A study published by researchers at McGill University offers evidence that, under certain circumstances, individuals may experience placebo effects similar to the effects they experience when taking psychedelic drugs.
Psychedelic use is on the rise. This is true both within recreational contexts, and for clinicians working to learn more about psychedelics’ effects on consciousness. Psychedelic therapies have shown promising results in patients battling depression and PTSD, individuals working to overcome addiction, and those seeking personal growth and expansion of thought. Recreational uses, like microdosing, are seeing a surge in popularity. Individuals from every walk of life are beginning to explore the effects of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD.
Now, McGill University has published a study, “The placebo effect of psychedelic drugs: Tripping on nothing.” It presents evidence indicating that the placebo effect may be stronger than was once thought. The study asserts some individuals may be able to experience psychoactive effects of psychedelic drugs without ever actually taking them.
A Psychedelic Party Without the Psychedelics
Researchers conducted the study, published in late March 2020, intending to examine how individuals would respond to a placebo drug if the researchers told them it was a psychedelic. They wanted to simulate an atmosphere designed to aid in the placebo effect of their fake psychedelic. Accordingly, the researchers created a party complete with a DJ, colored lights, and other atmospheric touches.
Participants believed they were taking part in a study regarding the effects of psychedelics on creative thinking. Then they were invited to the “party” and all were given the same placebo psychedelic. The researchers told the participants that the drug would have similar effects to those of magic mushrooms. In addition to the participants, the researchers also placed several actors within the group. These actors were trained to mimic the actual effects of psychedelics over a four-hour period.
Participants self-reported their experience at the end of the study. 61 percent of them told researchers they had experienced some psychoactive effects. These effects ranged from mild reports of blurred or altered vision to more extensive experiences. Thus, their self-reporting mirrored the effects of a moderate to high dose of psychedelics.
Is Microdosing Enhanced by the Placebo Effect?
Based on these findings, it may be possible to enhance the effects of microdosing psychedelic substances through context and perception. By expecting to feel the psychoactive effects of a microdose of psilocybin, for example, the actual effects of the drug could be increased by the placebo effect. With more time and research, psychedelic therapies could become available to patients in lower doses without compromising the overall psychoactive effects. They could even offer some evidence of the possibility of psychedelic therapies without the use of drugs at all.