In Print: MTB on LSD

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in issue 207 of Dirt Rag Magazine. Like what you see? Subscribe now at dirtragmag.com/subscribe to catch issue 209, coming real soon. 


Can a miniscule dose of LSD make you a better mountain biker? There’s only one way to find out.

By Adam Hurlburt

WARNING: This story begins with the author lying to a doctor in the emergency room, focuses primarily on enthusiastic participation in an inherently dangerous sport while under the influence of illegal drugs, and closes with an endorsement of such activity as a fine way of jumping the wheels out of one’s figurative ruts. Reader discretion is advised. Drugs are bad, okay?
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I’m back in the emergency room. It was only a matter of time. But this time it’s a bit different. As the doctor runs through the standard questions — “How much does it hurt?” “Are you allergic to any medications?” — I’m scouring my brain for any potential pharmaceutical interactions with LSD, 10 micrograms of which I ingested two hours before the bike wreck that brought me here with a broken right thumb. Should I tell him?

Finally, he asks, “Are you on any drugs right now?”

“No,” I reply, with my inner voice screaming YES. “Well … a multivitamin.”
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Let’s get this straight: It wasn’t the acid’s fault. I know myself, and I know I would’ve taken that slicker-than-it-looks wooden berm at full tilt with or without a chemically assisted push. The fact that I had 10 micrograms of LSD on the brain when I hit that berm, lost grip and crashed hard is totally moot. Besides, I wasn’t “tripping balls,” I was conducting a science experiment. Could a psychedelic microdose make me a better mountain biker? There was only one way to find out.

You’ve probably heard of microdosing, and that’s probably because of its popularity in Silicon Valley. Sometime in the past five years the “move fast, break things” set stumbled upon some literature linking miniscule doses of psychedelics to increased mental performance. So they started microdosing for an extra edge, showing up to work with renewed energy, focus and creative zeal — all without exhibiting outward signs of Schedule I drug use. Word spread quickly, and since then, microdosing articles regularly pop up in mainstream publications. Forbes has already published two this year alone. Forbes!

Despite the lingering Nixon-era draconian legal status of psychedelics and a correlated dearth of clinical studies, microdosing is a bona fide Technicolor cultural phenomenon. But why does a mountain bike magazine care? Take another look at that microdose definition:

“Proponents report increased mindfulness, focus, and creative flow.”

Flow: that high holy state in which you and your bike coalesce into one mythical Laser Beast equipped with +5 Hyper-Jungian Subconscious Precognition of the trail winding wild before you. Flow is the reason we climb the mountain, and if we’re lucky, it’s our ride back down. But like flow in creative work, flow on trail is as elusive as it is life- affirming. If microdosing helps people access and maintain creative flow, could it do the same on trail?
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“There are no studies,” Dr. James Fadiman tells me over the phone.

No clinical studies. No academic studies. No studies of any kind out there on the effect of any psychedelic at any dosage on athletic performance. If they existed, Fadiman would know. The 79-year-old psychologist’s career in pioneering psychedelic research began when he was a doctoral student at Stanford in the mid-1960s — ground zero for the first American psychedelic renaissance. Today, he’s the patron saint of microdosing, appearing in almost every article on the topic, and for good reason: He’s one of the only people studying it.

Fadiman and colleague Dr. Sophia Korb spend much of their time analyzing data collected from some 1,500 microdosers around the globe. For this massive informal study, these intrepid volunteers microdose self-obtained psychedelics once every three days for a month, sending in daily survey responses and narrative reports on their experiences.

Obviously a study that relies on subjective reports with no mechanism in place to address placebo effect isn’t ideal. But, as Fadiman points out, gaining approval and funding to study unpatentable, illegal substances is a Byzantine feat. Despite recent victories, like the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy receiving the FDA’s Breakthrough Therapy Designation for the treatment of PTSD¹, and approvals for clinical studies that found that, eventually, psilocybin alleviates anxiety and depression in terminal cancer patients², the federal government appears reluctant to release psychedelics from Schedule I status, which defines them as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

With these hurdles in the way, studies like Fadiman’s are essential to progress in the field of psychedelic research. As the studies that make it past the hurdles illustrate, these substances show remarkable potential for treating a broad range of mental health issues, including addiction³, alcoholism⁴, depression⁵ and anxiety⁶, all of which are on a meteoric rise in America⁷, ⁸, ⁹.

