On this episode transcript of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, our co-founders Nicholas Levich and Jimmy Nguyen discuss how determining therapeutic psilocybin dosages are essential for maximizing the therapeutic potential of an intentional psychedelic experience.
They begin by explaining the correlation between intention, set, and setting, highlighting how there is no standardized dosage when it comes to psilocybin mushrooms. They’ll talk about the process of finding a minimum viable dose that helps you reach the journey threshold.
Why do some journeyers have an ego death experience on 2 grams of magic mushrooms, while others require 10+ grams to reach their journey threshold. Our hosts will also delve into the Johns Hopkins research findings that delineate optimal psilocybin dosage. How do SSRIs impact psilocybin effects?
Episode 9: Determining Therapeutic Psilocybin Dosages
Jimmy: Welcome to The Psychedelic Passage Podcast. My name is Jimmy Nguyen. I am here with my co-host, Nick Levich. We’re the cofounders of Psychedelic Passage and we’re super honored to be hosting this podcast, which helps folks to really focus on the best ways to prepare for, integrate for, and also go through their psychedelic experiences, and also, a lot of conversation around facilitators and how to support that.
Today, we will be talking about dosage, which is a really, really big question out there. And a lot of it surrounds how you determine dosage for maximum therapeutic potential.
And I’ll first say that in this episode, we are not here to advise you specifically on your dosage, nor are we medical or mental health professionals. Our goal is to provide you with some education, some harm reduction information so that you can arrive at your own dose decisions in conjunction with a psychedelic professional.
And also, it’s probably worth mentioning that on this episode we’ll primarily be focused on probably moderate to large doses of psychedelics. Meaning, a dosage that elicits a hallucinogenic event or that level of altered state of consciousness.
And we’ll focus in an episode or a couple episodes on microdosing as well because I know that that’s really prevalent out there too. So, let’s start here.
There’s folks out there who have either had psychedelic experiences in the past, whether recreationally or for entertainment purposes. There’s also folks who have never done a psychedelic and they are seeking this type of alternative option, but they have no idea where to start with dosage.
And also, dosage depends on which substance you choose and all of that stuff. And also, I think another thing is they read the Johns Hopkins studies or they read studies out there and they see the dosage there, which doesn’t quite translate into the dosage that they might be taking for their own journey.
Nick: Because we’ve got a limited amount of time together, I think it’s important that we focus this on psilocybin in particular.
Nick: Especially because that tends to be the most common request that we get as far as what journeyers are looking for. There’s an abundance of literature coming out around psilocybin. We know that it’s abundantly grown and all things considered, it’s relatively safe with proper screening.
Jimmy: Yeah, it’s the most accessible, because it’s a dried mushroom. It’s pretty hard to lace, adulterate stuff like that. But when you talk about MDMA, LSD, ketamine, or all of those, there’s just way more variables to it.
Nick: 100%. White powders are notoriously counterfeited or adulterated. And something like LSD, you can identify that it is in fact LSD or not, but there’s no reliable way to really get clear on the dosage. And so– [crosstalk]
Jimmy: Yeah, let me just say really quickly. Test your substance. [laughs]
Jimmy: There are psilocybin detecting test kits out there now. In general, DanceSafe has really great test strips. Those are all really, really important for you to do. But with psilocybin, generally, you’re going to be okay.
Nick: Right. As Jimmy said, we’re going to save microdosing for another episode. And so, what we’re really talking about here is where are those thresholds for medium to large dose journeys that ultimately leave you with some sustained benefit, or desired outcome, or simply a shift closer to your intentions?
And so, perhaps, that’s where I’d like to start, is just acknowledging that dosing is directly correlated to your intentions.
Jimmy: Yep. mm-hmm.
Nick: There is no one-size-fits-all dosing. And so, we’ve seen it all over the board from 1 to 10 grams. And one is not inherently better than the other.
It’s just understanding that part of the role of both you as a journeyer and your facilitator as well is to collaborate on arriving at a dosage that matches your intentions.
Jimmy: Yeah, and God bless Terence McKenna, but he is not the poster child for harm reduction. Terence McKenna and his brother, Dennis McKenna, are really popular figures in the psychedelic space. I think Terence McKenna has now passed.
