Microdosing for Ben — a student here identified by a pseudonym — seemed like just one of those crazy adult life experiences, such as drinking or swearing, especially to a guy who grew up Mormon. That is until he tried it for the first time. A student of the Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah, Ben couldn’t remember exactly what happened throughout the day he had first tried it, but he did remember being terrified leading up to it and how he felt after taking it during the middle of his design lecture. Ben said he was hesitant to start microdosing but after extensive research, he concluded that it was something he at least wanted to try.
“Not wanting to look like a drugged-out hippie to my roommates, I subtly slipped 10 micrograms of LSD into my morning coffee, hoping to God that I measured the solution correctly,” he said. “I waited for a few minutes, and then, nothing.”
The main idea behind microdosing is users take between one-fifth and one-tenth of a typical dose of LSD; such a small amount of the drug that the experience should be sub-perceptual. Microdosers aren’t trying to get high, but rather give themselves an edge. Most experimenters don’t notice any change in their thought patterns until the trip is over, at which point they can reflect on their experiences.
“Looking back on the [first time I tried LSD], there were three areas I noticed changes,” Ben said. “First, I felt more creative. I was working as a designer at the time, and the ability to notice ideas floating in my mind and act on them more efficiently felt more enhanced. Second, I was able to focus unbelievably well. Tasks or homework that normally would have taken an afternoon, broken up by countless distractions, were much easier to focus in on for a few hours on end. And third, my sociability and mood were abnormally high. While microdosing, I felt abnormally positive for a few days, and found it much easier to talk to people and think on my feet.”
Students that microdose generally do so every two to four days to promote a creative, emotional and productive lifestyle.
Lassonde Studios has been referred to as a “Little Silicon Valley” and like Silicon Valley has had instances of microdosing by students looking to enhance imagination and innovation. Exact numbers are unknown, but Ben estimated that approximately 15 to 25 people he knew in Lassonde were at least occasionally microdosing.
Hallucinogens have been a topic of intrigue, particularly among entrepreneurs and creatives, since the 1950s. Banned in the mid-1960s before much research could be completed, hallucinogenics such as LSD have primarily been used by curious experimenters for the last half-century. However, in places like Silicon Valley, psychedelics have recently been used in microdoses to foster creativity.
Scientific studies have concluded that LSD, like many drugs, increases activity in some areas of the brain and decreases activity in others. The way that psychedelics interact with the neural connections of the brain, however, sets them apart from other drugs.
“Think of your thought process as being categorized with different sections in your brain,” Ben explained. “Each section is associated with a different thing and they are all separated by barriers. LSD tends to break down the barriers between those categories.”
LSD creates neural connections between areas of the brain that would normally never interact with one another. This has been supported both by brain scans and testimonies of users who experience symptoms of synesthesia — a neurological phenomenon in which sensory perception becomes confused and people can, for example, see sounds and taste colors.
Studies conducted at the U examined LSD’s effects on the brain using fMRI scans. Volunteer patients took a placebo drug one day and LSD the next. Areas that showed notable increases in activity included the perception, visual, auditory and tactile loci. Other positively affected regions include the frontal cortex, used for decision making and complex thought, and the amygdala — where emotions are controlled. Areas that showed a notable decrease in activity were those associated with the ego, or one’s sense of self.
Another student at the Lassonde Studios, identified by the pseudonym Carly, described the experience as “ego death — the ability to view reality through a more objective lens outside of the perspective of one’s own experienced life, entering a state of mind some call ‘the godhead,’ [and] an increased sense of internally generated empathy and divinity.”
As a result, LSD makes users feel less interested in themselves and more connected to the world around them. Many people consider the drug spiritual for that reason — they are able to disconnect from themselves and understand the world around them on a deeper level.
Researchers have found that there is a correlation between psychedelic microdosing and a decrease in symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, Bipolar disorder and even addiction. The analogous nature of the active chemicals in drugs like LSD to serotonin, a chemical in the brain associated with happiness, is a big contributor to this, as it can relax users and even take them out of psychotic episodes in some self-reported cases. The decreased sense of self allows users struggling with mental health disorders to abandon a potentially negative self-perception and gain a different perspective.
“Many drugs, like alcohol and marijuana, seem to contribute to increasing the blurriness of consciousness. In contrast, many psychedelics create a palpable increase in both actual and sensed lucidity in such a way that makes sobriety seem comparatively blurry,” Carly said.
