contrary, users report a level of mental clarity and focus that is typically only achieved through stimulants, such as amphetamine or nootropics. 

Reasons Why People Microdose Psilocybin According to Science

For decades, amateur psychonauts (laymen and scientists alike) touted the positive effect of low-dosage psychedelics without much real research. Within the past decade, however, scientists are starting to take the concept of microdosing more seriously as a legitimate medical therapy for certain psychiatric illnesses, such as treatment-resistant depression, as well as for the enhancement of cognition.

Since it was embraced in the last ten years by Silicon Valley as the ultimate chemical productivity hack, scientists across the world have become more interested in investigating microdoses of psilocybin as a possible treatment for a wide array of psychological problems, from autistic spectrum disorder to the cessation of addictive behaviors.  

Scientists are increasingly finding that the anecdotal trip journals of recreational microdosers are echoing repeatable results in a laboratory setting. As a result, despite their past stigma as an icon of the hippie generation, psychedelics like psilocybin are posed to become the next major wave in botanical healthcare since medicinal marijuana. 

How to Acquire Psilocybin Legally

Whether or not you can easily acquire legal psilocybin depends on where you live in the world. In most of the United States, psilocybin is classified as a schedule 1 drug in accordance with the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, there are laws in place in a few cities that have superseded that ruling by decriminalizing psilocybin, including: 

  • Denver, Colorado,
  • Santa Cruz, California
  • Oakland, California 
  • Somerville, Massachusetts

Outside of the United States, psilocybin is legal in several countries. Here is a list of countries where psilocybin can be acquired legally:

  • Canada: While psilocybin is technically illegal to sell in Canada, it isn’t illegal to possess. There are dispensaries in Vancouver, BC, selling psilocybin privately, and the Canadian government makes no attempts to curb or curtail them. This means that while it is technically illegal, it is tolerated in practice.
  • Mexico: Mexico bans psilocybin unless used for religious purposes, which naturally gives psychonauts quite a bit of leeway with what constitutes religious practice. Since psilocybin has long been used in shamanic rituals, it is generally regarded as less dangerous than most other kinds of illegal substances in Mexico and elsewhere. In any case, its semi-legal status means it can be easier to obtain here.
  • United Kingdom: While it has been illegal to possess psilocybin mushrooms in the United Kingdom since 2005, it is, paradoxically, still legal to possess psilocybin spores. Cultivation of those spores however, is illegal.
  • Brazil, Jamaica, the Bahamas: Psilocybin is legal in these countries for either scientific experimentation or recreational use.
  • Netherlands. Although psilocybin mushrooms are illegal in the Netherlands, a loophole in the law means that psilocybin truffles (the sclerotia of the mushroom) are legal and can be purchased in many locations.

All in all, the policies around psilocybin legality vary wildly from country to country, so if you’re interested in keeping your microdosing legal, be sure to look up the laws in your specific country, state, or city before buying or possessing magic mushrooms. 

This is especially important since some rare countries, such as Indonesia, impose strict penalties on drug possession, while others, such as Saudi Arabia, can even impose the death penalty.

Psilocybin Medical Trials

Microdosing psilocybin has been drawing increasing attention as a therapeutic practice for  afflictions ranging from cluster headaches to depression. There have been increasing numbers of formal clinical trials testing the potential of the substance at sub-perceptual levels.

If you can find a psilocybin trial in your area, signing up for the trial can be one way of microdosing psilocybin legally, while contributing to research. 

This is an especially good option for those who are interested in using psilocybin to treat some kind of illness or mental issue, since science always needs new quantitative data about the effectiveness of psilocybin in a public health setting. 

For more information on what states and universities are conducting therapeutic testing on psychedelics, check out the list of current medical trials at Psychedelics Support.

Acquiring Psilocybin Illegally

There are several ways of acquiring psilocybin that are common, but illegal. For example: foraging for wild mushrooms, buying them on the black market, or growing your own. 

Foraging for Psilocybin Mushrooms

Many varieties of mushrooms containing psilocybin grow commonly across the world. This means that if you can learn to accurately identify which mushrooms contain psilocybin, they can often be foraged in the wild. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that many psilocybin-containing mushrooms have dangerous look-alikes that are difficult to distinguish unless you are an expert or very experienced. This makes hunting for your own magic mushrooms a risky business. 

The Shoomery directory provides a thorough list of all of the magic mushrooms found across the world and where they can be located. Once you know which psilocybin mushrooms are found in your foraging area, you can search the internet to find photographs and other identifying traits in order to make identification safer. 

You should also familiarize yourself with any look-alike mushrooms or deadly mushrooms in your geographic location to reduce the chance of accidental poisoning.  

