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New study says microdosing DMT could enhance the brain

New study says microdosing DMT could enhance the brain

Microdosing hallucinogenic substances is becoming more popular by the day. Now, a study in rats offers the first biological evidence that this form of ingesting psychedelics could have some serious therapeutic benefits.

New evidence

Taking small amounts of psychedelics is said to have benefits of increasing creativity by alleviating depression and improving problem-solving abilities. It has also been claimed that they reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD and anxiety. This all sounds amazing, but there is still little scientific evidence that actually supports this, even though there are mountains and mountains of anecdotal evidence. David Olson, a professor in the departments of chemistry and neuroscience at the University of California, found something interesting. It all started when he was studying ketamine and its effects on the brains of rats.

Ketamine has the ability to reconstruct frayed connections between the brain cells that are part of the networks that regulate emotions and mood, thanks to an effect known as neural plasticity. Olson suspected that the process by which ketamine promotes this type of plasticity could also be triggered by other substances. His team recently published a paper conforming this, showing that psychedelic substances like LSD, DMT and even MDMA have similar effects on the little rats.

Microdosing DMT

You could say the study was quite successful, but Olson wanted more. He wondered if the therapeutic benefits could also be achieved through microdosing. Here’s why: the regular dose for these hallucinogenic substances caused fierce anxiety in rats. So while it did have antidepressant effects, the anxiety of the little rats rose to pretty high levels. "I really wanted to answer the question of whether the hallucinogenic effects of these compounds were necessary for the therapeutic effects," Olson said.

So Olson and his team went back to their labs and calculated a dose of DMT, which is chemically similar to LSD or magic mushrooms containing psilocybin, which was too small to produce hallucinogenic effects. They fed the rats the microdosed DMT every three days. On rest days, the animals completed the tests, including two experimental proxies for human anxiety and depression. They had a repetitive fear exercise and a forced swim test that assesses whether the animal will simply surrender when in danger.

Depression and anxiety fell

Seven weeks later, the researchers discovered that although the rats did not receive enough DMT to hallucinate, their depression and anxiety scores still improved significantly. The increase in anxiety associated with the highest dose of DMT was not found anywhere in the rats that had taken intermittent microdoses. Olson says the study shows that the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, at least in rats, can be exploited independently of the hallucinogenic effects. It seems that each of the different effects of DMT can be activated only if the amount of drug present exceeds a certain threshold. For the benefits of neural plasticity, that threshold seems to be lower.

Sounds like another success! And it was. But there were some sidenotes to the study. For example: when Olson's team first administered rats normal doses, a potential benefit they observed was an increase in the growth of dendritic spines (small bumps that increase the activity of communicating cells) in the part of the brain that controls personality and social behavior. However, when the DMT was microdosed, an almost opposite effect was noticed. “In the male rats, we did not see any change in the neuronal structure; and in the females, we actually saw a decrease in the density of the dendritic column” Olson says. In some cases, the DMT even had a fatal effect to brain cells.

Proceed with caution

So while most of the microdosed DMT effects sound extremely good and are now scientifically proven with rats, it could still use more studies to prove how these effects work on humans. Because while microdosing DMT might be great for treating depressions and anxiety, you don’t want to damage brain cells while doing so.

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