February 22, 2024

Microdosing psychedelics shows promise for improving mindfulness in adults with ADHD

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or severe ADHD symptoms who practiced microdosing with psychedelics reported an increase in mindfulness after four weeks, according to new preliminary research published in Frontiers in psychiatry. The findings underscore the importance of conducting future placebo-controlled studies to validate whether these observed changes can be replicated in a controlled experimental setting.

ADHD affects millions of adults around the world, characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Many people with ADHD have turned to microdosing psychedelics, taking low, sub-hallucinogenic doses of substances, to self-treat their symptoms and improve daily functioning. Recent research has explored how microdosing can alter personality traits and mindfulness in the general population, but its effects on people with ADHD have remained largely unexplored.

Mindfulness, defined as the ability to be present, pay attention to the current experience, and respond non-judgmentally to thoughts and sensations, has been linked to personality traits such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness. Previous studies have shown that people with ADHD tend to score lower on mindfulness and differ in personality traits than people without ADHD. However, it is unclear how microdosing might affect these properties in people with ADHD.

To address this gap in knowledge, recent research has been conducted on the effects of microdosing on mindfulness and personality traits in adults diagnosed with ADHD or experiencing severe ADHD symptoms. The study, part of a larger research effort, followed a prospective naturalistic design. The study recruited adults with ADHD or severe ADHD-like symptoms who voluntarily wanted to start microdosing psychedelics.

“We have previously shown that individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) engage in self-medication from low repeated doses of a psychedelic substance, commonly known as microdosing. This approach has been shown to result in improvements in ADHD symptoms and overall well-being,” says study author Eline CHM Haijen (@ehaijen), a PhD candidate at the Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology at Maastricht University.

“Individuals diagnosed with ADHD typically exhibit lower levels of mindfulness, characterized by difficulties in allocating and sustaining attention to the present moment and a tendency to be non-judgmental and non-reactive toward emerging thoughts and emotions. Furthermore, their personality structure differs from that of non-ADHD individuals, characterized by increased neuroticism (i.e. negative affect and emotionally unstable) and decreased conscientiousness (i.e. efficient and organized).

“While previous microdosing studies have examined changes in mindfulness and personality traits after microdosing, these studies primarily involved samples from the general population. We were interested to know if and how these properties would change after microdosing in adults with ADHD.”

The researchers collected data at four time points: baseline, two weeks after the start of microdosing, four weeks after the start, and via daily surveys. They recruited participants online, provided them with information about the study, and obtained informed consent. There were 233 participants at baseline, 66 participants at the 2-week time point, and 44 participants at the 4-week time point. The majority of participants reported microdosing with psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

Participants completed several psychological assessments, including the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ-15) for mindfulness and the Big Five Inventory (BFI-10) for personality traits. They also reported their previous experiences with psychedelics and mindfulness practices, any comorbid psychiatric diagnoses, and ADHD medication use.

After 2 and 4 weeks of microdosing, participants reported increased levels of mindfulness compared to baseline. Specifically, they showed improvements in facets such as observation, description, conscious action, non-judgment of inner experiences and non-reactivity to inner experiences.

“We found improvements in all facets of mindfulness after four weeks of microdosing,” Haijen explains. “However, when controlling for recent experiences with mindfulness/meditation, only the Description and Non-Judgement facets of inner experiences remained elevated. It therefore appears that these aspects in particular are sensitive to change after microdosing.”

Description in mindfulness refers to the ability to put experiences into words or describe them verbally or mentally. In contrast, non-judgment of inner experiences is a core aspect of mindfulness, which involves accepting and observing your thoughts, emotions, and sensations without making judgments or evaluations. It means not labeling experiences as good or bad, right or wrong.

“Their mean mindfulness scores at the four-week time point were comparable to the mean mindfulness scores of general population samples,” Haijen said.

The researchers also found that neuroticism, a personality trait often associated with emotional instability, decreased after four weeks of microdosing. Conscientiousness and extraversion increased after four weeks and two weeks, respectively, but these effects were not statistically significant when multiple comparisons were considered. The friendliness and openness remained unchanged.

“Neuroticism of the personality traits was significantly reduced after four weeks of microdosing compared to baseline,” Haijen told PsyPost. “However, this mean neuroticism score was still higher than the mean neuroticism levels of general population samples. So it appears that mindfulness and personality traits in adults with ADHD change positively after microdosing for a period of four weeks. However, controlled studies are needed to confirm these findings.”

But the study had some limitations, including a high dropout rate and possible bias due to participants who did not have a pleasant microdosing experience. In addition, controlled studies in laboratory settings are necessary to ensure uniformity in the substances and doses used. Future research could investigate whether these microdosing-induced effects on mindfulness and personality traits are long-lasting by conducting follow-up measurements several months after microdosing.

“This study is a naturalistic prospective study, meaning we measured participants over time without manipulating variables such as substances and doses they used for microdosing during the study,” Haijen said. “In contrast to a controlled laboratory test, where the uniformity of medicines and dosages is guaranteed. There was also no control group included, so we can’t say whether this effect was purely due to microdosing, or whether other factors, such as placebo or expectation effects, were the main force behind the changes we observed. This study should therefore be seen as a first step in this research direction, because hopefully more controlled studies will follow.”

“Thanks to naturalistic studies, such as the current one, we are gaining more information about microdosing practices that occur in society,” Haijen added. “For example, it appears that the doses that people use for microdosing vary greatly. They seem to experiment with different doses and dosing regimens, ultimately choosing a practice that works best for them. This calibration of dosing practices is challenging to capture in controlled laboratory studies, although it could be an important factor in measuring microdosing effects.”

The study, “Trait mindfulness and personality traits in a microdosing ADHD sample: a naturalistic prospective survey study,” was authored by Eline CHM Haijen, Petra PM Hurks and Kim PC Kuypers.

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