Could the iPhone have been born from the depths of an LSD trip? Steve Jobs tripped on acid a lot in college. It very well could be possible. But pairing drugs with any sort of productivity often receives pushback. Open up a little bit, and let your conceptions be shaken. It may very well be the case that many modern silicon valley innovations may be coming from psychedelic microdosing.
The Rolling Stone reported back in 2015 that lots of people in San Francisco are hacking the world by hacking themselves; they’re microdosing LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics. Microdosing is the practice of taking a very small amount of a psychedelic drug such to boost performance, decrease stress, and increase creativity. Typically, it will be about 10 micrograms of LSD or half a gram of psilocybin mushrooms.
The reports come from all over the world, but Fadiman says there’s a steady, consistent stream originating in the San Francisco area. The typical profile there is an “übersmart twentysomething” curious to see whether microdosing will help him or her work through technical problems and become more innovative. “It’s an extremely healthy alternative to Adderall,” says Fadiman, referring to a drug popular with programmers.
Ken is a 25-year-old Stanford graduate working on his Silicon Valley tech startup. He is just one profile for this growing microdosing trend. Wired profiled Lily who will take a small amount of magic mushroom with her morning tea. The publication found that:
In small amounts, say, a tenth of a full dose, users don’t experience a consciousness-altering “trip”, but instead report improvements in concentration and problem solving, as well as a reduction in anxiety.
Ok, cool, so these young people are taking drugs, great, but these internet companies just have a few profiles – that doesn’t say anything about the broader topic of the effectiveness and safety of improving labor through the use of drugs.
Internet profiles aren’t conclusive research, though. As researchers, it is important for us to stick to credible scientific studies. We should look into the literature and figure out if microdosing is safe or effective.
Obviously, drugs are illegal. In the ’70s, then-President Nixon declared the war on drugs. Ever since many psychedelics are listed as schedule one drugs. These laws have limited the amount of research done on microdosing, but there has been some.
Jim Fadiman is the world’s leading researcher on psychedelics and productivity. Right now, he is working with hundreds of people who microdose every four days and keep a journal of the effects.
In keeping with the received wisdom, those taking LSD microdoses reported a remarkable increase in feelings of determination, alertness, and energy, as well as a strong decrease in feelings of depression. Interestingly, however, Fadiman noted that microdosing LSD didn’t seem to work out as well for those who entered the study on the basis of anxiety alone—microdosing LSD actually seemed to increase their anxiety. However, those participants who cited anxiety and depression, rather than just anxiety, noted an overall increase in their feelings of mental wellbeing.
Of course, we cannot rely solely on data entirely based on self-report research. Luckily, Fadiman has been at this for a while. All the way back in 1966, the government funded his psychedelic problem-solving experiment. People from various fields were brought in to take tests and work to solve a problem in their field. These problems ranged from mathematics to architecture. The results are in: psychedelics boost concentration and limit anxiety.
The only real criticism it has received is that the mescaline in the experiment was used with methamphetamine. Regardless, the effects of LSD have remained undisputed.
Clearly, it produces the desired results. The programmers and artists aren’t stuck with a placebo productivity spurt, but at what cost. How safe is microdosing?
We know little about the downsides of LSD. What we do know is that those who have pre-existing mental ailments such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are at risk for HPPD a disorder that can cause flashbacks. Mixing LSD with marijuana or alcohol can cause a bad trip.
Adding even more mud to the murk are propaganda sites like Drug Free World. There is not a single citation on the entire website. They publish sensational articles and scary videos, arguing that there are loads of adverse health effects.
The Government vs. Silicon Valley
The government hasn’t been very helpful in the world of psychedelics. Before the seventies, LSD was being studied quite a bit. Once the war on drugs began scientific research was limited, though.
There are two scenarios facing those that are microdosing today. The first is that what they are doing is dangerous and that the costs outweigh the benefits. The other, though, is that they are truly onto something and they have hacked life.
If it is true that these people are in danger and we do not know it, then the government is not helping one bit by keeping it illegal. As long as psychedelics are illegal, research into the harmful effects is also illegal. This means we cannot find out if these drugs are harming the using entrepreneurs.
If the opposite is true, though, and microdosing really is the ultimate life hack, the argument has set itself out as to why these substances should be legalized. A safe productivity increasing drug has the penalty of the law behind it. If this is the case, U.S. drug laws need to change.
Either way, the state needs to get out of the way. The way that we schedule drugs in the U.S. has caused LSD, marijuana, and heroin to all be listed as equally “evil,” which has lead to another, and maybe even worse, problem.
Society vs. Silicon Valley
I would put down money that the person reading this article is a drug addict. 54% of American adults drink coffee every single day. Caffeine is a drug. It has withdrawal symptoms, the potential for overdose, and chemically alters your mind. Don’t be alarmed, though. Drug use is quite common in America. Nicotine, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and high fructose corn syrup all fit under the category of “drug.” The fear of drugs seems to only apply to those that are illegal.
Legality as a determinant of “goodness” is a bad standard, though. The only real justification for that being a reason as to why drugs are bad is to avoid punishment from the government. What that means, though, is that you are not against the drugs themselves, you would rather just the consequences be avoided.
Not all schedule one drugs have the same issues. That distinction hasn’t been made to many. Heroin is much more dangerous than alcohol, which is much more dangerous than LSD. The government’s scheduling of drugs is the laziest and most useless way to gauge the negativity of drugs in the real world.
The problem is that people use the government scheduling as a mental shortcut for ranking drug danger. LSD, meth, and marijuana are now all the same in the mind of the average citizen. Tell someone you have used an illegal drug and their mind will immediately jump to the crackhouse junky who has six months if he is lucky. This is what I call the drug stigma: people have a preconceived negative notion about drugs. Despite their addiction to legal (and probably more dangerous) drugs, they don’t care to hear people out on their innovative drug use.
A New Society
Some drugs are really bad. Those need to be treated and those people need care. There is a lot more going on in the mind of every addict than addiction to a specific chemical. It is wrong to treat a user of hard and dangerous opiates the way we do. Things get worse when we treat a marijuana or psychedelic user like a meth-head.
People need to deprogram themselves. We have bought into looking at drugs the way the government wants us to look at drugs. A paradigm shift needs to occur, and it has already started. Iowa is moving towards allowing MDMA and psilocybin for medical use. Moreover, the FDA just approved a Ketamine-derived antidepressant. Despite these changes, Kratom faces a difficult path in the future.
Now is a critical point for action. The attitude towards drugs in America is shifting. Hopefully, this deprogramming will continue and lead us towards a brighter, more accepting future.
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