Can Microdosing Magic Mushrooms Help You Quit Drinking?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Many are turning to psychedelics to break bad habits and addictions.

The scientific evidence that psilocybin can help people kick bad habits and addictions is compelling. Two studies by Johns Hopkins University found that just two full doses of psilocybin (that is, enough of a dose to produce the full-blown psychedelic effects of a trip) administered on separate occasions under close observation in a lab were enough to help both smokers and people with alcohol dependency to overcome their addictions. Out of 343 people involved in the latter study, 83% no longer met the criteria for alcohol dependency after taking part.

But when it comes to microdosing, there are currently no scientific studies relating to addiction or habitual behaviour. This is partly down to the difficulties still surrounding psychedelic research -- in order to accurately study the effects of microdosing, participants would need to microdose within their usual routine and while going about their usual daily activities, which raises a whole host of ethical, legal and safety concerns for researchers. But within the psychedelic community, microdosing is lauded as an extremely useful tool for overcoming negative behaviours, including excessive drinking.

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“Microdosing helps me to remember why I cut down in the first place"

Tom, who is using an alias, had been binge drinking (defined by the NHS as more than eight units in a session) several times a week to deal with his high- stress job. Six months ago, he took a full dose of psilocybin and has since followed this experience with regular careful microdosing. He now rarely drinks in the week and drinks far less than he used to at weekends. "The initial trip was really intense and made me realise I was drinking largely out of boredom more than stress," he explained. "It was like my brain had two modes: totally stressed or bored. Like I'd forgotten how to be on a scale in between. So I was drinking to attain some kind of other mood." Once he'd had this realisation, drinking lost its appeal. By microdosing, Tom feels he can more easily keep that experience in mind, and maintain the good intentions he set after his initial trip. "I don't know if it's a placebo effect or what, but microdosing helps me to remember why I cut down in the first place."

Psilocybin, like other psychedelic drugs, is understood to be a useful way to unlock introspection and to access thought processes that we might not have understood before. It's even being used successfully as an aid to therapy to help people suffering from severe trauma to delve deeper into their subconscious -- with striking results. Small doses then, too small to be felt on a conscious level, could be enough to subtly impact how the brain deals with everyday challenges: from a creative problem at work to resisting the urge to hit the pub hard at 6pm.

Michelle pointed out that one of the benefits of microdosing is that it can be a great tool for improving self-awareness. "Journaling alongside microdosing is good. Just taking that time to check in with yourself and take notice of how you're feeling. You have to do that talking with yourself, to figure out why you do certain things."

"When it comes to overcoming addictions, there is never a magic solution," clinical psychologist Dr Stephanie Hicks tells me. "Be clear about why you want to make this change and remind yourself of this when it feels like more of a struggle. Spend time noticing what draws you back to old habits and work out new ways to manage these situations. You may not find a solution immediately -- it's about using trial and error to discover what works for you."

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