Updated: May 5
Over the past few years, significant investments and advances in psychedelic research have shed light on the strong potential of psychedelics as a viable treatment option for substance use disorder. Various stage studies have consistently found psychedelics to have an immediate and lasting positive impact on addressing substance abuse disorders.
The recently published results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2019 which included 214,505 U.S. adults, found that past psilocybin use - at any time in life - correlated with a reduced risk of opioid use disorder. Another smoking-cessation pilot study by John Hopkins University found that the majority of participants were able to abstain from smoking at least 16 months after two or three moderate to high doses of psilocybin administration. While another study focused on alcohol use disorder found a significant increase in abstinence amongst addicts following psilocybin administration.
Although there have been many studies exploring the effects of large dose psychedelic experiences on addictive behaviors, there have been no studies exploring the potential benefits of microdosing practice for addiction. Despite the absence of scientific inquiry, anecdotal evidence suggests that microdosing can support substance use cessation efforts.
Here are the main reasons microdosing psychedelics can be effective for addiction recovery:
Positive Effects On Mood
Psychedelic microdosing has consistently been reported to enhance mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Both anxiety and depression are key contributing factors and triggers for addictive behaviors. By reducing the frequency and intensity of these episodes, microdosing can help address the sources of the addictive behavior vs the behavior itself. Effective addiction treatments target the root emotional cause of emotional dysregulation and overwhelm.
Trauma has been shown to radically alter the ability of the brain to maintain a healthy balance of neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation. In his groundbreaking bestseller, "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction", renowned trauma expert, Dr. Gabor Maté offers an insightful analysis of the underlying root of addiction, outlining the brain changes associated with trauma, impaired ability to produce adequate neurochemicals for mood regulation, and predisposition to substance use disorders.
Microdosing, as an emergent practice for mood enhancement, can potentially be a promising treatment option for addictive disorders, especially in combination with other integrative practices that aim to calm and resource the individual's nervous system.
Psychedelic explorers, microdosers and macrodosers alike, have consistently reported experiencing new insights and perspectives and an enhanced sense of awareness. While we do not still yet fully understand how psychedelics work in the brain, scientists believe that in the case of psilocybin, this experience is likely linked to a significant change in the functions of the Default Mode Network (DMN) resulting in enhanced introspection and mindfulness.
The DMN operates as a hub for various cognitive activities from focused tasks to healthy introspection. While psilocin (metabolized psilocybin) leaves the executive functions of the brain mostly intact, it blocks certain connector hubs in the brain disrupting the standard flow of information which we experience as thoughts and emotions. As these standard neural pathways are disrupted, new and expanded cross-communication begins to unfold in regions of the brain that normally do not communicate resulting in new insights with the capacity to support both behaviors and thought pattern recognition, and the ability to disrupt these patterns.
Pattern Recognition & Patten Disruption
Successful behavioral change requires awareness of the behavioral patterns, identifying triggers, adopting healthier coping strategies, developing the ability to interrupt an old behavior => response cycle, and practicing a new healthier response and coping strategy. While this sounds simple enough, in practice it is profoundly challenging. This is precisely why it takes so many failed efforts to modify addictive behaviors.
Psychedelic microdosing can however offer a neurochemical advantage to support both pattern recognition and pattern disruption. Many microdosers report an enhanced sense of mindful awareness and ability to cultivate fresh insights towards mundane routines and behaviors which supports the ability to recognize behavioral or thought patterns than precede the addictive impulse.
Furthermore, psychedelics are believed to enhance the brain's ability to change, also known as neuroplasticity. Our behavioral and thought patterns are much like muscles; most practiced patterns are the strongest and are often activated almost involuntarily in response to a specific stimulus. By enhancing neural plasticity, psychedelics allow for new connections - associated with desirable behavioral and thought patterns - to form more easily, radically improving the chances of successful behavioral change.
Power Of Ritual
While the neurochemical functions of psychedelics offer a significant advantage to those on the path of addiction recovery, an additional layer to consider is the power of ritual and the impact of a spiritual connection and container in service to the outcome.
Setting a powerful intention, container, and systems of accountability to support the journey of recovery is just as important, especially in the context of working with psychedelic medicines which are often credited with enhancing spiritual connection to self, others, and a divine force beyond the physical. Rituals are as old as humanity itself and have long been utilized as frameworks for profound change and transition.
In this context, a ritual is a simple daily container that invites the practitioners to connect, introspect, and commit to the journey ahead. To honor the challenges and acknowledge the triumphs. Changing addictive behaviors doesn't happen overnight and it often takes many attempts to succeed and maintain the new healthy response patterns. A well-crafted ritual recognized the challenges ahead and offers a supportive and consistent framework to return to the intention and the healthy response options when inevitable challenges arise.
Addiction is a symptom of a greater underlying cause that requires compassion, curiosity, patience, commitment, and a supportive environment to overcome. Microdosing offers a unique, empowering, and effective framework to form and inform the journey back to a state of balance, health, and agency.