Psychedelics microdosing is a resurgent trend that began in Silicon Valley circles around 2010 and has now made it mainstream, despite the fact that “magic” mushrooms and LSD are still illegal in the United States. The reasons for eating tiny bits of psilocybin-imbued fungi, per anecdotal claims, are that a microdose gives one the same boosts of creativity and problem-solving abilities felt during a full trip — without having to experience the full range of hallucinatory effects for four to six hours. In a new exploratory study, researchers set out to determine whether those anecdotal claims could be scientifically quantified.

What they found, in a word, is yes — microdosing psilocybin does appear to boost convergent and divergent thinking. This means that the study participants were able to more easily generate creative ideas and innovative answers to problems. However, it’s important to note that this study, published Thursday in the journal Pharmacology, didn’t examine people’s consumption of magic mushrooms per se — instead, it evaluated people who ate trip truffles.

In the Netherlands, there’s a legislative loophole that makes it legal to eat psychedelic truffles but not mushrooms. After a series of dangerous, high-profile incidents involving magic mushrooms, the Netherlands banned the substance in 2008. But a mushroom is merely the fruiting body of a fungus — under the earth, there is still the fungus’s sclerotia, which also contains psilocin and psilocybin, the psychedelic molecules in mushrooms. Sclerotia is what trip truffles are made of.

magic truffles
Magic truffles in a shop display in Amsterdam. 

In this study, scientists approached people at micro-dosing events held by the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands and asked if they wanted to micro-trip for science. Out of the 80 attendees at the event, 38 volunteered and subsequently ate 0.37 grams of dried truffles (a recreational dose, meanwhile, is typically about three grams of dried truffles). Approximately an hour and a half after the attendees ate the truffles, the scientists assessed their convergent and divergent thinking skills with two tests, and their fluid intelligence with a standard intelligence test.

They found that, while the participants’ fluid intelligence didn’t improve, they had more ideas about how to solve tasks and were more fluent, flexible, and original in the possible answers they came up with. The study authors argue that these findings — while not infallible because they were not a part of a case trial in a lab — are in line with other research that’s found high doses of psychedelics can enhance creative performance.

“Taken together, our results suggest that consuming a microdose of truffles allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem, thus providing preliminary support for the assumption that microdosing improves divergent thinking,” study co-author Luisa Prochazkova, Ph.D., of Leiden University in the Netherlands said Thursday. “Moreover, we also observed an improvement in convergent thinking, that is, increased performance on a task that requires the convergence on one single correct or best solution.”

Prochazkova and her colleagues hope their research spurs further studies that look into the beneficial effects of microdosing psychedelics. Here in the United States, there’s a similar effort to determine how the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, can help people: On Wednesday the US Food and Drug Administration announced that it granted “Breakthrough Therapy” designation to a group of scientists studying psilocybin-assisted therapy for treatment-resistant depression.

Abstract:

Introduction: Taking microdoses (a mere fraction of normal doses) of psychedelic substances, such as truffles, recently gained popularity, as it allegedly has multiple beneficial effects including creativity and problem-solving performance, potentially through targeting serotonergic 5-HT2A receptors and promoting cognitive flexibility, crucial to creative thinking. Nevertheless, enhancing effects of microdosing remain anecdotal, and in the absence of quantitative research on microdosing psychedelics, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions on that matter. Here, our main aim was to quantitatively explore the cognitive-enhancing potential of microdosing psychedelics in healthy adults.

Methods: During a microdosing event organized by the Dutch Psychedelic Society, we examined the effects of psychedelic truffles (which were later analyzed to quantify active psychedelic alkaloids) on two creativity-related problem-solving tasks: the Picture Concept Task assessing convergent thinking and the Alternative Uses Task assessing divergent thinking. A short version of the Ravens Progressive Matrices task assessed potential changes in fluid intelligence. We tested once before taking a microdose and once while the effects were expected to be manifested.

Results: We found that both convergent and divergent thinking performance was improved after a non-blinded microdose, whereas fluid intelligence was unaffected.

Conclusion: While this study provides quantitative support for the cognitive-enhancing properties of microdosing psychedelics, future research has to confirm these preliminary findings in more rigorous placebo-controlled study designs. Based on these preliminary results, we speculate that psychedelics might affect cognitive metacontrol policies by optimizing the balance between cognitive persistence and flexibility. We hope this study will motivate future microdosing studies with more controlled designs to test this hypothesis.