University of Auckland PhD candidate, Estelle Miller, wants to know more about New Zealanders who microdose.
Microdosing refers to taking small amounts of a drug to experience its benefits, such as added creativity, extra focus, or relief from anxiety and depression, without feeling high or facing unpleasant side effects or comedowns.
A microdose is approximately a tenth of a ‘normal’ dose. For LSD – that’s equivalent to about 13 micrograms (μg). Due to lack of research in the field and because people vary in size and metabolism, there is not yet a universally agreed “standard” microdose.
In recent years, the practice has become famous as something tech bros in Silicon Valley do to boost productivity. As microdosing involves taking illegal drugs, it’s hard to get a clear picture of exactly how many people are doing it. That said, global Google search trend data shows interest in microdosing has grown steadily over time.
Estelle Miller is a PhD candidate exploring the wide world of microdosing. In 2019, at the start of her honours year, she developed an interest in psychedelics.
Estelle’s interest was piqued by listening to popular podcasts and interviews with the likes of Duncan Trussell, Alan Watts, and Terence Mckenna. In 2020, she read Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics, which cemented her decision to study psychedelics.
University of Auckland PhD student, Estelle Miller [supplied].
In 2023, Estelle and her research colleagues will ask volunteers to bring their microdoses for lab analysis.
They’ll then ask the volunteers a series of questions on their preparation methods and motivations for microdosing, among other things.
One of the main goals of Estelle’s research is to understand more about who is doing it in NZ.
“Obviously it will be a biased sample, because it is illegal, so not everyone doing it will come forward,” she says.
The study is open to anyone who is currently microdosing, or anyone who has never taken psychedelics, who can serve as a control participant. Both groups will answer the same series of questions.
Estelle hopes at least 50 people who microdose and 50 controls will participate in person and another 100 people who microdose and controls participate online. All in-person participants will receive supermarket vouchers for their time, and online participants will go into a draw to win a supermarket voucher.
Those who microdose can bring samples of whatever drug they use to the Auckland lab and will remain completely anonymous. The research team will then analyse the quality, contents, and measure how much people are taking when they microdose. The data from this analysis will be anonymised and never shared with authorities.
Right now, researchers can't analyse psilocybin content in magic mushrooms. But the University of Auckland team are hoping to find a way to.
What’s the microdosing study looking at?
Estelle's study focusses primarily on LSD as it is tricky to analyse mushrooms (such as finding out how much psilocybin or psilocyn they contain), the second most commonly drug that people microdose. However, the UoA team hopes that they’ll develop ways of doing this in the near future.
Some of the research areas the study is interested in is exploring how microdosing LSD affects people’s mental health (including depression and anxiety), creativity, and personalities.
Further, Estelle is interested in whether there are different psychological and physiological outcomes for people who microdose compared to those who don’t. She will explore whether people who microdose experience more heart issues and what potential harm, if any, microdosing psychedelics presents.
A side area of interest is whether microdosing increases people’s nature-relatedness, their personal feeling of connection with the natural environment. Some research has noted that full psychedelic doses can increase nature-relatedness. Other research suggests that nature-relatedness might increase people’s empathy towards animals.
A big animal advocate and vegan herself, one question in Estelle’s survey asks volunteers if are vegetarian or vegan. “I wonder if that also means microdosers are more likely to consider animals and therefore consider vegetarianism or veganism; I have no idea.”
Are microdosers more likely to be vegan?
Potential impacts of this microdosing research?
Estelle hopes that her study will be useful for reducing harm. She believes that once the research team has analysed people’s samples, it will show that some people are taking smaller or greater doses than they think, or different substances altogether.
“Someone might think they are taking 13 micrograms of LSD when really, it’s 0 or like 5,” she says.
“It’s also possible that people who think they're taking LSD might be taking other drugs such as NBOMe, which is a substance that is sold as LSD but is a potentially dangerous drug with similar effects.”
“Because people source their stuff from an illegal market, dealers might be inaccurate about what they’re supplying. Also, with preparation and storage methods and storage methods could degrade the substance or turn it into a different dose,” Estelle Miller.
Using high-performance liquid chromatography, researchers will analyse the contents of people’s microdosing samples.
Another potential impact of this research could be if volunteers report microdosing has improved their mental health as some people microdose to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
However, Estelle says, “Some research has said anxiety can increase in some people due to microdosing… that’s one of the negative side-effects.”
“Obviously, there is the placebo effect, but if we find that people’s mental health isn’t improved by microdosing, then is that a viable alternative to something like an SSRI, therapy or other conventional treatments for anxiety and depression?”
“With microdosing, we just don’t know yet,” Estelle says.
How will the microdosing study recruit volunteers?
Estelle and her team intend to seek out volunteers through psychedelic Facebook groups like KiwiPsybin and on Reddit and by putting posters up around Auckland.
The total time commitment for people volunteering for the study ranges from about an hour for online surveys to a maximum of a couple of hours for those who also complete in-person measures.
When is this happening?
It is hoped the study will be ready to roll around this time next year. Estelle expects, however, that they will start recruiting volunteers in the next few months.
Interested in taking part in Estelle's microdosing study?
You can participate in the initial online portion of the work from anywhere in NZ, however if you’re Auckland-based, you’ll have the option to come into the lab for subsequent in-person visits.
“Your information will be kept completely anonymous, and you’ll help aid important research into microdosing in New Zealand,” Estelle says.
You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Over Matariki weekend 2022, fentanyl was detected in a white powder sold as cocaine and meth that has led to the hospitalisation of 12 people.
Fentanyl is a drug that is often used medically to relieve pain. Only extremely small doses are needed to have an effect and a few micrograms extra can cause an overdose. This is why, if you’re not expecting fentanyl, you might unexpectedly overdose.
You may have heard about a brown powder – sold as MDMA, that has been linked to some hospitalizations recently (more info on the High Alert website).