Balazs Szigeti, PhD
Beyond the placebo? An exploration of psychedelics microdosing with self-blinding methodology
Anecdotal reports indicate that microdosing may have benefits in the domains of well-being, productivity and creativity. These anecdotes are compelling, but they are likely to be biased by the placebo effect. Crucially, microdosing includes multiple factors that can lead to a strong placebo response. These factors include, the minimal dose, the subjective character of the benefits and that microdosers are a self-selected community with optimistic attitude towards microdosing.
To investigate whether microdosers experience benefits due to psychological expectations or due to the pharmacological action of microdosing, we developed a novel ‘self-blinding’ methodology. In this paradigm voluntary participants – who microdose without clinical supervision and using their own psychedelic substance -, implement their own placebo control by following a setup procedure we developed for this study. The unique advantage of this design is that it combines a high sample size, which is typical of observational studies, and placebo control, which is unique to clinical studies. We investigated the potential benefits of microdosing in the domains of cognitive functioning and well-being using online self-assessed questionnaires and interactive cognitive tests.
245 microdosers signed up and 209 of them completed the experiment. No acute or long-term differences were found in cognitive performance. From pre- to post-dose comparisons on a number of psychological evaluations showed no significant effect of microdosing. Acute mood as captured by the PANAS scale revealed statistically, although not clinically, significant improvements. However, it is shown that this difference is due to participants breaking blind, not due to the pharmacological action of microdosing. In conclusion, our data provides evidence that the anecdotal benefits of microdosing are explained by the placebo effect.
Balazs Szigeti has earned a bachelor and masters in mathematical physics fromImperial College London and then completed his PhD in computational neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Balazs has been involved with the OpenWorm project, an open science project aimed to create accurate simulations of primitive nervous systems. He also used to work as a biomedical software engineer at the Icahn Institute of Genetics in New York. Balazs also has an interest in psychedelics science. He has collaborated with the Global Drug Survey to quantitatively study drug use patterns and most recently he designed and lead the Imperial College – Beckley self-blinding microdose study.