Popularized by Ayelet Waldman’s book A Really Good Day, microdosing LSD (ingesting LSD in such minuscule amounts that its psychedelic effects aren’t felt) is said to improve cognitive function and relieve pain and depression. At least that is what microdosers claim. Of course this isn’t backed by science, since acid was made illegal in 1968 and researching the controlled substance is almost impossible.
But researcher Amanda Fielding, who once drilled a hole in her head in the name of consciousness exploration and who now runs the Beckley Foundation for psychedelic research, is planning a study to see if these microdosing claims are legitimate.
As the first scientific trial to investigate the effects of microdosing, Fielding’s study will consist of 20 participants who will be given low doses—10, 20 and 50 micrograms of LSD—or a placebo on four different occasions. After taking the acid, the brains of these subjects will be imaged using MRI and MEG while they engage in a variety of cognitive tasks, such as the neuropsychology staples the Wisconsin Card Sorting test and the Tower of London test. Importantly, the participants will also be playing Go against an AI, which will assess the players’ performance during the match.
By imaging the brain while it’s under the influence of small amounts of LSD, Fielding hopes to learn how the substance changes connectivity in the brain to enhance creativity and problem solving. If the study goes forward, this will only be the second time that subjects on LSD have had their brain imaged while tripping. (That 2016 study at Imperial College London was also funded by the Beckley Foundation, which found that there was a significant uptick in neural activity in areas of the brain associated with vision during acid trips.)
But Fielding faces two hurdles before she can begin the study: 1) funding, and 2) acquiring the LSD.
In terms of funding, she says she needs to raise about $350,000.
"It’s frightening how expensive this kind of research is," Fielding said. "I’m very keen on trying to alter how drug policy categorizes these compounds because the research is much more costly simply because LSD is a controlled substance."
To tackle this problem, Fielding has partnered with Rodrigo Niño, a New York entrepreneur who recently launched Fundamental, a platform for donations to support psychedelic research at institutions like the Beckley Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, and New York University.
The second obstacle might be trickier to clear.
In 2016, she was able to use LSD that had been synthesized for research purposes by a government certified lab, but she suspects that this stash has long since been used up.
Fielding says the benefits are too great to be ignored. If anyone is going to make a study like this happen, it will be her.
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