But he was the guy who popularized the heroic dose, 5 grams, go lock yourself in a dark room by yourself, and go explore the depths of your psyche. And so, many people have this misnomer that, “Oh, if I’m not doing 5 grams, then I’m not getting the maximum effect,” or whatnot.
And the heroic dose also is a little bit of a misnomer. If you’re taking three grams, you’re also doing something very courageous and very heroic. I think the heroic dose actually relates to some philosophy around The Hero’s Journey, like Joseph Campbell.
Nick: Yeah, Joseph Campbell.
Jimmy: Yeah, he writes a lot about this. And for folks who are interested can go, and research, and see what that means as far as the arc of psychedelic experiences.
But I want to start there by saying that the dosage that you arrive at, it doesn’t denote whether you’re more brave or less brave than somebody else who was going deep on a really large dose, because it depends on your needs and your intentions like you’re saying.
Nick: Yeah. And so, to be very clear here, more is not better.
How Your Relationship to Control May Affect Your Dosage
Nick: I think the way that I conceptualize dosage when I’m exploring it with my clients or just speaking with people in general is, my role as a facilitator is to help you narrow down and arrive at the minimum viable dose to get you to the journey threshold.
Not to go more and not to go less unless you desire that. Most people are seeking the benefits that come from the journey space. And everyone requires a different dosage to get there.
Jimmy: Yeah, minimum viable dosage or minimum effective dosage is the name of the game here. What is the minimum amount of a dosage that can help elicit the experience that supports your intentions?
And so, there is a balance here, because for some folks who go into deeper thresholds of that dosage, there can also be some drawbacks. Meaning, sometimes, they have less ability to recall their experience, because a lot of it works on this almost unconscious level.
And so, what I do find with folks who approach higher dosages is that they sometimes have a little bit more of a complex time to recall, or recount, or any of those things that help them to make those lasting meaningful changes in their integration.
And so, I think it’s also contextual on your history with psychedelics too. Doing 3.5 grams of psilocybin at a concert or a show is going to be really different than if you ended up doing 5 or 6 grams in the comfort of your own home, while you’re laying down with the professional there to support you.
Nick: 100%. And one of the things that we hear a lot about from leads and clients is like, “Well, I don’t want to overdo it and I’m really small. I may not have a lot of body mass.” Or, “I’ve never done this before. And so, I don’t want to do too much.”
And so, there’s all these kinds of concerns. And I think one of the most interesting things that we’ve seen very clearly in our direct work with clients is that the most significant factor on dosage, at least from my perspective, is rigidity of ego structure [crosstalk] or sense of control.
It actually has very little to do with gender, body weight, body mass, any of the things that we would typically associate with adjusting dosage. And so, what this really means is that somebody who has the ability to fully surrender may have a full-blown journey with ego death and all of that on 2 grams.
And another person that’s never journeyed before is very rigid in their thinking, attempts to maintain a high sense of control, they may eat 10 grams and never break through to that journey threshold.
Nick: And so, you can see here that that’s a large spread and dosage, and the journeyer is the variable.
Jimmy: Mm-hmm. Yeah, of course, this is an opinion from Nick and I based on anecdotal reports based on the hundreds of journeys that our organization has helped lead people through. But I think you’re totally correct.
I’ve worked with clients of all different physiologies, and sizes, and genders, and all that and I’ve seen a hundred-pound, 120-pound females eat 10 grams with nothing happening. And conversely, I’ve seen folks my size, and the two hundreds, whatever and they’re eating and ate, and they’re getting the exact dose experience that they need.
So, what I’m hearing you say is that the psychological factors, the mental state, the emotional state, all those things that would be described as the set in common terms likely outweighs physical factors.
Nick: I would agree from everything that I’ve seen and experienced both firsthand and with my facilitation work.
Jimmy: Yeah. And explain to people what that rigidity of mine, like, how that looks? Because I think there are some people who may self-identify as having issues with control, or over analyzers, stuff like that. And you just talk a little bit more about that so our listeners can understand that a little better?
