Can microdosing psychedelics boost mental health? Here’s what the evidence suggests.

Photographs by Michael Christopher Brown
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A selection of “magic mushrooms”—fungi containing the psychedelic compound psilocybin—are displayed in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Though psilocybin is illegal in most cases, growing numbers of people are using minuscule quantities of this drug, a so-called microdose, to alleviate anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

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When Jaclyn Downs, a 43-year-old nutritionist in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, stumbled upon the concept of microdosing psilocybin, or taking a tiny amount of a psychedelic for a subtle effect, she immediately recalled an incident in college where friends made tea with “magic mushrooms,” which contain the drug. Downs had only one sip, but she spent the rest of the night feeling grounded, peaceful, and present. Looking back, she realized what she had experienced was a microdose.

Three years ago Downs began microdosing to prepare for certain situations, such as when she had to stay later at a social event than she might want to. The drug soothed her angst and made her a better conversationalist, she says. Six months ago, she began a more structured routine, taking a tincture of microdose psilocybin every three days. It has made her calmer and more accepting, she says, especially when her six- and nine-year-old daughters argue with one another or push back on her requests. “Before I was more reactive—getting angry or irritated—but now I respond more evenly,” Downs says. “The general atmosphere of our home is more positive.”

In recent years, psychedelic drugs have evolved from a taboo topic to one gaining acceptance in mainstream quarters of society. Psychedelics are even heading for general medical approval, having been designated as a “breakthrough therapy” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But many who are intrigued by the promise of psychedelics—a category that includes psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ayahuasca, mescaline, and other substances...

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