In a first-of-its-kind study, a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis has examined the effects of psychedelic microdosing on animal behavior. The results yielded a variety of unexpected effects including some surprising negative changes affirming the need for more research into this growing trend.

The modern phenomenon of psychedelic microdosing arose over the last decade, primarily due to American researcher James Fadiman popularizing the idea with his book The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide in 2011. The idea is that small doses of psychedelics such as LSD can result in enhancements to productivity, creativity, mental well-being and energy, but the key is that these doses are so small the user does not experience any hallucinogenic effects.

Although anecdotal stories of self-administered microdosing have flourished, the phenomenon has remained one of the most understudied areas of psychedelic medicine. Not only have there been no human trials into microdosing, but there have been no studies in animals either. A compelling new study set out to fill some of those gaps in the science, testing the effects of a two-month DMT microdose regime on rats.

"Prior to our study, essentially nothing was known about the effects of psychedelic microdosing on animal behaviors," says David Olson, lead on the UC David research project. "This is the first time anyone has demonstrated in animals that psychedelic microdosing might actually have some beneficial effects, particularly for depression or anxiety."

The study used the psychedelic N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). This is perhaps an unusual choice for microdosing research, as use of LSD or psilocybin is more often anecdotally reported by humans. The researchers note several reasons for the unconventional psychedelic choice. DMT is the active compound in ayahuasca, a psychedelic ritualistically used by Amazonian tribes and also found to have anti-depressant qualities. The researchers also noted prior work in administering hallucinogenic doses of DMT to rats, which allows the new microdose study good data for comparison.

A microdose regime similar to anecdotally-reported human doses was administered to the rats for two months. Every three days the animals were administered 1/10th of a previously established hallucinogenic dose via intraperitoneal injection. Two weeks into the study, the animals commenced regular behavioral testing on the two-day stretches between dose cycles.

The results were intriguing, with behavioral testing revealing a noted reduction in the animal's fear response and reduced immobility. These two tests generally act as models for anxiety and depressive behaviors, suggesting the microdosing regime resulted in beneficial effects across both factors. Interestingly, the researchers did not note any changes to sociability or cognitive function, factors often reported in anecdotal human microdosing.

The research also uncovered some rather strange and unexpected negative results. In female rats, the microdosing seemed to result in a condition known as neuronal atrophy, a kind of neuronal shrinkage that is the opposite of the neuronal growth previously observed in large DMT dosages. Another odd result was a significant increase in weight, only seen in the male rats. This was despite the fact that the microdosing regime generally resulted in lower appetites.

These two unusual observations at this stage are relatively inexplicable, and highlight the pressing need for more research into microdosing. Olson suggests these results affirm that microdosing may indeed be more than just a grand placebo, but urges the need for more work to understand exactly what long-term low doses of these psychedelics are doing.

"It's exciting, but the potentially adverse changes in neuronal structure and metabolism that we observe emphasize the need for additional studies," says Olson. "Our study demonstrates that psychedelics can produce beneficial behavioral effects without drastically altering perception, which is a critical step towards producing viable medicines inspired by these compounds."

The new study was published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Source: UC Davis