Fadiman’s an optimistic realist. He doesn’t consider his microdosing study on par with the more official stuff mentioned above — more like a catalyst to it.

“In a sense, what Sophia and I have done is explored the territory,” he says, comparing the duo’s research to adventurersexplorers mapping a newly discovered island. So far, the marks on Fadiman’s microdosing map line up with those gleaned from nearly a decade of less-formal field reports: increased creativity, focus and general feelings of well-being; decreased depression, procrastination and general malaise. Negative effects are relatively rare and tame compared to your standard pharmaceutical trial. The most common negative is increased anxiety among those noting existing anxiety as the motivator to microdose LSD. Curiously, those noting depression along with anxiety report no such issues.

The really interesting stuff lies outside the realm of microdosing’s oft-reported benefits. Fadiman says he and Korb know they have something more than a placebo effect on their hands when they find consistent reporting of unanticipated results by unconnected subjects.

“People write, ‘I’m smoking less weed,’ ‘I’m drinking less alcohol,’ ‘I’m eating better.’ And they often say, ‘I’m exercising more’ or ‘I’m meditating more,’ and that isn’t what they took it for,” he says. “What I’m looking at is something that seems to reset the body to being healthier.”

There’s something else showing up too: reports of increased skill in physical activities. While he doesn’t recall any reports related to cycling, Fadiman says he has many positive reports from other athletes. He also mentions speaking to “a world-class athlete” who told him microdosing “clearly improved his performance.”

“With all these reports of increased focus and easier access to creative flow states, do you think microdosing could help me find flow on my mountain bike?” I ask. “Do you think it could make me faster?”

“I think you’re on the right track,” Fadiman says. “I don’t know if you’re going to find a change, but I think you’ll certainly feel a difference.”

“I’m also thinking about riding on a full 100-microgram dose to round out the study. What are your thoughts?”

“At 100 mics, either you’re going to really have visual distortions or you’re going to be trying so hard not to. If you said 400 mics, you and I would agree that’s nuts, yeah? So go with me: 100 mics is nuts. Ten and 20 are sensible,” Fadiman offers, probably saving me from an even more interesting trip to the ER. “The other thing is, you really don’t want other people to think they should try that.”
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Bikes and LSD go way back. All the way back to the very first intentional acid trip.

It’s April 19, 1943, and Dr. Albert Hofmann definitely feels something. About an hour ago the young Swiss research chemist ingested .25 mg of lysergic acid diethylamide-25, the smallest amount he felt could reasonably produce noticeable effects. Now he feels dizzy and anxious, finds himself laughing about nothing in particular. And with each giggle the familiar environment of his laboratory at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals becomes a little less familiar. The floor is … breathing? His laughs are underscored by an elevating sense of panic. It’s too much. He’s freaking out, man. He asks a colleague to escort him home by bicycle. Years later, the anniversary of this fateful ride out of Basel, Switzerland, and into a whirling phantasmagoric time warp will be celebrated as a high holy day by scientists and heads alike — Bicycle Day — but right now, Hofmann’s falling deeper into the throes of a “most severe crisis.”

Three days earlier, he’d left work early due to a sudden, surprising intoxication that produced “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” Maybe he’d accidentally ingested some of the substance he’d synthesized that morning, lysergic acid diethylamide-25. Having not died the first time around, the chemist decided to experiment on himself to see if this stuff was indeed the catalyst behind his bizarre experience.

Hofmann wasn’t looking to change the world when he first synthesized LSD-25, in 1938; he was simply putting in another day’s work looking for a new circulatory stimulant in various lysergic acid compounds derived from the ergot fungus. He had no plans to melt Western culture out of its eye sockets like some kind of delicious, cheese-filled tortilla skull when he tested the substance on himself five years later.
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The Study

Dr. Fadiman helped me with much more than a simple interview for this article; he helped me rework my original, intensely amateur, Hofmann-inspired microdosing self-study into a single-blind, placebo-controlled study as scientifically sound as possible within my incredibly limited scope of resources. (Note: This new study took place several months after the ill-fated, poorly conceived initial attempt that put my right hand in a cast for three months.)