As the drug is illegal, almost all psychedelic research has been based on self-reporting and is not recognized by the Federal Drug Administration. Although researchers have identified some of the benefits of microdosing, there are many real and potentially harmful side-effects to consider.
Blood pressure and heart rate are both elevated as a result of taking LSD. Continued use could lead to heart problems, especially if a lot is consumed over a long time period. It can cause nausea, dizziness, palpitations and sweating. LSD may also lead to serotonin syndrome in people already taking medications which boost serotonin such as most depression medications, which is characterized by elevated blood pressure, heart rate, agitation and elevated body temperatures are particularly susceptible.
“The scariest part is obtaining the drugs,” Ben said. “A lot of people are still buying LSD from the street, which can be really dangerous because there are drug dealers who say they’re selling LSD but they can’t tell you how many micrograms they’re giving you and can’t tell you if the person they bought it from bought a research chemical that has similar effects to LSD but is harmful to your body.”
There is no monitoring process as to what goes into the LSD, which may be laced with other drugs, making the effects unpredictable.“When I’ve used it in the past I’ve used a vendor from the darknet that I found in Spain and in that case I was able to talk to someone who works in a lab and see how they produce it, see exactly what they’re giving me. And they’ll do chemical tests on the substances that they’re buying to let you know that what you’re buying is real. So I think most are still buying from the street but they also are buying it online through bitcoin. It’s a lot of work and risky to do on a University network. It’s safer to get online, but more dangerous to get online in the first place.”
DRUGS ON CAMPUS
Possession and use of psychedelics like LSD is illegal and against the U’s school policy. During the 2016-2017 academic year, there has been one police report filed about students using LSD on campus. Ben said he knew the person involved and that the drugs were confiscated and the suspect was put on probation by the Housing and Residential Education (HRE).
“The use or possession of narcotics or other controlled substances on University premises is not permitted,” said Troy D’Ambrosio, the director of Lassonde Studios. “Within HRE, these substances are not allowed, for any purpose. Students who are alleged to be in violation of this policy will be engaged in the student conduct process.”
Besides routine checks, Resident Advisors are only allowed to enter dorms with probable cause for felony activity and only in the presence of their supervisors, so it is rare that students are caught in possession of illicit substances. When students are found with drugs, they are subjected to the student behavioral misconduct process.
“Our first step when we catch students using illicit drugs on campus is to talk to the student,” said Lori McDonald, the dean of students at the U. “We want to at least give the student an opportunity to explain their actions. It really depends on that interaction what happens next. We don’t have a matrix for action. In the case of drugs or alcohol use by students, we want to understand their reasoning.
“If we think a student may be sharing or selling the drugs, then more serious action is taken. Our main focus, however, is to approach it from a wellness perspective,” McDonald said. “Sometimes indication of use of substances can indicate that there is something else going on in someone’s life. People are often using substances to help cope with problems and stressors. Sometimes they are just experimenting with their friends, but oftentimes there are other issues in their lives.”
Students caught using illicit drugs on campus are oftentimes given a warning and are referred to a class called “Prime For Life.” The class lasts approximately one month, and teaches students about the dangers behind these substances and tries to help them find success at the U without them. Extreme cases, including the sale of drugs or when one or more warnings have already been given, will result in suspension or dismissal from the U.
“The first thing we try to do is see how we can help,” McDonald said. “Our sanctions are designed to be educational.”
Hallucinogens can be completely out of a user’s system in as little as one day, which makes preventing hallucinogen use difficult. As most users only microdose every two to four days, it can be challenging to produce a positive drug test.
“In theory they could drug test everyone in Lassonde, but I don’t think that would be a good decision,” Ben said. “Drug use will happen on a college campus and especially in an environment that mimics Silicon Valley. At a student level, restricting lives would be a very unpopular idea.”
When asked if it gives users an advantage over those who don’t use, similar to steroid use for athletes, Ben said, “It won’t make anyone a super genius, it’ll enhance qualities they already have. So I don’t think it sets them too far apart but I think it does disadvantage people who aren’t willing to take the illegal risk.”
“Besides, you can still obtain a lot similar side-effects with exercise, a good diet, and meditation. But sometimes the extra boost of a micro dose is the only thing that can open doors on a specific project you’re struggling with,” Ben said.
Chris Ayers, photo editor, and Julie Hirschi, editor-in-chief contributed to this article.