The line to get into the Microdosing Conference was already a block long by the time I arrived. Hopeful attendees lined up to learn more about psychedelic drugs, but many were turned away because the event was sold out. I made my way past the High Shaman, Witchcraft, and Hermetic Seal tooth powder booths, and I was in, serenaded in sitar, and on another Curiosity Quest.

What’s microdosing? Before I answer that, and share a bit of what I learned at the Microdosing Conference, let me frame what follows by explaining the purpose of Curiosity Quests.

Curiosity Quests are adventures that take us outside of our comfort zones, while challenging us to elevate curiosity ahead of criticism, judgment, fear, and complacency in order to come away with insights, empathy, and wisdom. Adventure is a major side benefit.

As part of the research for Applied Curiosity Lab, I have been going on Curiosity Quests for years. Why? To test my own ability to elevate curiosity and remain curious outside my comfort zone, in places and among people that challenge my worldview. Some of these Curiosity Quests I’ve written and talked about. Others? Not so much. So far, the insights, empathy, wisdom, and adventure have always been worth the challenges to my worldview. I highly suspect that these insights and adventures are available to everyone.

Before this particular Curiosity Quest, I was aware that microdosing refers to taking small quantities of psychedelic drugs for treating health issues and enhancing human performance. Ideally, these doses are so small as to be sub-perceptual–you don’t perceive any differences in the outside world. I also knew that in the last few years microdosing has been touted in Silicon Valley as the ultimate productivity hack. I had researched quite a bit about psychedelics, including reviewing Ayahuasca retreats in Peru, and reading about the hopeful experiments with Ibogaine for treatment of drug addiction, and psilocybin for the treatment of anxiety in people with terminal illnesses.

In case you’re curious, here’s a flashback of some what I learned.

The two most common substances for microdosing are LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). MDMA (aka ecstasy or molly) is not universally considered a psychedelic per se, but it is being used in an FDA-approved study on the use of psychedelics for treatment of PTSD (with promising results).

Some conference-goers looked like they had long stayed true to their Haight-Ashbury groovy lifestyle. Others looked like they could be the rebellious children or grandchildren of the Haight-Ashburians. When the first speaker asked who had never used psychedelics before, only about 4 out of the 250 attendees raised their hands. There appeared to be an even gender balance and zero racial diversity. But maybe I missed someone.

Albert Hofman was the Swiss inventor of LSD. He called it the “medicine for the soul.” Hofman microdosed twice a week for decades…until he died in 2008 at 102. Although Hofman is the grandfather of microdosing, indigenous people have been using low doses of mind-altering substances for thousands of years. One woman voiced concern about appropriating psychedelics from indigenous people and several people in the crowd murmured in agreement, but from the way she was rambling, it seemed clear that her concern wasn’t great enough to stop her.

I interviewed attendees and asked them why they came. Here’s what they told me: they were there to learn about microdosing for higher mental performance and creativity, to seek non-opioid pain management options, to look for ways to treat drug-resistant anxiety and depression, to find out how to obtain psychedelics, to explore new ways of treating PTSD, to learn what other people are using and how they’re dosing, and to discover like-minded people who embrace the experience and benefits of psychedelics.

According to the first speaker, these are three the rules for microdosing:

  1. Don’t microdose the first time and then go to work
  2. Start low (as in the dose)
  3. Don’t mix with other substances

Although doses vary (do your own research)–and consistency with illegal substances is not guaranteed–a microdose of LSD is about 5-10 micrograms, and a microdose of magic mushrooms is about .1-.5 grams. Getting the right dosages of these illegal substances does not sound easy.

I was curious about doses beyond microdosing. After the conference I researched and learned that about 400 micrograms of LSD is for mystical experiences (this should include a guide and a controlled environment), 200 micrograms is for self-exploration and personal problem solving (this should also be in a controlled environment and preferably include a guide), 100 micrograms is good for non-personal creative problem solving, and 50 micrograms is referred to as a “concert dose.”

True microdosing requires a protocol – taking a consistent amount for a consistent length of time with a specific intention or purpose. This seems to be the most agreed upon routine:

Day 1. Take microdose

Day 2. Notice the experience

Day 3. Take a day off (not exactly sure what this means)

Day 4. Microdose again

Repeat for a measurable period of time–like a month.

LSD and other psychedelics are illegal, schedule 1 drugs (like marijuana). From the time these drugs were scheduled–and until recently–there was virtually no research being conducted on psychedelics. Things are changing. Now, there are studies being conducted at a few universities like Johns Hopkins and NYU, and there are four major organizations that are researching the potential medical benefits of psychedelics.

MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research)

  • FDA-approved MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD and social anxiety
  • MDMA for social anxiety in autistic adults

Heffter Research Institute

  • Phase III study of use of psilocybin to relieve anxiety and stress in terminal illness

Beckley Foundation

  • Pioneering pilot studies on LSD and smoked cannabis to investigate potential medicinal properties

ICEERS (International Center for Ethno botanical Education Research and Science)

  • For studying, promoting public policy and acceptance and integration of Ayahuasca (from a blend of plants) and Iboga (from a root in Africa)
  • Protecting indigenous practices and their environments

Everyone that I spoke to at the conference had taken psychedelics in the past, but most had not experimented with microdosing in any real way. The panelists claimed to be microdosing as they spoke from the stage. A couple of the panelists seemed to have taken the “micro” liberally. They also seemed to have discovered a world that they like better than this one, making them seem a bit disconnected from my own regularly streaming reality. I didn’t get a chance to ask anyone else if they noticed this disconnection so maybe it was my misperception. Yet, everyone I spoke with expressed that the most profound experience from taking psychedelics was a feeling and understanding of a practical connection to all living things.

I was skeptical of claims of proven neuroplasticity, of the fact that there are very few risks of taking psychedelics, and that the biggest risk is “becoming a threat to hierarchy and power structures.” I’m not skeptical of the benefits of going beyond boundaries. That’s the point of Curiosity Quests.