Step 1

After confirming the substance as LSD via an Ehrlich reagent test kit (very important step10), have a friend produce one microdosed test vial and one placebo test vial.

Step 2

Test subjects ride a set route under no drug influence to set baseline times.

Step 3

No less than two days after the baseline ride, test subjects drink the contents of their vials and ride the same loops one to two hours after ingestion.

Step 4

The vial contents are revealed and data from the baseline and test rides is analyzed for evidence indicating microdosing’s potential influence on performance and experience.

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It’s June 12, 1970, and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis is on the mound against the San Diego Padres, soaring on the tab of acid he dropped this morning. He didn’t think he had to play today, you see, because he dropped acid two days ago and completely lost contact with yesterday — and that makes sense if you think about it.

This isn’t Ellis’ first time on the pitcher’s mound high; it’s just the highest. He regularly plays on speed, as do many other major league players at this time. To be more specific, he’s on speed right now, too. Thought it would burn through some of the purple haze. Maybe it does. He’s doing better than he thought he would. But he wishes his teammate would stop bugging him about the “no-no” — slang for a no-hitter.

Sometimes the ball looks tiny, like a grape; sometimes it looks bigger than a grapefruit; other times it looks completely normal, with no fruit-based distortions of scale. Sometimes Ellis’ pitches are wild and sometimes they’re rockets aimed for the center of the catcher’s mitt, sonically calibrated to evade the whoosh of a bat. Anyway, it’s bad luck to talk about no-nos during a potential no-no, so that dude should shut the hell up.

No one knows he’s been seething on acid the whole game through. No one will know for another 14 years. Ellis is so zonked that he can’t make out any of the batters’ faces, can tell only whether they are batting left or right. But at the bottom of the ninth, Ellis leaves the last batter looking at a called strike three. He’s not certain whether the acid helped pull off the no-no, but he is certain he accomplished something pretty heavy today. Either way, he’s made a permanent mark on the major league map.

(Check out “No Mas Presents: Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No” on YouTube for an animated version of this story, narrated by Dock Ellis himself. Or watch “No No: A Dockumentary” for a well-researched film full of historical footage.)

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Meet the Test Subjects

Test Subject A

Name: Adam, 34, male, Upper Midwest
Years mountain biking: Three

Ever taken a psychedelic microdose? If so, what, how much, when and under what circumstances? Yes, 8 to 15 micrograms of LSD every three days for a month in 2016 in an attempt to manage inattentive-type ADHD without stimulant medication. I found it helpful at decreasing social anxiety, lifting my general mood and helping me focus on things I’m passionate about. It wasn’t as effective as stimulant meds at motivating me to work on things I consider boring.

Test Subject B

Name: Alex, 33, male, Upper Midwest
Years mountain biking: Five

Ever taken a psychedelic microdose? If so, what, how much, when and under what circumstances? I have not microdosed.

Loop Details

This loop comprised 5.3 miles of black, black/blue, blue and green singletrack trails snaking up and down the ravines of a jungle-thick 134-acre forest preserve. Short, steep, technical climbs, rocky creek crossings, twisty off-camber descents — this is the same route the author wrecked on in November, breaking his right thumb.

Baseline Ride Reports

Test Subject A
Time: 43:06
Average speed: 7.5 mph
Max speed: 26.2 mph

Ride notes: Trails were hard-packed, a bit dusty and fast. Stalled out on first corrugated log feature after quick right-hander. Dropped my chain twice before black diamond. Didn’t make it up super steep after first creek crossing. Didn’t make it through uphill crossed-up rooted section. Didn’t make it up steep plank. Made corrugated skinny rollercoaster. Didn’t make it up tight, rooty uphill turn after that. Felt great rest of the way. Felt confident at bike handling, but not on my best momentum game. Less riding this season is showing on the uphill sections. No water breaks. Feels good to be back in halfway respectable riding shape.