Nick: Yeah, basically, you touched on two of the big ones. Control and overanalyzing. In a nutshell, if you identify as type A and you’re always planning, always organizing, always analyzing, always comparing, it’s going to be a potentially challenging experience for you, because you come face to face with your relationship with control.
What these medicines do is, they highlight just how tightly you may be hanging on. And so, for those that white knuckle on life and are trying to smooth everything out, perfect everything, if you’re a perfectionist, this is going to potentially be a bit challenging.
It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be helpful. It just means you’re going to come or have the potential to come face to face with those relationships.
Jimmy: Yeah, I’m working with a client now that is self-identified as a lot of the things as you’re saying. And they went through a pretty challenging experience and continue to have a fairly challenging afterglow come down, get back to reality after a couple of days.
At the same time, they talk and chat with a therapist and the therapist is like, “Well, you are saying some things and having some insights, and you’re just connecting some dots, where this wasn’t a part of the content before your psychedelic experience.”
So, that’s probably another thing that’s worth saying, which we’ve chatted about and I think other podcasts likely will continue to do so is that how enjoyable or comfortable the experiences are is not commensurate to the benefits that you’ll receive. And sometimes, people need to go through and sort their shit out for lack of a better term for that healing to occur.
Nick: Yeah. I want to bring some tangible illness to this conversation in terms of how one could approach this. Once again, this is educational, anecdotal, and informational.
I want to make it very clear that if you intend to journey, it’s your responsibility to do your research, do your due diligence, speak to your support network, and really determine what’s right for you.
Variances in the Active Ingredients of Psilocybin Mushrooms
Nick: It’s also important to acknowledge that all mushrooms have different percentages of active ingredients of psilocybin and psilocin. You can get some of that information online, but it’s important to acknowledge that inherently, their organic matter varies from batch to batch and from strain to strain.
Just know that these strains do have different potencies and slightly different effects. And so, we could potentially spend a whole episode on that. And I don’t want to focus on that, but all that being said, we’re going to speak to some averages here.
Jimmy: Yeah. And worth noting that because of the 60 plus years of prohibition in the United States, we’re really behind on our research. And so, there’s a lot of potential that there are things beyond just psilocybin and psilocin that plays into your experience.
We’re talking about alkaloid profiles, we’re talking about different ways that your body metabolizes these different compounds and things. So, we’re working with our hands tied behind our backs and hopefully, the science will then be able to support and identify markers.
The same way with cannabis, where people thought it was just about THC and then they learn that there’s terpene profiles that modulate the high and the therapeutic effect. And things like THCV helping folks with PTSD, stuff like that. So, that’s all hopefully coming in the research with psilocybin as well. But yeah, back to your thoughts on just some average parameters here.
Johns Hopkins Research on Psilocybin Dosage
Nick: Yeah. Basically, I’ll start with some science, which is basically that Johns Hopkins did a study that was this whole concept of, what’s the ideal dosage where you maximize therapeutic potential, but minimize the chance for overwhelm, discomfort, anxiety, basically, what most people would describe as bad trips.
And it’s a little bit hard to translate over, because the way they conducted these studies at Johns Hopkins was through intravenous administration of psilocybin extract. It’s not actually eating the raw mushroom, which is how most people are going to engage with psilocybin for the immediate future.
But when they translate that over once again using averages, what they found is that 3.5 to 4 grams is that sweet spot, really high potential for a very profound, potentially life-changing experience while minimizing the overwhelm, anxiety, and physical discomfort.
And then, they tested all the way up to what would translate into roughly 5 grams of dried mushrooms. And the difference there was higher potential for mystical states, but also accompanied by a bit more potential for discomfort.
Jimmy: Yeah, and I’ll say that the toxic threshold of psilocybin consumption is quite high. Quite, quite high. I think even if you go to the Wikipedia page for psilocybin, they report on the study where they use, I think, mice or lab rats in a study to try to gauge what that toxic level is and then equating that to an average human body mass.
I think it’s somewhere north of 16,000 grams of psilocybin that you would need to consume for it to be at a toxic level. But then, we’re talking about several grams eliciting a hallucinogenic state. So, nobody try 16,000 grams, please. Just don’t do that.
