Should you microdose?

Why high performers are taking tiny hits of LSD, mushrooms, and cannabis

A growing number of people are taking small amounts of illicit drugs, such as LSD, cannabis, and mushrooms, for a surprising reason: to up their performance. Proponents of microdosing claim that taking tiny doses of these substances makes you more creative, lessens stress, and helps you function better in and out of the gym—all without getting high.

There’s no standard medical definition for microdosing, but it generally means taking 1/10th or 1/20th of a recreational dose. That amount is low enough where you don’t feel the psychoactive effects, so you can continue with your daily routine, says Justin Mager, MD, a San Francisco-based internist and a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board.

But finding the right dose can be tricky. It’s easy to take too little or too much. That’s why it’s best to microdose under the guidance of a doctor, says Mager. “Safety is obviously a big issue. If you want to explore, work with someone who knows what they’re doing.”

That said, you’re probably curious about what substances people are microdosing and why. Here’s what the experts have to say:

Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying any DIY dosing at home.

The drug: Marijuana
Used for: Improving sleep and athletic performance
Expert take: THC is the psychoactive component in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high. It can help the body relax, promoting a more restful night of sleep, says Dara Huang, MD, a New York City-based nephrologist and medical cannabis care physician. For some patients who have trouble falling or staying asleep, she prescribes microdoses of cannabis before bedtime. It’s also touted for its performance-enhancing benefits in the gym (as well as its ability to reduce post-workout muscle soreness). How much you should microdose depends on the potency of the product and the method of delivery, such as a tincture, capsules, or vape pen, says Huang. “Different products have various peak times of effect and the half-life determines how long it will stay in your body,” she says. “It’s best to consult a medical cannabis physician to keep it from becoming a guessing game.”

The drug: Mushrooms
Used for: Boosting energy, focus, and empathy
Expert take: Many studies use a pharmaceutical-grade version of mushrooms’ active ingredient, psilocybin. Emotionally, it can make you more open and empathetic. Some athletes say that it may help you go into the zone, or a flow state, during exercise. Research also suggests that it can reduce depression, making it easier to go off antidepressants. “But mushrooms have variable amounts of active psilocybin, so their potency is variable,” says Mager, who does not prescribe this to his patients. The most common way people microdose is to grind mushrooms into a powder and take a tiny amount, put it in a capsule, or make a tincture.

The drug: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
Used for: Increasing energy, creativity, and a general sense of well-being
Expert take: There’s no scientific evidence on the physical benefits of LSD. But advocates claim that microdosing the psychedelic enhances their function, creativity, and energy. If that’s the case, these benefits can translate into athletic performance, says Mager. Anecdotal examples date back to the ‘70s when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis famously threw a no-hitter while high on acid. (It was the first and only no-hitter game of his career.) “He had his peak performance while on a psychedelic,” says Mager. And it’s not just the pros that could feel these effects: “People report peak capacity while on substances,” says Mager. Users usually microdose with around 10 micrograms (mcg) of LSD. They’ll cut a 100mcg paper into 10 strips, or dilute a drop of a 100mcg-per-drop liquid with nine drops of water. As with all unregulated drugs, Mager cautions that microdosing isn’t an exact science. “People should be careful.”