A team of chemists at UC Davis wanted to know if tiny doses of psychedelic drugs — also called microdoses — could have benefits for rats, without making them hallucinate.
The answer is yes, according to research published Monday.
“If we really don’t need the hallucinogenic effects to produce therapeutic effects, then that might suggest that psychedelics could be used kind of as lead structures to develop safer alternatives,” said lead researcher David Olson.
Olson and his team gave rats DMT — a compound that’s structurally similar to LSD — every few days for two months. But they only administered a tenth of a hallucinogenic dose. It’s called “microdosing,” and some humans do it to reduce anxiety or improve focus. It hasn’t been proven safe or effective.
After two weeks, tests on the rats showed the drug was reducing fear and having similar effects to antidepressants, but did little to improve sociability or cognitive function. There were some adverse effects, including a loss of brain cells in females.
Olson says it’s possible to develop a drug that’s properly dosed to have positive impacts without psychedelic effects. But there would be a high risk for abuse, and possibly other issues.
“Using these ahead of time on a regular dosing schedule potentially could be interesting as a preventive measure,” he said. “There’s a lot more research that needs to be done in that area though.”
And he says people who choose to microdose themselves are taking a risk.
“They could be harming themselves,” he says. “Because again, we just don’t know."
This story has been updated to clarify the potential risks of creating prescription psychedelics.