Could Microdosing Psychedelics Treat Mood Disorders?

Could Microdosing Psychedelics Treat Mood Disorders?

By Kelly Burch 03/07/19

A new study investigated whether low doses of psychedelic drugs could have an antidepressant effect. 

Image: 
woman with a mood disorder

Individuals in and out of the medical community have long been fascinated with psychedelic drugs and their short- and long-term mind-altering effects.

Some people with depression believe the drugs have the ability to treat mental health disorders, and new research indicates they may be right.

A study published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience found that rats who received tiny doses of the psychedelic N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) experienced an antidepressant effect, but no negative effects on their memories. 

“Taken together, the data presented here suggest that subhallucinogenic doses of psychedelic compounds might possess value for treating and/or preventing mood and anxiety disorders,” study authors wrote. However, they warned that more research is needed into the safety and effectiveness of microdosing in humans.  

“Despite the therapeutic potential of psychedelic microdosing, this practice is not without risks, and future studies need to better define the potential for negative neurobiological or metabolic repercussions,” they wrote. 

The data suggests that people who extol the virtues of using psychedelics to treat depression and trauma may be on to something. 

“These antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects are consistent with the anecdotal human reports regarding psychedelic microdosing providing strong supporting evidence that psychedelic microdosing might actually have therapeutic potential,” study authors wrote. “Compounds capable of enhancing fear extinction learning in rodents, such as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) are excellent candidates for treating PTSD symptoms in humans.”

With microdosing, an individual would receive enough of a drug to stimulate brain changes, but not enough to induce hallucinations. Finding the most effective amount may be time consuming, but researchers expressed “cautious optimism” that it could be done effectively.

“The overall psychedelic microdosing load, which includes the amount of drug in each dose, the frequency of administration, and the length of treatment, is likely to be critical for achieving the beneficial effects of psychedelic microdosing without negative repercussions,” they wrote. 

Proponents of psychedelics say that the drugs—even taken at high doses—can help alleviate symptoms of depression, addiction and other mental health conditions. In fact, during the 1950s and '60s, psychedelics were a mainstream treatment option in Canada. Today, many people with addiction turn to ibogaine treatment, which is illegal in the United States, to help them heal from addiction and trauma. 

Kevin Franciotti wrote for The Fix about his experience using ibogaine to treat his addiction: 

“Each month throughout the year following my single dose treatment, an investigator called me to administer an outcomes interview measuring my addiction severity, and mailed me additional scales to fill out myself. At the end of my participation in the trial, ratings for depression, anxiety, and addiction severity had plummeted, reflecting the new lease on life ibogaine had brought me.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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