Researchers are pouring water on the belief that microdosing LSD actually does anything (at least, anything positive) for those who do it.

According to The Guardian, the practice became a Silicon Valley trend and then spread outwards from there. The belief was that it boosted mood, sharpened cognitive abilities, and made people more creative. Let us note here that Steve Jobs was a believer in taking LSD (though it may not have always been microdosed), and stated that doing so was a “profound experience” and “one of the most important things” in his life. Note that that’s simply intended to be informative (not advice to live by) but, at least in the microdosed quantities, it turns out that was probably all just the placebo effect in action anyway. 

Up until now conducting clinical trials was difficult because acquiring LSD isn’t super easy (laws and stuff...especially in England, where the study was carried out). So anecdotal reports were all anyone had to go on. Now a group of researchers from Imperial College London has conducted a placebo-controlled trial in which they learned that the sugar pills that did nothing were almost as identically effective as actually doing the drug. 

“Our findings confirmed some of the beneficial psychological effects of microdosing from anecdotal reports and observational studies, such as improved sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction,” said lead author and research associate, Balázs Szigeti.

“But we see the same improvements among participants taking placebos. This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect.”

The trial was launched in 2018, and included nearly 200 people who were both already microdosing the substance, and able to take part in the study online. Volunteers then took instructions that told them to prep gel capsules that had either a low dosage of LSD or a placebo. After that they mixed up the capsules and put them in envelopes stamped with QR codes for the intended purpose of making it unclear to know what they were taking. 

Scans of the QR codes were then used by researchers so they could know when participants were taking LSD or the placebos. A four-week trial was conducted in which the volunteers took surveys on how they were feeling, while also going through a series of cognitive tests. Regardless of whether they’d taken LSD or placebo capsules, several participants concluded they’d gotten a psychological boost a few hours after taking their pills.  

Researchers report that there was no statistical difference between those who microdosed LSD versus those who did not when it came to overall wellbeing, mindfulness, life satisfaction, and paranoia reduction. What that means is that just suggesting you took the drug is about as good as doing it. 

Researchers stated their belief that the study was legit, but did admit that it wasn’t as solid as one conducted in a more traditional/lab-based placebo-controlled type of study. As you may have been thinking when reading, they concede that it was impossible to be certain of what each participant was ingesting since participants were sorting their own drugs. There was also the concern that those taking part were familiar enough with the effects of LSD to guess whether they’d taken it or an empty pill.