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  • Writer's pictureSteven Huang

Microdosing has no Impact on Cognitive Function in Naturalistic Settings

Research by: Jannis Dinkelacker, Ioana Pop. Image by: The Cut / NY Magazine


TO SET THE SETTNG

Before I dive in, I have to tell you dear reader – that I couldn’t disagree more with the headline of this research!


I am always excited to get my hands on research around microdosing. It’s a practice that I have found to be personally valuable; and I also believe it’s a safer, more affordable entry point to introduce psychedelics into the mainstream. It’s sort of akin to “meatless Mondays” as a way to introduce a more eco-friendly vegetarian diet. The “go vegan or you’re an evil piece of shit” argument was never very effective…


This paper summarizes the current literature (up to August 2023) on low-dose psychedelics spanning attention, executive function and memory. Then, the paper introduces research on microdosing in a “naturalistic setting” which means people can microdose the way that they’d like, instead of having to come into a lab or alter their normal microdosing practice. Naturalistic settings resemble more of the actual way we do drugs. The scientists say it “enhances ecological validity.”


SUMMARY

The subjects in the study were allowed to microdose psilocybin and LSD. The results showed, that on the day of the microdose:

  • There was no significant effect or improvement on “Sustained Attention,” the processes that enable performance over an extended period of time, including the capacity to stay vigilant, select a target of attention, and maintain the target over a specific duration.

  • There was no significant effect or improvement on “Inhibitory Control,” the capacity to focus on a specific stimulus, inhibit a response and engage in a controlled one instead.

  • There was no significant effect or improvement on “Cognitive Flexibility,” the ability to quickly and accurately adapt behavior to changing demands of a task.

  • There was no significant effect of improvement on “Working Memory,” “Verbal Memory,” or “Visual Memory,” all executive functions that refer to the capacity to hold information and manipulate it according to immediate needs and goals.

IMPLICATIONS & MY POINT OF VIEW

It would seem, from this study, as if microdosing has no value and is not worth studying; that it’s “fake news.” However, if you read the research beyond the headline, you might question the results when you start to understand how scientists test for these cognitive functions.


A common “Sustained Attention” is to ask a participant to watch a repeated demonstration of stimuli and respond only if they see a particular one. For example – someone is show random letters of the alphabet but only press a button when the letter “B” appears.


I have to discount the findings of this research once I learned about the tests – they don’t actually match “naturalistic” settings.


“Inhibitory Control” is measured by a test where words are written in the same color as the word and words written in a different color as the word – and how quickly people can react (so the word “red” is written in red, but the word “purple” is written in blue.)


“Cognitive Flexibility” is measured by how quickly someone can adapt from sorting a deck of playing cards by color (red/black) vs. number (odd/even). I’m not sure what they do about jacks, queens and kings.


The Memory Tests are the most ridiculous. One of them requires subjects to recall word-opposites and nonsense syllables. That would be hard even if I wasn’t on psychedelics!


Unfortunately, I think this a representative example of why people are paying less attention to “science.” According to these scientific measures, microdosing has no impact on cognitive function. But the headline should be: microdosing has no impact on finding the letter B, stacking playing cards, or recalling nonsense-syllables!


Microdosing can have a huge positive impact, whether it’s mostly a placebo impact or not. For me, my journal entries feel richer. I’m able to self-regulate my emotions; which I would argue is “inhibitory control” of my triggers. I have deepened my self-love strategies, softening my rigidity and desire for perfectionism. All of these developments, whether “real” or “perceived,” are my reality. Certainly, the benefits of trying microdosing outweighs the risks and costs.


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