But the point of what I’m making here is that you don’t need a lot of psilocybin to go a long way in your healing journey. Now, there are folks who have a history of antidepressants, anti-anxiety, psychotropic medications. If they choose to go into a psilocybin experience while still on full dose of that, likely, you’re going to have some dampening effect and maybe need higher dosages.
And then also, to your point about folks who have that control aspect, or rigidity of mind, or maybe they have some expectation on how it looks, if it doesn’t match that then their mind goes into this whole thing about, “Oh, the mushrooms not working and so and so,” the mind can actually shut down the psilocybin experience as well. So, there’s a range there. There’s quite a range there.
The Common Effects of Specific Dosages
Nick: I want to draw spectrum for folks who are listening, which is, when you’re in that 1, 2, potentially topping out at about 3-gram range, you’re in the orientation handshake threshold dosage is that you’re definitely going to feel it, but you’re potentially not crossing into that threshold of fully therapeutic.
On the 1 to 2 grams, that’s your go for a hike, sit outside, a bit more enjoyable, if you will. Once we start to cross into the 3- to 4-gram range, you’re now moving into therapeutic with the potential for mystical as you approach five and above.
And once again, for some folks, 5 grams may not be a lot because of the way that they are oriented internally. And so, it may take two different people, totally different amounts to get to the same space. So, for you and I to get to the journey threshold, I could easily get there with 3 to 4 grams and you may need more or vice versa just by way of example.
Jimmy: Well, your instruments are sensitive– [crosstalk]
Nick: I’m sensitive.
Jimmy: We know that. [laughs] We know that. But even for me being a larger individual who’s had a lot of psychedelic experiences, I don’t find that each successive journey that I need to do more and more and more and more, which is actually quite helpful, because the most meaningful experiences for me have been in that 3.5- to 5-gram range.
But I also just acknowledge that in my history, because it just basically didn’t exist, I didn’t have professional support around me. And so, it’s also contextual to that, like, the type of support you have, I think, solo journeyers, which everyone has a right to do. I don’t recommend it. I always recommend having some support around you. You may feel like, “Okay, I can’t really, really dive deep.”
And then there are some other folks who say, “I really, really want to dive into the inner being of myself,” and then they might opt for 5, 6, 7 grams as well. But it’s also really subjective to the context of the support that you have around you. And I agree.
I like the term “museum dose” for that 1 to 3. It just creates this imagery of you going into museum exhibit of yourself, but you get a ticket, and you get to go in and explore, and then you get to come out, as opposed to some of the larger therapeutic doses, where essentially the mushroom is more– I’m going to say this very loosely.
More like calling the shots. It means how present is the psychedelic experience for you. And I find that that 1 to 3 grams, typically, you’re still in your faculties and your capacity with a psychedelic experience enhancing and eating.
Once you get past that threshold, very much so it’s either like a real communion with you in the psychedelic medicine and then those elements of allowing, and surrendering, all of those things come into play.
Nick: And it’s not a surprise, because the therapeutic outcomes come from that surrender.
Nick: And so, that’s where you start to get into this concept of hero’s journey, because we start to mimic this death and rebirth process. You basically go through what a lot of people experience very clearly as some form of death and rebirth.
Nick: And it’s not particularly comfortable, but it is incredibly empowering. That’s where this whole notion of getting unstuck, and the shifts, and the profoundness come from.
Nick: I think it’s important that we touch on how we as facilitators approach dosage with clients. There’s some context there.
Jimmy: Yeah, I agree. I agree. Yeah.
Exercising Autonomy Over Your Dosage
Nick: The first thing that I always tell a journeyer is that you have full autonomy over what you put inside of your body.
Nick: It is not the facilitator’s job to tell you or to force anything upon you. It’s our job to give you this explanation, and these benchmarks, and these parameters. But, you as a journeyer, always have full autonomy over what you put inside of your body.
Jimmy: Mm-hmm. I never tell a client, “Hey, you should do 3.75 grams.”
