An Osmind Interview
AMA Recap with Paul Austin
Within Third Wave, Paul Austin leads his team in building an educational platform to ensure psychedelic substances become responsibly integrated into our metamodern cultural framework. Currently, Third Wave offers long-form psychedelic guides and online training focused on the skill of microdosing psychedelics, and an industry-best network of clinics and retreat providers.
In 2018, he co-founded Synthesis and led several high-dose psilocybin truffle retreats, leading branding, marketing, and public relations before stepping back to focus on Third Wave full-time.
Austin sees psychedelic use as a skill, one that becomes more refined as we explore the many nuances of these awe-inspiring medicines and molecules.
During this interview, Paul Austin spoke about the field of psychedelics, microdosing, overseas retreat centers, and more.
What is microdosing and what are the potential benefits of microdosing?
Microdosing is taking very small doses of psychedelics on a regular basis (generally about two to three times a week). These doses are so small that they are sub-perceptual, meaning that you wouldn’t be able to notice any changes in your thoughts or behavior and you can go about your day like normal. When Paul Austin refers to his own personal work experimenting with microdosing, he says it was “incredibly beneficial.”
In the ’70s, Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD theorized that very small doses of LSD, 25 micrograms, would work great as an antidepressant. Austin agrees, “microdosing of plant medicines will become the new antidepressants because they’re non-addictive and they have significant beneficial effects on inflammation, particularly in the gut.” One company is currently doing research on microdosing and inflammation.
Another effect of microdosing is that “people tend to feel more of a sense of gratitude. Microdosing is known to elevate the mood in a considerable way.”
Also, “people noticed that after psychedelics, either a high dose or a very low dose, that there’s this window of neuroplasticity, that you become more adaptable to change. This is at the core of integration for the psychedelic experience. So with microdosing, what researchers are trying to essentially show is that if you take low doses of psychedelics consistently, it will positively impact neuroplasticity and thus it becomes easier to change certain behaviors, especially maladaptive behaviors.”
What scientific or clinical evidence is there for microdosing?
Paul Austin refers to recent research published by the Beckley Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to psychedelic research.
Their publication focused on the importance of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. This protein appears to be reduced in blood levels for disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa. Higher BDNF levels seem to be associated with cognitive functioning, synaptic plasticity, and memory.
A preliminary study done by the Beckley Foundation showed that as LSD microdoses increased, so did the levels BDNF. Researchers suggest that microdoses of LSD may provide a window of opportunity for therapeutic response and cognitive enhancement.
Austin says the results of the first-ever controlled study with microdosing LSD at the University of Chicago showed that the results weren’t a placebo effect. In an article on Third Wave, he summarizes:
“We now know, with certainty, that microdosing is not a placebo.”
In the interview, he says that up and coming research on microdosing will be focused on clinical depression and anxiety.
What type of research will Third Wave be involved in?
“We’re working on some interesting research studies combining microdosing and coaching. We are considering many variables, so we’re looking at which mindfulness practices work well with microdosing, what amount are people taking when they’re microdosing, what substance are they taking and how old are they. We’re starting to collect a lot of rich data about those stories and starting to better understand what impact microdosing is having.”
What is macrodosing and what are the benefits?
Austin mentions that the experience of macrodosing, taking large amounts of psychedelics, is much different than microdosing. “What I often compare macrodosing to, if it’s your first time doing a high dose of psychedelics, is like jumping into the deep end of the pool, often for the first time. So it can sometimes be very disorienting or chaotic. It’s a new scale to adapt to and you have to learn how to center.”
What are the benefits of microdosing?
Austin believes that microdosing may be beneficial for two core reasons:
- “To potentially help people help wean off certain pharmaceutical medications, whether that’s antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or ADHD medications.”
- “To use as a sort of integration adjunct for the post-high-dose experience.” He explains that after you have a peak experience, there’s a window of opportunity and microdosing may help you to integrate those insights from the experience and may help to keep that window of neuroplasticity open for even longer.
Can I microdose psilocybin to get better from depression?
“There has been some research done — Jim Fadiman published the first research with Sophia Korb in 2017 with a large sample size showing that microdosing definitely helped with depression.”
A summary of that study on Third Wave’s website noted that three-quarters of the participants wanted to microdose for depression. “On the whole, those taking LSD microdoses reported a remarkable increase in feelings of determination, alertness, and energy, as well as a strong decrease in feelings of depression.”
Pairing Fadiman’s research with the clinical research proving psilocybin’s effectiveness with depression, he says “it’s reasonable to assume that depending on the amount of psilocybin that you take, it will have some antidepressant effect.”
What is the microdosing protocol?
He goes on to explain that there are two main ways to microdose.
- Set schedule: You take a typical microdose (less than 0.5 grams for psilocybin or less than 10 micrograms for LSD) at regular intervals 2–3 times a week.
- Calibration: “You feel your way into microdosing, where maybe one day is 0.1 gram, one day it might be 0.5 grams. Back to the analogy of the swimming pool, there’s no need to jump into the deep end right away. With this protocol, you want to get a sense of how these medicines work. We teach this method often in our coursework.”
Referring to the calibration technique, he says that might be “the best way to approach something like depression. Don’t think of it [in terms of] microdosing or macrodosing, but think of it as different amounts that you can experiment with to see what impact it has on your mental health and wellbeing.”
What are you currently working on at Third Wave?
- Building trust: “We want to focus on trust and helping to welcome people into an ecosystem of trust, of education and information that they’re getting and so that they can find trustworthy providers.” The Third Wave website details that they provide “well-researched, high-quality information specific to the classic psychedelics.”
- Community: We’re also “helping people to create a story for themselves as individuals or within a larger community, whether that’s our community or another community. We’re helping them to understand the importance of interconnectedness and how healing, peak performance, and optimal wellness are all on a spectrum. I feel like so many people feel like there’s a separation between their psychedelic self and their real-world self and [those] should be integrated.” Third Wave aims to show how microdosing can be used to help people live more vibrant lives.
Instead of people feeling like the answer is outside of themselves in a pill or a doctor or a guru, psychedelics will help people recognize that the answer is always inwards.
Where can readers connect with or follow you?
Find out more about Third Wave here.
Join the Osmind Community
Osmind hosts Ask Me Anything interviews regularly on our Community member board. In the past, we’ve hosted well-known experts, researchers, and founders in psychedelics and mental health. Feel free to browse previous AMAs and stay tuned for more exciting interviews we have lined up.
Osmind provides software and insights to help practitioners, patients, and researchers in treatment-resistant mental health such as those working with FDA-approved psychedelic medicine. Their electronic health record software is the #1 software for treatment-resistant mental health practices around the U.S., serving 140+ practices and over 25,000 patients. The software aggregates insights to help clinicians improve how they care for patients and researchers find new treatments. Osmind’s team consists of healthcare veterans and software experts (AWS, Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford Graduate School of Business) and is backed by General Catalyst and Y Combinator.
This article has been edited for clarity and readability. The full interview can be found here.