Fifty years after the Summer of Love, when underground LSD labs in Denver helped fuel a revolution, psychedelics are making a major comeback. But the psychedelic renaissance hasn't resurrected full-blown, wildly hallucinogenic experiences with substances like LSD. Instead, microdosing — regularly taking very small amounts of psychedelics — is the phenomenon that’s spreading across the nation.
To understand the trend, we spoke with Boulder-based drug writer and lecturer Lex Pelger, who occasionally microdoses himself.
The way microdosing LSD works, Pelger explains, is by splitting a single dose of LSD (usually 100 micrograms) into ten or more doses (10 micrograms or less) and consuming one of those smaller doses on a regular schedule — usually every three days to reap consistent effects while also not building a tolerance. The strength of each microdose is diminished enough that it doesn’t cause a person to hallucinate or become impaired; instead, it facilitates an energizing and creative sensation, he says.
“You hear a lot of different things, like it feels like a cup of coffee that lasts all day,” explains Pelger. “But the [comparison] that’s most common, maybe because it’s our generation’s drug, is to Adderall. It’s a smoother form of Adderall. And instead of that pushiness of a dopamine drug that perhaps makes you organize your books by color — doing very boxy, grid-oriented things — microdosing has that same sort of awakeness, except it’s creative and it has flow.”
It’s hard to say exactly when microdosing became a phenomenon, he says, but proponent James Fadiman, a psychologist, started writing about it in the mid-1990s.
“The reason microdosing got so big is that a lot of people feel that it’s helpful for them for getting their work done, lowering their anxiety and generally helping their mental health — in some cases better than the pharmaceutical drugs that might be used in those situations,” Pelger explains. “Another reason that microdosing is becoming much more widespread and democratic is that most people don’t want to trip. As I talk to a lot of people about drugs, most of them are very scared of losing control, but microdosing is a really great gateway, and it can be harnessed for a lot more uses than a huge trip is.”
Much of the information about microdosing is still anecdotal, though. Pelger says more clinical research is needed to confirm people’s stories about why — and if — microdosing helps with their productivity, mood, and maybe even such mental-health issues as autism or PTSD.
As a drug researcher, Pelger says he always points out the risks of consuming mind-altering substances, and microdosing with LSD does come with some minor, albeit important, risks. “There are certainly stories of people taking very, very small doses and it sends them off the deep end. It’s very rare, and you barely hear those stories at all, but they happen,” he says. “But with all psychedelics, if you’re a stable vessel, psychedelics are probably fine.”
Because LSD activates a neural receptor that makes the heart pump harder, he adds, there may be a risk of a heart attack if someone were to microdose consistently over a very long period of time, at least several years.
“There are very few downsides to this thing, but you have to be honest about the negatives that we know about,” Pelger says. “That way people believe you more.”
Since media outlets such as Wired, the New Yorker and VICE have been running articles about microdosing, some detailing its use in the business world, Pelger believes the trend will only gain momentum. He cites a line from Hamilton Morris, a VICE drug writer: “Who would have thought that the way to get acid out there is by having people take incredibly small amounts of it?”
Still, the federal government considers LSD a Schedule 1 narcotic, putting it at the same level of illegality as heroin or cocaine. So where and how are all these microdosers getting their acid?
“The dark web,” answers Pelger. “It’s the safest way to get drugs that’s ever been invented.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Without citing specific web addresses or any personal experiences, Pelger explains that there are online marketplaces dedicated to selling drugs that can be accessed through computer programs like TOR that hide a user’s location. Here’s how it works: On those websites, users create accounts, search for sellers, and leave reviews on the sellers’ pages about the quality of their products to create accountability. “The sellers could be anyone from an Indian pharmacy pumping out products under the table to a person who truly believes in psychedelics and fills their page with harm-reduction information,” Pelger notes.
The drugs are usually delivered through the United States Postal Service. “There are 21 million packages sent per hour by the United States Postal Service, so it’s nearly impossible to get caught that way,” he explains. “And if a package disappears, almost all of the vendors will just send it again.” Pelger notes that law enforcement agents need a warrant to open a package sent through the USPS; that’s not necessarily the case with Fed Ex or UPS, private companies that can open packages at their discretion. Unless a person signs for a package (occasionally cops go undercover as postal employees to get signatures — usually for larger deliveries like a kilogram of MDMA), that person is not liable for the contents of the mail sent to them. “You’re not responsible for stuff that gets sent to you, because how could you be culpable if some asshole sends you a bunch of weed in the mail?” Pelger asks.
Besides, in light of the nationwide opioid crisis, microdosing with LSD does not seem to be much of a concern for law enforcement at the moment. “Psychedelics are at the bottom of the barrel,” Pelger says.
But while psychedelics are relatively easy to obtain through the dark web, you should still think carefully about whether microdosing with LSD is right for you. “Remember,” cautions Pelger, “it’s a great power.”