Jimmy: I provide my clients a range. And it’s after we go through vetting, screening, and preparation, they’ve clarified their intentions. We talk about framework skills, tools to navigate the experience.
We’ve uncovered as much potential salient content. And then given that, tell them, “Hey, this might be the range of what you think that you might want to work on and it’s been somewhere between three and four and a half grams or something like that.”
And then I always invite my clients to really sit with that and really think about that. It might get a little woo-woo, but I always tell my clients like, “Sit with that and see what your intuition does.”
And if your intuition tells you, “Okay, that’s a good place to start,” if you have some fear, if you have some trepidation, if you have some anxiety, that’s great. Your intuition might tell you, “Ah, that is a safe zone of dosage and that there’s a part of you that just wants to dive a little bit deeper and go a little bit higher.”
And it’s also just worth telling folks that we adhere to the philosophy of a starting dose and then being able to follow up with booster doses as needed. I’ll say, though, that this is also anecdotal. But I believe that when you start to consume the psilocybin mushroom, your body immediately starts to build up a tolerance to it. And so, there is this window.
For me, it’s 60 to 90 minutes, where additional booster doses can add into that effective dose. But I don’t find it’s much effect, if folks are a couple of hours into their experience and they decide to take that same dose.
Nick: Yep, I find the same thing. And so, the way that we explain this is, we mutually agree upon a starting dose, one that I as a facilitator feel comfortable supporting you in and that you as a journeyer feel comfortable ingesting.
And then 60 to 90 minutes in, we check in on you to see where you’re at. And at that point, you have full autonomy over whether you want to take an additional dose or not. Once again, the idea of this booster dose is to get you to the journey threshold.
Because what’s often the most uncomfortable space to be in is feeling like you have one foot in this default reality and then one foot in the journey space, and you’re almost pulled in two different directions and not sure where to go. It is oftentimes easier to just go all the way in.
And so, that’s something that a facilitator can help you gauge, when you’re in that altered state at that decision point around a booster. And it’s also worth noting that I personally always identify the size of the booster dose with the client.
Well, they’re sober before they’ve taken their first dose. In essence, we’ve got a plan, right? Okay, I want to start at 5 and I want to take a 2-gram boost if I get to that point. And that way, it’s all established ahead of time. And they’re not making a decision from an altered state.
Jimmy: Yeah. Or, I want to start at 3.5, but I don’t want to go beyond 4. If there is a booster dose, it’s another half gram or something like that. And that straddling both worlds can be really uncomfortable, folks. Extremely uncomfortable.
But all of this is to the consent of the journeyer. And so, I’ve had clients who I can very clearly identify that they are straddling both worlds and are having that little bit of an internal conflict.
The medicine isn’t strong enough for them to fully surrender and fully allow into the experience. And at the same time, they have enough of a dose that brings up maybe some latent anxiety and things like that, because psychedelics are nonspecific amplifiers.
And so, ultimately, I’ve had some clients say, “I don’t know about a booster dose,” which for facilitators listening out there, that’s a no. If a client is like, “I don’t know and I’m not sure,” that’s a no.
If they are taking a booster dose, it has to be a full consent, “Yes, I do want to take this booster dose,” which means that people have a choice to sit in that conflict if they want to. [crosstalk] Who are we to say that it’s better or worse for their experience?
Nick: It’s important to acknowledge that I’ve seen the flip side, where I watched a client take 5 grams on their starting dose, and then they wanted to take their booster, and they couldn’t even physically hold the cup of tea.
And I’m like, “No, no, no, no. I’m taking this away, because physically, you can’t even get it down without losing track forgetting that you’re holding it. You’re very impaired.”
Jimmy: You’re clearly in the medicine space. Yeah.
Nick: And that’s not a service to you either. And so, coming off the heels of last week’s episode around what is the role of a facilitator, this is all part of it.
Dosage Does Not Signify the Depth of a Psychedelic Experience
Jimmy: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s so, so important to say, because dosage is not a one-to-one scale or parameter for how meaningful or potentially significant your experience is. And like you started off this episode, higher is not always better.
