Anna – not her real name – mixes two drops of regular strength liquid LSD (at 110 micrograms, enough to trigger visual hallucinations) into 100ml of distilled water. The mix then goes into a metal ‘sound bowl’ before it is decanted into an amber pharmaceutical bottle – the type with a pipette in the lid and which can be purchased on Amazon.
‘You do that to create a nice frequency through the bottle,’ Anna says, although she struggles to explain what benefit this kind of spiritual process actually brings her. She’s just following the instructions she’s read online, shared by other LSD users on blogs and forums, she says.
The resulting mixture is about a tenth of the strength of a recreational dose of acid. Anna takes 1ml at a time, a few mornings a week and never at weekends. She is, she explains, careful not to mix the drug with her usual end-of-week drinking and partying – although the same dealer is called upon for both occasions.
She experiences no noticeable physical effects such as slurred speech, she says, but after regularly microdosing for the past four months her perspective on the world and her work has shifted in a positive way.
Anna is lucid and sharp as she talks, having microdosed only a few hours earlier, describing her altered state without seeming flustered or agitated. None of her 12 colleagues or many clients have any idea of her morning ritual.
What Anna is doing isn’t entirely new. Author of the Four-Hour Work Week Tim Ferriss was talking about microdosing on his podcast in 2015, the same year that Rolling Stone reported that microdosing was ‘the hot new business trip’.
The magazine interviewed West Coast tech workers who were using LSD to boost creativity and get better at cracking code. Many articles elsewhere have followed, detailing the experiences of bankers, developers and entrepreneurs who use psychedelics to deal with their high-pressured jobs. More recently at a Google Campus talk in June, Michael Pollan, author of the recently published How to Change Your Mind, jokingly welcomed the Google microdosing society to the room.
These reports aren’t hard to find – but they’re difficult to verify, for two reasons.
First, LSD is illegal in both the US and the UK, classified in the top tier of illicit substances. If Anna’s acid stash gets discovered, she could face up to seven years in jail. Most who talk about their habit prefer to do so anonymously.
Second, there’s little scientific evidence to support the benefits of microdosing. Other than anecdotal experiences from Anna and others, it’s unclear if these sub-perceptual doses of LSD are resulting in anything more than a placebo effect.
This will soon change, though. In the UK, the Beckley Foundation is currently testing LSD microdosing on a group of 48 participants. Similar research is taking place elsewhere, from the US to the Netherlands. If microdosing continues on this path – which echoes the legalisation of medical and recreational cannabis that’s been seen across the globe – it could be a matter of years before microdosing enters the mainstream.
Anna’s interest in microdosing began with a search for an alternative to Adderall, the stimulant she was taking to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD). Although the pharmaceutical was boosting her concentration, she said it was also making her antisocial and irritable.
‘For 95% of life, Adderall’s not good,’ she says. After reading reports that microdosing could help people with ADD, she decided to give it a go.
‘The first time I really noticed [the effects of microdosing] was when I was able to read in a very hectic, noisy environment,’ she says. Because of her ADD, Anna usually struggles to maintain concentration even in a silent room. Now she finds her 11-hour working days much more productive.
‘It switched me on to the fact that it was working. I started to notice some really amazing results.’ Anna says she now rarely experiences anxiety, and is able to take objectively stressful work situations in her stride much more easily.
She describes herself as ‘unfazed’ when work problems that would have previously felt catastrophic come up. She’s also found that her creative problem-solving abilities have been much sharper since she started microdosing.
‘The nature of the insights feel really powerful,’ she explains. ‘Maybe it’s an idea you’ve already had, but it’s come to you [again] with real clarity, and suddenly feels like a really executable idea. It’s got a different quality to the one in a thousand ideas you get a day [as a creative]. Even if it’s slightly disruptive, it comes with the confidence that it’s feasible.’
Despite originally experimenting with microdosing for the ADD benefits, Anna says she ‘100%, no shadow of a doubt’ thinks other founders should experiment with it. ‘Really, the truest benefit is the spiritual component,’ she says. ‘You get more connected to yourself as an energetic, intuitive being in the universe. You become a bit more bigger picture.’
Amanda Fielding is a politely spoken 75-year-old business woman – who is also the Countess of Wemyss and March – with no scientific training. Yet she has bags of experience with LSD and the charm required to convince people to partner up with her studies.
Her fascination with acid goes back to the 1960s. It was being hailed as a wonder drug, and she and her partner wanted to find out if doctors could use it to go deeper into the psyche – mostly by taking it themselves. It shortly fell out of fashion (the US government began putting out anti-LSD propaganda, showing teenagers having catastrophic accidents while tripping), but Amanda went on to contribute to over 50 studies exploring the effects of psychedelic drugs. Today she in the middle of a controlled study on microdosing in partnership with Imperial College London. The results are expected before the end of the year, and it will be the first time brain wave signals have been recorded on microdosing patients.
‘So far there’s a lot of anecdotal reports of the benefits, but no scientific evidence,’ she explains. With larger doses of LSD, neurological scans have shown how the drug can increase brain connectivity – in theory improving memory, making it easier to learn skills and enhancing physical endurance. ‘We’re most interested in whether we see an improvement in mood.’
A key impact of LSD Amanda says, and the reason people find it so helpful with creative idea generation, is the way it allows users to feel confident in their own ideas. ‘The psychedelic removes the repression from the ego,’ she explains. ‘The whole system is shaken – rather like rebooting a computer.’