A recently published study argues some of the effects patients report “microdosing” psychedelics — a practice where users consume small amounts of substance on a regular basis — may be a result of the placebo effect.
The study itself, from the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, was conducted outside of a clinical environment through “citizen science.”
The methods for conducting the study were unique because, thus far, most studies have been conducted with a single relatively large dose of a psychedelic that’s typically paired with therapy or supervised by a therapist. Instead, this study monitored patients as they went about their normal lives, during which they periodically microdosing a small of their own psychedelics; described by the patients as LSD, psilocybin (or shrooms) and “other.”
They were instructed on how to “blind” themselves or incorporate placebos into their dosing schedule.
The nature of the study means there were a number of things the researchers could not control for, such as irregular dosing quantities and schedule, mistakes with the placebo, inconsistent reporting and, perhaps most importantly, a bias to favorable outcomes when it comes to psilocybin treatment.
The therapeutic effects of a single fully hallucinogenic dose can last for several yearsLindsay P. Cameron, University of California, Davis
However, even taking into account these factors the study’s authors, “confirmed anecdotal reports that microdosing improves mood and cognitive functions, there was no significant difference between the microdosing group and the placebo-treated group.”
There’s no need for psychedelic fans to panic though. Instead of concluding psychedelic therapy is a sham, the authors also hypothesized, “the dose of a psychedelic compound [needs] to be strong enough to cause hallucinations in order to have a therapeutic effect.”
It has also been speculated that previous exposure could alter the psychedelic effects, because the participants in the latest study had to have personal experience with psychedelics. Previous research has suggested “the therapeutic effects of a single fully hallucinogenic dose can last for several years.”
The authors of the study also argue recently published results from recent studies make further investigation of psychedelic effects necessary.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was one of the first research universities to resume work in the psychedelic research field. Alan Davis, Ph.D., is an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (JHUSM) and assisted in conducting a study that published its results late last year.
“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” Davis said in a JHUSM press statement.
The JHUSM study was traditional in that it was conducted in a clinical setting and featured participants who underwent two, five-hour psilocybin sessions under the direction of the researchers.
Other doctors and scientists have been looking for additional ways to explore psychedelic effects outside of traditional settings.
Dr. Sunil Aggarwal of The Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute (AIMS) filed a petition for review with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of two patients with life-threatening cancers on January 15, 2021. Aggarwal had hoped to use psilocybin to alleviate emotional suffering, including anxiety and depression use psilocybin to alleviate emotional suffering, including anxiety and depression for two patients with life-threatening cancers.
“We know that patients with advanced cancer can have significant relief lasting in some cases up to more than a year … from doing one series of sessions with psilocybin-assisted therapy,” Aggarwal pleaded.
In their February 15, 2021 letter denying Aggarwal’s petition the Drug Enforcement Agency said, “Psilocybin is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, meaning the government’s current official policy is that psilocybin currently has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”