Buying Psilocybin Mushrooms on the Black Market

There are several downsides to purchasing psychedelics on the street or black market:

  • A higher risk of a run-in with the law. Any time you deal with a dealer, you’re risking a brush with the law because even when possession of mushrooms is legal, supply or trafficking often isn’t.
  • Having to trust someone else to correctly identify the mushrooms as a) psychedelic and b) edible. When you buy a bag of dried mushrooms from a friend of a friend or someone you don’t know, you have no idea whether they are safe to eat or not. You’re taking a stranger’s word on it, and that can be dangerous.
  • Having to pay. It might be galling to have to pay for psilocybin when the mushrooms are easily found in most areas across the world. However, for some people who’d rather not go through the trouble of trying to forage or grow their own, it can be worth the price. 

Growing Your Own Psilocybin Mushrooms

If you don’t want to buy psilocybin on the black market and you’re not keen on the idea of going mushroom hunting in the woods, another option is to grow your own psilocybin mushrooms from purchased mushroom spores.

While the legality of these spores varies from place to place, the mushrooms resulting from the spores are illegal to possess in many places, so purchasing spores becomes a legal gray area. Obviously this is an “at your own risk” venture, but growing your own psilocybin mushrooms can be accomplished with some supplies and a little bit of patience. 

Even for experienced gardeners, growing mushrooms can be a difficult task, so it is a good idea to read up on the process carefully and make sure you have every necessary tool before you begin to start cultivation. For a detailed guide on how to grow psilocybin mushrooms, check out this article at The Third Wave.

How to Determine Dosage for Microdosing Psilocybin

Determining the correct dosage for microdosing psilocybin is crucial because it doesn’t take very much to break the threshold of a noticeable trip. The goal of microdosing psilocybin mushrooms is not to get high, but to experience a state of heightened focus and awareness. This effect has even been described as a sort of “spiritual sharpening.” 

A microdose is generally described as one-twentieth to one-tenth of the normal dosage needed for your average psychedelic experience. 

The safest way to measure this amount is to grind the dried psilocybin mushrooms into a powder and then weigh it on a digital scale. In this way, a very precise measurement can be achieved. Since the object is not to get high, keeping the dosage at a low level ensures that the person ingesting the psilocybin doesn’t experience typical psychedelic effects, like visual and auditory changes. 

Microdosing contrasts with macrodosing of mushrooms, where much larger doses of the dried mushrooms are sometimes consumed to intensify the psychedelic effects. 

Different Protocols for Microdosing Psilocybin Mushrooms

As microdosing has gained popularity as a way  to increase focus and creativity among creatives and tech professionals, two different protocols for microdosing psilocybin have been established. These protocols are the Fadiman Protocol and the Stamets Protocol. The main difference between these two methods is the intervals of time between ingestion. 

The Fadiman Protocol for Microdosing Psilocybin Mushrooms

Back in the heyday of the 1960s, Dr. James Fadiman was one of the original researchers who was investigating the effects of psychedelics such as LSD and ketamine. 

More recently, however, Fadiman has turned his attention to collecting the testimonies of hundreds of participants who have been experimenting with psilocybin microdosing for a variety of ailments, from generalized anxiety to creative blocks. In his professional opinion, microdosing psilocybin, “seems to rebalance people.”

In the Fadiman protocol for microdosing psilocybin, the user is supposed to microdose for one day followed by two days of rest. This not only prevents tolerance adjustment but also prevents potential negative side effects of constant psychedelic stimulation, such as fatigue and headaches. 

The Stamets Protocol for Microdosing Psilocybin Mushrooms

Another highly respected professional in the world of microdosing psilocybin is Paul Stamets. Stamets is a mycologist who specializes in psychedelic mushrooms and particularly in their use as a mental supplement in the field of nootropics

According to Stamets’ research, psilocybin used in conjunction with other natural botanicals, such as lion’s mane mushrooms and niacin, has the ability to greatly increase concentration and mental clarity. Since nootropics is an extremely young field, it is difficult to find many medical studies pertaining to psilocybin’s potential in this area. 

Stamet’s protocol for microdosing psilocybin is highly regarded as one of the most effective methods for intensive psilocybin microdosing with a “five days on, two days off” schedule. Stamets’ more frequent microdose is based on his theory that the use of psilocybin stimulates neurogenesis and actively enhances cognitive function in a permanent way. 

However, many users who follow the Stamets Protocol report increased negative side effects as a result of the more intensive frequency of the microdose. These side effects were largely minor and many subsided with extended use/tolerance. The most common side effects are headaches, tiredness, and nausea (usually temporary).  

How Long Should You Microdose with Psilocybin Mushrooms? 

There are no conclusive long-term studies to determine the effect of microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms, so when it comes to determining how long you should microdose, it  is a matter of personal preference. Every person’s journey with psychedelic substances is different, and many of the scientists who have been taking these substances since the sixties continue to do so with no ill effects. 

Since microdosing does not introduce psychedelics into a person’s system at levels that would induce a noticeable high and doesn’t cause any kind of irrational thinking or visual distortion, microdosing is considered safe for most adults. Unless you’ve been shown to have a previous allergic reaction to mushrooms, there aren’t many mind-altering substances that are safer. 

