How researchers get heard
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Should You Microdose Psychedelics?

Definitely, say Ayelet Waldman and the mountebank Tim Ferriss. But what does science say?

Probably, if you’re anxious and depressed, implies this headline from March in Esquire quoting a study that found such microdosing to be effective…in rats.

Maybe not, if you don’t like having all of your emotions (positive or negative) amplified (because microdosing seems to do that), says a study without a control published in May in PLoS One.

We can’t tell you what to do, but there is no scientific proof, says this review of the field out last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The situation is both a) the way science works, and b) shambolic from a decisionmaking standpoint.

Imagine if you ran a corporation, or a government agency, and you asked for the best available evidence on a new solution to a problem, and you were handed the equivalent of these three papers. (Or worse, news reports about them.)

That is, of course, not what would happen. Your science advisors would sort through the literature and summarize the state of the research. (That is, if you still had science advisors.)

As a member of the public, however, you’re left to sort through the drip torture of individual studies (many in mice or the equivalent) — if you were paying attention in the first place. (In this interesting but super-long WIRED piece behind the research scenes with the lead author of the Journal of Psychopharmacology review, we learn that most people who microdose have already had past experience with psychedelics — and that the placebo effect is probably largely responsible for positive microdosing responses.)

Let’s just pretend for a moment, though, that there might be a large population out there undecided about whether to microdose, and with the means and access to experiment, but also with varying levels of fear about the practice. (As well as fear, perhaps, about contributing to Tim Ferriss’ bank account.)

I’ve written several times over recent months that questions such as “should I microdose psychedelics?” give research groups a unique opportunity to capture audience and build brand awareness — through creating resource content that answers those questions by summarizing what research has found.

Content that, through search and marketing campaigns, can become a long-tail touchstone for those asking the question.

Of course, the flip side of that argument is also true: the status quo of paper-paper-paper coverage-coverage-coverage is no match for books such as Waldman’s or a media megaphone such as Ferriss. So bad ideas will be halfway around the world as science remains hunched over, lacing up its New Balance Fresh Foam 1080s.

Science wants to maintain its unique social status and role. But its main methods of dissemination in support of that privilege remain 19th century. Or, as I wrote last year, bringing a knife to a firefight.

(Which you definitely don’t want to do on any dose.)