In psychedelic therapy, ‘mystical experience’ may be key


In a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacologyresearchers found that psychedelic therapy involving controlled microdosing of the drug psilocybin failed to relieve symptoms associated with anxiety or depression.

The results of the placebo-controlled study cast doubt on the claimed benefits of microdosing psilocybin. However, study co-author and current Ph.D. University of Konstanz candidate George Fejer says the negligible impact of microdosing does not mean psychedelic therapy should be dismissed.

In place, previous research suggests the dosage, or more importantly, the subjective “mystical experience” brought about by altered states of consciousness, could be vital to unlocking the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

” Consensus [is] you need the subjective effects, or altered states of consciousness, to get the full lasting benefits from these drugs,” Fejer said in an interview with The debriefing. “These effects are quite dose-specific, and I think it’s a downside of microdosing that it’s not aimed at facilitating explicit changes in subjective experience.

Psychedelics had a major impact on cognitive science

In the United States, psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), are considered Schedule I controlled substances, meaning the compounds possess “significant potential for abuse and dependence” and “no recognized medicinal value”.

In light of their current legal status, Fejer points out that psychedelics have played an important role in cognitive science and in improving our understanding of human consciousness.

“I think the biggest impact of psychedelics on the study of consciousness came in the 1960s when they introduced the idea that complex behaviors are subject to chemical events that occur in the brain,” Fejer said. . “These ideas are ubiquitous these days, but they were unknown in the field of psychiatry.

“The discovery of LSD has demonstrated that tiny chemical interventions can cause profound changes in our mental state, and psychiatrists have reassessed the underpinnings of mental illness. LSD research has also uncovered the role of serotonin in the brain and many other neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, adrenaline and dopamine.

The discovery that complex behaviors result from chemical changes in the brain helped establish the field of consciousness research, a discipline that Fejer says wasn’t taken seriously until the mid-1990s.

“The term awareness or any other subjective experience was considered too tasteless to be studied scientifically, and even areas

as emotion research has suffered from stigma,” Fejer explained.

Today, the study of consciousness is accepted as a serious field, and in recent years interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics has become an ever-growing area of ​​clinical research.

In 2018, the The U.S. Federal Drug Administration has begun granting “Breakthrough Therapy” designation at various research institutes, allowing the study of psilocybin as a possible therapeutic for significant mood disorders.

Subsequently, several studies have come out in recent years, showing a positive relationship between psychedelics and improving mental health. The search also did not find any evidence for short-term or long-term adverse effects of psychedelic therapy.

psychedelic therapy

Psychedelic therapy without travel

Over the past decade, the concept of microdosing – or ingesting 5-10% of the standard dose of a psychedelic – has become a buzzword in psychedelic therapy research. With microdosing, the doses are low enough not to produce the hallucinogenic effects typically associated with psychedelics.

Several observational studies have claimed profound mental health benefits associated with psychedelic microdosing. For example, an international study published in 2020 found that nearly 80% of participants said microdosing psilocybin improved symptoms of depression and anxiety.

However, the most significant limitation to the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of microdosing stems from the fact that the bulk of previous studies had to rely on anecdotal reports and the lack of placebo control groups.

In contrast, in this recent study, researchers from the University of Amsterdam, Leiden University, and the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague performed a double-blind experiment in which participants received doses of psilocybin or placebo pills.

After a strict 8-week microdosing schedule, participants completed a battery of tests designed to measure depression, anxiety, emotion processing, and interoceptive awareness.

After analysis, the researchers found no statistically significant difference between the psilocybin and placebo groups and the users’ symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Interestingly, the researchers noted a strong generic placebo effect, showing that both the microdosing and placebo groups had significant changes in their overall well-being after starting the study.

“So just expecting you to be part of a clinical trial in which you may or may not receive a psychoactive substance already improves your well-being,” study author Michiel said. van Elk, associate professor of cognitive psychology at Leiden University. Told Psychopost.

strange dreams

The findings of the study coincide with another 2016 placebo-controlled study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and New York University, who demonstrated that low doses of psilocybin did not reduce depression and anxiety in patients facing life-threatening cancer.

Interestingly, the same study found that high doses of psilocybin significantly improved symptoms of depression and anxiety and improved overall quality of life in terminal cancer patients. Six months after taking high doses of psilocybin, researchers found that 80% of patients still showed lasting improvements in their overall mental health.

“It makes intuitive sense because the subjective experience provides a lot of material for the patient and the therapist to build a therapeutic alliance. Neurochemical interactions are, of course, a necessary component of their effects because they facilitate altered states of consciousness,” Fejer said.

“These effects are quite dose-specific, and I think it’s a downside of microdosing that it’s not aimed at facilitating explicit changes in subjective experience. Even if we only consider neurochemical interactions, I think that larger doses are more likely to produce positive effects, in which case experience is a very important therapeutic modality to work with.

psychedelic therapy

Mystical experience is the key

“There is a real risk in promoting the idea that repeated microdosing can produce the same kind of benefits as larger doses, because different doses evoke different kinds of neurochemical effects,” says Fejer.

However, this does not mean that microdosing should be canceled entirely. At least not yet.

“Research often examines whether psychedelics improve mental health outcomes by inducing mystical-like experiences. Since microdosing doesn’t induce these kinds of experiences, it’s no surprise that they don’t produce the same effects,” says Fejer.

“Research on these issues is still in its infancy, and I think it would be a good idea to examine the benefits of minidoses in terms of tailoring therapy to patient needs.”

Considering that the majority of research suggests that altered states of consciousness play such a vital role, Fejer still doubts that microdosing will ever prove to be an effective option for psychedelic therapy. However, Fejer, who also serves as team coordinator for ALIUS – a France-based interdisciplinary group that focuses on consciousness research – says it’s glad its opinion on microdosing turned out to be wrong.

“I’m a bit skeptical about microdosing because I don’t think the current evidence supports the claims of microdosing enthusiasts,” Fejer said. “However, I am also open to seeing conflicting evidence, and this also applies to our study: null results are simply an invitation for other researchers to come up with better experiments and better measurements!”

Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative journalist and co-founder of The Debrief. His writings span defense, national security, and the intelligence community. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan. Tim can also be contacted by email: or by encrypted email:


Comments are closed.