And for that matter, people can get a little creative, if you have, let’s say, a facilitator in your local area and you might say, “Actually, I want to start off with a couple of sessions at that museum dose.”
One to two sessions, let’s say, spread out over six to eight weeks. And then, that actually might prepare you for a larger dose or a larger experience. Or, there are some folks who do want to dive in a little deeper.
But I’ll say again that we in our society, especially in America, bigger is better and go bigger, go home, and if you’re not feeling the effects, increase your dose. We literally do this with everything that we put into our bodies.
And it’s so the opposite, when we’re talking about psychedelic medicine. Let’s say, you do take 10 grams, and you go deep, and you have that profound experience. Well, if you come out and you don’t remember any of it, then that might impair you in your integration process.
Of course, there’s stuff happening on an unconscious level. There’s still that brain neuroplasticity and some of those things, but the only point of the psychedelic experiences is what we take away from them and bring into our everyday lives.
And so, dosage plays a huge part in this. What are some other dosage best practices that you share with your clients or just with people in general? What are some things that we want people to know, if they’re listening to this podcast, some takeaways for them?
Key Takeaways About Psilocybin Dosage
Nick: I think the main thing is that if you have a reliable facilitator, you don’t have to nail the dosage perfectly right out of the gate. You can always start lower and work your way up. There’s no need to force it and overdo it right out of the gate.
Nick: And a lot of times, it’s really helpful to build a relationship with the medicine, with the psilocybin before you move into a more heroic dose. Not that it makes you a hero, but that it replicates that death and rebirth, that full hero’s story arc.
And essentially, the reason being is, it makes surrender easier. Once we have the understanding of, “Oh, this medicine is actually here to help me,” then it makes letting go of the rope a lot easier.
The challenge is, if we’re scared of the medicine itself, it’s really hard to let go. And so, there has to be– well, it doesn’t have to be. It’s helpful to have this preexisting relationship that can come from something like microdosing or just that handshake acquaintance, museum dose you talk about.
And so, sometimes, having just the little bit of history with the medicine makes moving into a larger journey significantly easier as a journey.
Jimmy: Yeah. I’ve seen that happen with people without even taking microdoses or medium moderate doses as well.
Meaning that they start to build a relationship with the psilocybin mushroom by doing a lot of research, by reading reports and studies, by looking up the history of psilocybin use as far as it relates to human history, by learning about the different strains and the different things and the possible efficacy is and all of those things.
And so, we tell people that ceremony starts the moment that they commit to the psychedelic experience, which for some that’s like many, many years before you actually get to the day where you’re consuming the mushroom. Also, there’s that physiological component that is helpful to what you’re saying.
But underlying all of that is this belief of whether whatever you’re doing, moving forward into a psychedelic experience is in allyship to you or not, is in service to you or not, because of your psyche on an unconscious level views the mushroom as some threat.
Oftentimes, when folks are dealing with very, very deep matters of the heart, and especially dealing with elements of control or elements of ego, all those things. Those parts of you will view the psychedelic medicine as a threat, because those parts of you know that the snow globe is going to get shaken up a little, those parts of you will start to amplify and speak up and be like, “No.”
And then there’s this intuitive part of you, where that’s where the building of the relationship between you and the plant medicine can be vitally, vitally effective, which is beyond the conversation of dosage.
I hope that’s been helpful for our listeners. We tried to really navigate both the philosophical and I think social constructs of dosage on this episode, while also giving you some real, tangible, actionable, harm reduction, and education information.
So, that’s our time for this episode. Thank you for listening and joining in. You can download episodes of The Psychedelic Passage Podcast. Subscribe to the show with notifications on Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio and anywhere else that you get your podcasts. So, thanks for joining and we’ll see you next time.
Explore How it Feels to be Connected
We hope that today’s conversation provided some insightful information on determining psilocybin dosages. At this point, you feel empowered to embark on your own psychedelic journey. If so, we encourage you to book a consultation with us to connect to our network of psychedelic facilitators.
If there are any psychedelic curiosities still lingering on your mind, head on over to our resources page for a plethora of informative articles, just like this one. Well friends, that’s all we have for today. As always, safe and mindful journeying!