Today’s Solutions: September 22, 2021

From treating depression to alleviating migraines, research has shown that psilocybin (magic mushrooms) has many healing properties. Still, there is so much to learn about this special psychedelic, which is why we’re excited to tell you about a novel study that is about to take place in Australia.

The study will be a first-of-its-kind exploration of psilocybin micro-dosing, the practice of taking tiny doses of psychoactive drugs. The basic idea behind micro-dosing is that it can deliver subtle enhancements to productivity, creativity, and mental well-being—although the jury is still out whether this practice is an effective phenomenon or just a glorified placebo effect.

Vince Polito, a researcher from Macquarie University who will lead the study, has been researching the effects of micro-dosing for years and ran a compelling longitudinal study that tracked the experiences of nearly 100 micro-dosing subjects over six weeks. That study relied on self-reporting and yielded some unexpected results. Those respondents reported improvements in focus and productivity wasn’t so much of a surprise, but there were also reports of small increases in neuroticism.

For this study, Polito and his team of researchers will explore psilocybin micro-dosing in a lab-setting using a cutting-edge neuroimaging technique and a unique kind of trial protocol. Instead of using a traditional study protocol, where researchers themselves would administer doses of a drug to participants in controlled environments, this new study will deploy a self-blinding protocol in which participants will take either a placebo or a genuine micro-dose before heading into the lab.

To “blind” the participant, the envelopes containing the doses given to the participant will be shuffled. Via QR codes, only the researchers will know whether the participant has taken a micro-dose or placebo. Another fascinating aspect of the study’s setup is that it won’t require a specific dosing regime of the participants and that the participants will be people who have already been micro-dosing.

“The study will be open to people micro-dosing with psilocybin only,” says Polito. “We don’t require people to follow a specific dosing regime. We don’t want to influence people’s micro-dosing behaviors in any way, we want to explore the experiences of people micro-dosing according to their existing practices. We are mainly interested in the immediate or state-based effects of micro-dosing so our measures will focus on markers of any psychological or physiological changes that occur while a person is micro-dosing (rather than cumulative or long-term effects).”

The study is set to be the first to explore the micro-dosing brain using a cutting-edge neuroimaging method called magnetoencephalography (MEG), which can provide incredibly detailed insights into real-time electrical activity in the brain.

“There have been very few imaging studies of micro-dosing so far and I think that this will be the first MEG investigation,” says Polito. “This will allow us to explore more precisely changes that occur in neural networks on dosing days, and to identify very subtle changes that may occur in response to our experimental stimuli.”

Considering that this study will include both self-reporting and highly-advanced brain scanning techniques, there will surely be a multitude of interesting findings to come out of this micro-dosing study. As always, we’ll be sure to keep you updated when the first results come out of Polito’s study.

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