Ten years ago, if you told your doctor that a notorious club drug could treat the depression your Zoloft prescription couldn’t dent or quell your debilitating anxiety that Xanax didn’t quite alleviate, he’d ask if you were tripping balls. Now, he’d be impressed you’d done your research.
It’s a percolating trend in psychiatry: microdosing, or taking minuscule doses of psychedelic drug that are too small to cause full-body effects but can pinpoint very small areas of brain activity that cause mental disorders.
In January, the writer Ayelet Waldman released a book describing how microdoses of LSD effectively stabilized the volatile moods that accompany her bipolar II disorder. “It was almost the first time in my life I had perspective on what my moods are. Now, when I slip back into the bad feelings, I know it could get better overnight. And also: There is better.”
And some psychiatrists have found that low doses of ketamine — an infamous, highly tranquilizing club drug responsible for a swath of overdoses — can effectively treat severe, treatment-resistant depression. Very low doses are administered by some doctors and a chain of clinics nationwide for this purpose. It doesn’t stop there. Psilocybin, an active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has been administered to cancer patients to relieve their anxiety and pain, and tested to treat alcoholism.
“What microdosing seems to do is rebalance people,” says Dr. James Fadiman, a psychologist who has recommended such regimens since the ’60s. “A number of people, by the time they’ve finished a month, say, ‘I’m sleeping better, I’m eating more healthy food, I’ve returned to yoga and I’m doing meditation.’ They’ve improved their relationship to their body ― or their body has improved their relationship to them.”
As promising as these developments sound, it’s important to note that true scientific advances come in a controlled setting. In other words, a new treatment frontier comes with an old warning: Don’t try this at home.