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Photo: Beckley Foundation

For the first time, a scientific study will attempt to determine whether tiny amounts of the psychedelic drug are good for us

In 1938, chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD in a lab in Switzerland, and in 1943 he took it himself, embarking on what’s widely regarded as the first deliberate trip.

Hofmann called LSD “medicine for the soul,” and according to researcher Dr. James Fadiman, the father of LSD was also one of the first proponents of microdosing psychedelics, taking small amounts of the drug on a regular basis to clarify his thinking. Hofmann reportedly microdosed LSD for decades during his later years, well before Silicon Valley jumped aboard the microdosing bandwagon, touting its ability to boost cognition and creativity, and before anyone attempted to document the impact of the practice in a controlled scientific setting.

Hofmann died at 102 in 2008, but interest in his preferred method of self-medication has continued to grow. While there’s little data that attests to the effects of microdosing versus regular drug consumption—a recent study found full-doses of MDMA (ecstasy) have potential to treat PTSD—interest in the practice is evident. There are online tutorials and private microdosing coaches. A Reddit forum dedicated to microdosing that had 1,600 subscribers at the beginning of 2015 has ballooned to 17,000 members.

Now, researchers are looking to fill in the gaps regarding what we know about microdosing. Fadiman, who has studied psychedelics for more than four decades and is the author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, is collecting data from volunteers and presented his first results in April at a research summit in Oakland, California.

“What you get is the best parts of Adderall with none of the side effects,” Fadiman told Wired in 2016 about LSD microdosing. “You function better physically and mentally. You find the office jerk bearable and you’re more compassionate about the flaws of others. You feel you’ve had a pretty good day.”

This summer, the Imperial College of London and the Beckley Foundation, a U.K. think tank that conducts scientific investigations into psychoactive substances to shape global drug policy, are undertaking the first double-blind, randomized study of the effects of microdosing LSD.

“The taboo on LSD has meant that for 50 years research into its effects has been blocked,” says Amanda Fielding, Beckley Foundation founder and director. “The study will be investigating changes in mood and wellbeing, seeing how a microdose of LSD can help overcome depression, anxiety and pain, as well as investigating how it can enhance cognition, productivity and creativity.”

In 2016, The Beckley/Imperial Research Programme produced these scans of the brain on LSD and a placebo, showing that, with eyes closed, more of the brain contributes to the visual experience when using the drug. Beckley Foundation

Last year, the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme produced the first images of the brain on full doses of LSD, which, according to the foundation, demonstrated “greater connectivity and communication” between different neural networks.

Participants in the upcoming study will each receive a microdose of LSD, ranging from zero to 50 micrograms, and then complete a set of tasks designed to measure different areas of cognition and emotion. Subjects will also undergo brain imaging to determine the effects of small doses on neural pathways and brain function.

And in a 21st century approach to examining current trends in psychedelics, the study is completely crowdfunded.

New York real estate developer Rodrigo Niño, who tried ayahuasca in Peru while recovering from surgery for metastatic melanoma, is spearheading the fundraising campaign.

“Currently, the research depends on the support of a few private donors and institutions, with no help from governments or pharmaceutical companies. These government-approved clinical trials must receive continuous funding to go through the process towards medicalization and re-scheduling of the compounds,” says Niño, who is CEO of Prodigy Network, a real estate company that has crowdfunded more than $150 million towards Manhattan developments.

Niño was experiencing what doctors refer to as “end-of-life distress” after his second cancer surgery. After hearing of the dramatic effects of ayahuasca on mental health, he hopped a flight to Peru to sample the tea made with a variety of psychoactive plants. The ceremony caused a profound change. “I woke up feeling that my fear of dying was completely gone. I couldn’t believe it. I had to understand how,” he says. “Upon my return to New York, I went on a mission to find scientific validation to determine if what had happened to me was some sort of placebo effect caused by the hallucinations, or if in fact, I had been physiologically cured.”

Through his research, Niño learned of the difficulty scientists face in obtaining funding for the study of psychedelics. Along with the research into microdosing, his crowdfunding initiative is also supporting investigations of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to treat end-of-life anxiety and alcoholism, and MDMA’s effect on PTSD. So far, the campaign has raised $142,621 toward a total goal of $2 million.

As Niño says, “I realized that donation-based crowdfunding could enable families like mine—who have witnessed loved ones suffer from fear of dying or a debilitating mental illness like depression, alcoholism or PTSD—to finally be able to do something about it.”

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