Is It Safe? Here’s What Experts Say

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“Shrooms,” also known as magic mushrooms, are a popular hallucinogenic drug that has been used recreationally for centuries across the globe. And in recent years, some research has shown potential promise that, when taken in very tiny doses—also called “microdosing”—they might help treat major depression, anxiety and PTSD and possibly also enhance cognitive functioning and creativity.

Microdosing is just how it sounds—a super low dose,” says Erin Davis, M.S., RDN, CDCES, registered dietitian and diabetes care and education specialist.” When micro dosing mushrooms, low doses are taken to help alleviate symptoms rather than to elicit a “high” or “trip”. The mushrooms most commonly used in microdosing contain a chemical called psilocybin,” explains Davis.  

In this article, we discuss whether or not microdosing mushrooms can actually benefit health-related treatments and if it’s safe to use them.

What Are Magic Mushrooms?

Unlike the mushrooms you find at the grocery store, magic mushrooms are wild fungi containing psilocybin. Over 200 species of fungi contain psilocybin, with the psilocybe mushroom species being the most commonly used for microdosing. Psilocybin is a psychoactive compound that alters mood and perception, typically causing hallucinations at higher doses.

There’s evidence that these mushrooms have been used for centuries. The Aztecs have used them in healing and religious ceremonies and rituals, and according to Hindu texts, mushrooms were also used in ritualistic sacraments like “soma.” Magic mushrooms are still used as a recreational drug but are illegal in most countries, including in the United States and are classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs are those that aren’t currently accepted for medical use and have a high potential for abuse.

How Does Microdosing Mushrooms Work?

“Psychedelics, like psilocybin, work by activating serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical that is made by the body. Low serotonin levels are associated with mood disorders, so improving serotonin receptor action would increase serotonin levels, thereby improving mood,” says Davis.

Microdosing psilocybin is currently being studied in clinical trials for potential therapeutic applications. In these studies, participants are administered one-tenth of a dose of psilocybin (a microdose) compared to what would cause a hallucinogenic effect.

Lauren Manaker, M.S., RDN, LD, a Charleston-based registered dietitian, says, “The doses are usually taken in a schedule that allows individuals to experience the potential cognitive and emotional benefits without the intense psychedelic effects typically associated with higher doses of psilocybin. Proponents of microdosing mushrooms believe it can lead to subtle yet profound improvements in well-being and mental health.”

Does Microdosing Mushrooms Work?

A 2023 study showed significant reductions in depressive symptoms for participants who took psilocybin after 43 days. Davis points to another trial published in 2022 that showed lasting effectiveness, with participants reporting “greater well-being” when evaluated after one year.

Manaker adds that many people report improvements in creativity and focus when microdosing. One study found that participants who microdosed reported a boost in creative thoughts.

With that said, research is still in development, and it’s important to note that these studies have limitations. Kunal Lal, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician, cautions, “Although preliminary studies have shown promising outcomes for patients undergoing microdosing of psilocybin, these should be taken with a grain of salt until official FDA trials have been concluded to determine efficacy and any potential risks or side effects.”

Are They Safe?

The scientific community is still on the fence about microdosing. Our experts all agree, more clinical research is needed to determine its safety and effectiveness. We also need clear guidance on a safe dose.

Davis explains a person who takes magic mushrooms may experience side effects such as hallucination, impaired thinking, fear, agitation or confusion. These side effects are more likely if microdosing is done outside of a controlled setting, such as attempting to microdose at home without accurately measuring the dose.

“It is important to keep in mind that you are still using a controlled substance, which may lead to detrimental side effects if abused or improperly taken. Any plan to microdose for medical reasons should be performed in a controlled environment with licensed individuals,” says Lal.

Manaker adds, “Additionally, long-term effects of microdosing are still largely unknown, raising questions about the possible impact on mental health over time. There is also the risk of developing tolerance, which may push individuals to increase their dosage.”

Other Things to Consider

It’s important to remember that microdosing psilocybin is only legal in a handful of cities and states. Manaker explains, “Legal issues represent another significant risk, as psilocybin remains a controlled substance in many jurisdictions, posing potential legal consequences for those who engage in microdosing.” She recommends seeking additional guidance and information from reliable sources, such as your doctor.

Finally, Lal also warns that you should speak with your healthcare provider first if you consider microdosing, as the drug may interact with other medications and supplements you are taking.

 The Bottom Line

 Although microdosing with psychedelics like magic mushrooms might show promising benefits to treat some conditions, more research still needs to be conducted to determine whether or not it’s safe, how much of a dose is safe and if there are any potential long-term risks and side effects. Keep in mind that microdosing with psilocybin is not legal in most places, and experts advise it should only be administered in a clinically controlled setting. If you are seeking help on how to treat and manage a medical condition, always consult with a medical provider first.

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