Test Subject B
Time: 42:52
Average speed: 7.4 mph
Max speed: 25.5 mph

Ride notes: Decent ride. Very sweaty. I was a little tired. Corners could have been sharper. Had to step off on the climb after first creek crossing on the first black diamond, and on the uphill switchback a bit after second creek crossing. I had to step off on a corner I took too sharply. I made the skinny log crossing on the second black diamond, had to step off of the rooty uphill at its exit. Final downhill run was almost out of control, but I barely managed to stay on the trail.

Test Ride Reports

Test Subject A
Time: 41:55 (1:11 faster than baseline)
Average speed: 8.3 mph
Max speed: 26.8 mph

Ride notes: Trails were hard-packed and fast again. Felt more instinctually skilled on the techiest sections, but maybe a little slower on corners and climbs. Made the first corrugated log feature on the first section that stalled me last time. Made all sections that stalled me last time except for the climb immediately after the first water crossing (which I made last time) and the super-steep climb immediately after that. Well … didn’t make that crazy rooted uphill hairpin on the second black-diamond trail, but I never have. Unsure if I was dosed or not. Felt like maybe I was about an hour before the ride. Just felt slightly different, like a very subtle inner glow. But wasn’t enough to give me extra patience in traffic. Also was still a bit in my head while riding, which made me think maybe I wasn’t dosed.

Dosed? No.

Researcher notes: Faster than baseline on five of the eight total sections. Notably, one minute and 50 seconds faster on the first black-diamond trail, which features punchy elevation changes and a rooty, rocky, heavily eroded descent into a creek crossing. I took the sketchier line in this section and rode the brakes less. Placebo effect leading to increased confidence?

Test Subject B
Time: 54:54 (12:02 slower)
Average speed: 6.3 mph
Max speed: 19.7 mph

Ride notes: Trails were not great. It rained this afternoon, but the trails didn’t close. It was moderately slippery. I couldn’t go fast or take corners. I stepped off a lot. I couldn’t find traction. At first it was frustrating, but I decided to be zen about it and just do the ride at a calm pace. Bike worked fine. Mood was meh. I don’t feel like I got dosed today.

Dosed? Yes.

Researcher notes: Well, shit.

Study Conclusion

Alex thought he wasn’t dosed when he actually was, while the situation was the exact opposite for me. I guess this means the dosage level was correct, as it was truly sub-perceptual. But anyone who’s ever ridden an Upper Midwest trail after a rainstorm knows how slippery this garbage soil gets. That crummy business does a number on anyone’s confidence — in any state of consciousness — and it shows in Alex’s time, speed and ride notes. Harsh bummer.

Wet weather hosed Alex’s test run. A few previous attempts at this experiment were ruined by deleted Strava files, missing labels and similar wet weather between the baseline and test rides.

How important is quantitative data in the mountain biking world? I’m not a pro racer, a sponsored YouTuber or a bike-industry marketing wonk. Chances are, neither are you. As much as I’d like to have the data to support my hypothesis, I’m not sure it’s really that important. I’m not sure I’m even asking the correct questions.

The post-test-ride notes of a third test subject from a scrapped experiment said, “This was a really good ride, and probably the most fun I’ve had on these trails in a couple years.” F-U-N. Isn’t that what mountain biking is really all about?

Truth be told, I’ll probably make another attempt at this study with a larger pool of volunteers. Maybe you’ll read it somewhere. Maybe you won’t. I’d like to mark a new spot or two on Fadiman’s map. In less than a decade, it’s already moved others to further exploration.

At the same Psychedelic Science conference where Fadiman and Korb presented their preliminary study results last year, the U.K.-based Beckley Foundation announced plans for a clinical neuroimaging study on microdosing LSD. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study will assess game performance as well as fluctuations in cognitive function and mood, and also will examine the neurological mechanics of microdosing LSD. Without the work of Fadiman, Korb and the citizen scientists they rely on, studies like this one would never see the light of day.

If you’re interested in volunteering for Fadiman and Korb’s ongoing microdosing study, or you want to learn more about microdosing psychedelics, visit their website, microdosingpsychedelics.com. For more information on how to microdose safely and effectively, visit thethirdwave.co.