Dangers of Microdosing Psilocybin

One of the biggest risks of microdosing psilocybin is the lack of research on the subject. While we know anecdotally that humans have been taking psilocybin and other naturally-occurring entheogens for thousands of years with no lasting ill effects, there is no concrete scientific evidence to say one way or the other whether microdosing psilocybin might have negative long-term effects on a person’s neurology. 

While this is a risk that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, it is important to note that at websites such as Erowid, there are hundreds of trip reports available detailing specific experiences that users have with psychedelics at different dosages. This can help potential users anticipate some of the side effects that might occur. 

One of the major concerns about microdosing psilocybin is that it activates the 5-HT2B receptor, which is also associated with valvular disease as a result of MDMA abuse. There is currently no solid evidence that long-term microdosing of psilocybin damages the heart, but may be detrimental to overall cardiovascular health in the long run.

Another concern with the long-term use of psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD is that these substances can induce the following states in some users: 

  • Mania: Some regular users of psychedelics can be inclined to manic episodes, especially if they already have an inclination towards a bipolar personality disorder or other mood disorder.
  • Anxiety: Like recreational doses of psilocybin and LSD, microdoses of psilocybin can heighten anxiety in some people, especially those who are more susceptible to negative effects in response to psychedelics, such as paranoia or panic attacks. Microdosing psilocybin might not be therapeutic for some personalities and can sometimes make anxiety worse.
  • Psychological addiction: Even though psilocybin, in general, is not considered an addictive substance, the mental clarity associated with microdosing psilocybin can become psychologically addictive, in and of itself. 

Since microdosing is still a fairly new science, it’s important to use caution when attempting to set up a microdosing regimen. It’s advisable to avoid pushing your dosage to a perceptual level. This is especially important if you intend to do normal daily activities while microdosing, such as driving or going to work. 

It can be helpful when you start a course of microdosing psilocybin to keep a mood journal daily to record symptoms and effects. In this way, you can either increase or decrease your dosage accordingly to find the sweet spot for optimal performance while microdosing.

Whether following the Fadiman Protocol or Stamets Protocol,  is also important to periodically take breaks from microdosing psilocybin or other psychedelics in order to let your brain and body rest. 

Practicing Safety While Microdosing Psilocybin 

Even though psilocybin mushrooms are generally considered one of the safer mind-altering substances you can take recreationally or medicinally, it’s still important for you to treat the magic mushroom with respect and take precautions to prevent any potential problems. Here are some good guidelines for microdosing with psilocybin:

  • Start with a small dose and work your way up. Since you’re not really sure about your personal sensitivity to psilocybin until you’ve actually taken it, it’s best to start out with the smallest recommended microdose (1/20th of a recreational dose) and then slowly work your way up. Some people have a naturally higher tolerance than others, so it’s important to experiment gradually until you find the dosage that’s right for you.
  • Do it in a safe, calm place first. Don’t start out your microdosing regimen right before going to work, driving or looking after children. It can be useful to  try a few test runs over a weekend so that you can be sure you tolerate the dose before going out into public. Microdosing psilocybin for the first time is best done on a relaxing Sunday at home, without any kind of serious work or responsibilities.
  • Keep your stash away from children and pets. It goes without saying, but if kids or your dog get into your stash, they’re going to have a bad time and so are you. People experimenting with psychedelics have a hard enough time maintaining a decent reputation without accidental ingestion by oblivious bystanders, so keep your psilocybin safe.
  • Keep it at below a tenth of a recreational dose. Keep in mind that the object isn’t to feel trippy, but to feel calm, focused, and balanced. There’s nothing wrong with taking psilocybin at higher doses for therapeutic or exploratory purposes, but that’s not what microdosing is for.
  • Only buy psilocybin from a trusted source. Since there are mushrooms out there that can seriously sicken or even kill you, it’s important that you know that the mushrooms you’re getting on the black market are actually psilocybin mushrooms and that they’re safe to eat. Be sure you know who you’re buying from and that they are credible before eating mushrooms. 
  • Know the law. If you’re living in a place where using psychedelic substances such as psilocybin is strictly illegal it’s likely you already know about it, but before you do any kind of experimentation with psilocybin, it’s worth looking up your local regulations and seeing just how much trouble you’d get in for possessing it if you did get caught. Laws and regulations can vary between cities, even in the same state or province.

Psilocybin mushrooms are one of the least risky substances out there, so as long as you use simple, common-sense precautions and keep your dosage at a manageable level, you’re more likely to have a positive experience than not. 

Microdosing Psilocybin Can Be Helpful in Many Ways

Whether you’re trying to aggressively treat depression, improve focus, or just breakthrough to a new level of productivity and creativity, microdosing can be one way to improve cognitive function. 

For those who are nervous about ingesting psychedelics at higher doses, microdosing can be a safe and gentle entry point into the therapeutic properties of psilocybin and other natural psychotropic substances.