Microdosing is an increasingly popular way to use psychedelics. It involves taking a small amount of the drug, then going about your day normally. A lot of people microdose LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. But what about microdosing MDMA?
MDMA is not a classical psychedelic. Chemically, it’s a stimulant, which means it works in your brain differently than most psychedelic drugs do. As a result, microdosing MDMA is difficult.
While it’s technically possible to take an MDMA microdose, it likely won’t produce the effects you’d expect. Here’s what the research says about microdosing MDMA, and why it may not be as effective as microdosing other psychedelic drugs.
What is Microdosing?
Microdosing involves taking a small amount of a psychedelic drug, usually between 10-20% of a full dose. The idea is that a microdose should be sub-hallucinogenic—it shouldn’t make you hallucinate or interfere with your daily routine.
Instead, proponents of microdosing say that it actually improves daily life. They claim it can make you more positive, focused, productive, and creative, among other benefits.
Research on microdosing is mixed. In large self-report surveys, people claim that microdosing LSD and psilocybin leads to noticeable improvements in the way they think and feel. 1,2.
More controlled studies, however, have largely failed to replicate these results, and many researchers suggest that microdosing’s benefits may be largely placebo effect. 3,4,5.
Microdosing research is still early; it’s not yet clear how well it works. Regardless, it’s common to hear people say that microdosing LSD or psilocybin mushrooms improves their mood, mental health, and more.
There’s very limited data on microdosing MDMA.
One reason is that MDMA is not a classical psychedelic, which means it doesn’t work in your brain in the same way drugs like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms do (virtually all formal microdosing research has been done using LSD or psilocybin).
MDMA is a type of stimulant called a substituted amphetamine. It works by causing your brain cells to release large amounts of serotonin and dopamine. The result is short-term euphoria, joy, extroversion, heightened empathy, a sense of connection with those around you, lowered inhibitions, and decreased reaction to negative stimuli.
It’s tempting to think, then, that microdosing MDMA a few times a week might boost mood and make you more sociable.
However, MDMA is quite powerful—it taps into your serotonin and dopamine stores and dumps them all at once. The result is a refractory period: you have lower serotonin and dopamine for a few days after taking MDMA, and your brain needs time to replenish your neurotransmitters and get back to normal. 6
During that refractory period, taking more MDMA produces much-reduced effect, and will lead to more and more serotonin and dopamine depletion. With enough depletion, symptoms like depressed mood, anxiety, anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure), decreased motivation, and trouble focusing will begin to arise. 6
In addition, over time, MDMA will stop having an effect—one of the reasons it’s difficult to become addicted to MDMA. 7
Finally, MDMA pairs intense euphoria with decreased inhibition. If you take a small amount of MDMA, there’s a good chance you’ll be tempted to take more of it once the effects kick in, and you won’t have the mental inhibition to stop yourself. This presents a practical problem when microdosing MDMA.
For all these reasons, MDMA microdosing is uncommon. There’s been no formal research on it, and conventional wisdom in microdosing circles is that you’re better off microdosing mushrooms or LSD.
All that said, it’s possible that microdosing MDMA works. There’s a compelling theoretical rationale against it, but there isn’t enough data to make a strong claim one way or another.
Microdosing MDMA Risks
There are fairly established risks in taking MDMA frequently over time.
Heavy MDMA users show signs of serotonin deficiency, suggesting that regular MDMA use may be neurotoxic. 8 Animal research supports that hypothesis: rats given consistent doses of MDMA over time develop neurodegeneration, mood disturbances, and other long-lasting cognitive impairment. 8
Heavy MDMA users are also more likely to have memory loss, as well as mild, but significant cognitive deficits. 9
These studies are correlative, not causative. However, paired with animal research, they suggest that frequent long-term MDMA use may be neurotoxic.
It’s important to note that the same deficits haven’t been found in people who take MDMA sparingly, such as in the context of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. 10 MDMA-induced brain damage seems more likely with frequent long-term use.
MDMA microdosing is technically possible, and there’s little research to support or refute its effects.
However, there’s a strong rationale for avoiding frequent doses of MDMA. Microdosing MDMA seems unlikely to cause beneficial changes to your mood or focus, largely because of its mechanism of action in the brain. It may cause withdrawals, it has a long recovery period, and a decent body of research suggests that frequent MDMA use over a long period of time could cause brain damage.
If you’re interested in microdosing, you may want to consider better-researched options, like psilocybin mushrooms or LSD. Keep in mind that all the aforementioned drugs are currently illegal to use or possess, and that we do not recommend taking illicit substances.
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2. Polito V, Stevenson RJ. A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(2):e0211023. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211023
3. Marschall J, Fejer G, Lempe P, et al. Psilocybin microdosing does not affect emotion-related symptoms and processing: A preregistered field and lab-based study. J Psychopharmacol (Oxford). 2022;36(1):97-113. doi:10.1177/02698811211050556
4. Cavanna F, Muller S, de la Fuente LA, et al. Microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Transl Psychiatry. 2022;12(1):307. doi:10.1038/s41398-022-02039-0
5. Kaertner LS, Steinborn MB, Kettner H, et al. Positive expectations predict improved mental-health outcomes linked to psychedelic microdosing. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):1941. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-81446-7
6. Parrott AC. The potential dangers of using MDMA for psychotherapy. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2014;46(1):37-43. doi:10.1080/02791072.2014.873690
7. Degenhardt L, Bruno R, Topp L. Is ecstasy a drug of dependence? Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010;107(1):1-10. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.09.009
8. Sarkar S, Schmued L. Neurotoxicity of ecstasy (MDMA): an overview. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2010;11(5):460-469. doi:10.2174/138920110791591490
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10. Feduccia AA, Jerome L, Yazar-Klosinski B, Emerson A, Mithoefer MC, Doblin R. Breakthrough for Trauma Treatment: Safety and Efficacy of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Compared to Paroxetine and Sertraline. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10:650. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00650