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Placebo-like effects may explain the benefits of psychedelic drugs

Placebo-like effects may explain the benefits of psychedelic drugs
Placebo-like effects may explain the benefits of psychedelic drugs


The positive psychological effects associated with taking small doses of psychedelic drugs are likely to be the result of user expectations, a study published today suggests. eLife..

This study, the largest placebo-controlled trial of psychedelics to date, used an innovative “self-blind civil science” approach. In this approach, the general public, who were already microdosing, performed their own placebo control according to online instructions. The results of the test may affect future research in the real environment.

There is new interest in studying whether psychedelic drugs can help treat depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other symptoms. Few small studies have previously suggested that low doses (small doses of psychedelics taken 1-3 times a week) may improve people’s well-being, creativity, and overall cognitive abilities. ..

However, in many studies, dummy pills have been used to determine whether these positive results are the result of the action of the drug, the expectations of participants’ interests, or the so-called placebo effect. There is a shortage of control groups of participants taking.

Case reports on the benefits of microdosing are almost certainly biased by the placebo effect. “

Balázs Szigeti, Principal Writer and Researcher, Imperial College London, UK

Szigeti and his colleagues have designed a civic science study that individuals already microdosing can participate in online. Initially, 191 participants followed the setup procedure for mixing placebopills and microdose pills. After setup, participants had a set of capsules without knowing which was a placebo and which was a microdose.

The author calls this process “self-blind” because participants have lost knowledge of which medications they are taking. The setup included a barcode that, when scanned, linked to the research’s IT infrastructure, allowing researchers to track who took Microdose or placebo. Participants then completed an online cognitive test by completing a survey of their experiences while taking the pill for four weeks.

Participants who were taking real psychotropic drugs and those who were unknowingly taking placebo reported similar psychological benefits. “Our results are mixed. On the one hand, the benefits of microdosing have been observed in a wide range of psychological measurements. On the other hand, similar benefits have been seen among participants taking placebo.” Explains Szigeti.

“These findings suggest that the effect is not due to the drug, but to the expected effect, such as placebo. Many have reported positive effects while taking placebo. Participants were shocked to find out that they weren’t after the study, taking real medicine. “

The authors warn that the results are not as reliable as the results of traditional placebo-controlled trials because participants source their drugs from the black market. However, the team’s citizen science approach accurately reflects “real microdosing,” that is, how microdosing actually works. In addition, the cost of this study is a fraction of the cost of traditional clinical studies and can be a useful first step in assessing whether other common phenomena can be explained by the placebo effect. There is sex.

“The successful implementation of this study could stimulate similar studies in a wide range of scientific or medical contexts,” said senior author David Erizo, senior clinical lecturer. Psychiatry At Imperial College London. “Explaining the placebo effect is important when assessing trends in social pressure and user expectations that can lead to strong placebo reactions, such as cannabidiol oil, trendy diets, and the use of supplements. The Blinded Civil Science Initiative can be used as an inexpensive one, the first screening tool before starting expensive clinical studies. “


Journal reference:

Szigeti, B. , et al.. (2021) Self-blind citizen science for exploring psychedelic microdosing. eLife..,


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