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Narrative Reports Gathered From Volunteers on Reddit

Inspired by the survey-based qualitative reporting of Fadiman’s study, we started threads on Reddit’s r/MTB, r/microdosing and r/psychedelics subreddit communities looking for individuals with experience mountain biking on microdoses of psychedelics. We sent out a questionnaire to those willing to talk in detail. These are three of the 13 total responses we received. They have been edited for length and clarity. Full responses, and the remaining 10 reports, are available on DirtRag.com. Names were changed to respondent-chosen aliases, or last names were simply omitted with respect for anonymity. Seemed kind of important.

John, 27, Queensland, Australia
Substance: LSD Dose: 12.5 to 15 micrograms

How long have you been mountain biking?
I’ve been mountain biking since 2006, raced DH from 2008 to 2012.

How long have you been microdosing?
I haven’t microdosed recently; this is going back about three or four years, when people were really only starting to talk about it and there was practically no solid information available.

What do you microdose with and what’s your dosage?
After a lot of trial and error with LSD, I settled on a microdose of about 12.5 to 15 micrograms. … Sometimes you can feel like you’re sharper, faster, etc., on a higher dose, but you’re most certainly not. A lot of people don’t realize — or don’t want to admit — this.

How often do you mountain bike on a microdose?
I microdosed mountain biking about half a dozen times, and I also went skiing on a slightly stronger microdose — about 20 micrograms.

Do you feel a difference riding on a microdose, and if so can you describe it? What are the positives and negatives?
I definitely think I felt a difference and it was positive. Felt like I had a small buzz, increased energy, a mild feeling of euphoria — likely from the way LSD works on our serotonin receptors.

Do you feel like attaining “flow” on the trail is easier on a microdose?
I definitely felt like it was easier to attain “flow.” Made me feel a little bit hyper-aware of my riding. The boring trail features were a little more interesting; the scary jumps were slightly more exhilarating. I don’t believe it made me faster; in fact, it probably made me slightly slower, as I was focusing more on enjoying the experience rather than going for 100 percent speed.

James, 25, Michigan
Substance: LSD Dose: 8 micrograms

How long have you been mountain biking?
I have been mountain biking for about three years.

How long have you been microdosing?
I have been microdosing on and off for about a year.

What do you microdose with and what’s your dosage?
I most often microdose LSD and tend to use about 8 micrograms.

How often do you mountain bike on a microdose?
I have microdosed while riding about six times.

Do you feel a difference riding on a microdose, and if so can you describe it? What are the positives and negatives?
I notice a substantial difference both riding and running while microdosing. I feel as if I am able to better anticipate and react to the terrain. I feel more “in the moment,” more athletic, and have increased proprioception. Overall, I am much more aware of my body and the environment, and this increases athletic performance in a very organic way. Very few negatives that I can see.

Anonymous, 32, Pennsylvania
Substance: Psilocybin mushrooms Dose: 0.3 grams

How long have you been mountain biking?
Biking 10-plus years.

How long have you been microdosing?
Microdosing for two years semi-regularly, but not on any set protocol.

What do you microdose with and what’s your dosage?
Psilocybin, approximately 0.3 grams.

How often do you mountain bike on a microdose?
I mountain bike on a microdose two times a month or so; last month, I microdosed for three rides. I’m planning on doing it more often, as I see benefits when I’m on a microdose.

Do you feel a difference riding on a microdose, and if so can you describe it? What are the positives and negatives?
Yes. I feel more in tune with the trail and feel like my vision is better. By that I mean it’s easier to see trail features further ahead. I also feel like my reaction time increases. Possibly some positive respiratory effects, but I need to experiment more.

Do you feel like attaining “flow” on the trail is easier on a microdose?
Yes, I feel like attaining flow comes much faster when on a microdose. Definitely the things I listed in response three are either increased by being in flow or are attributing to flow state.

1. https://www.maps.org/news/media/6786-press-release-fda-grants-breakthrough-therapy-designation-for-mdma-assisted-psychotherapy-for-ptsd,-agrees-on-special-protocol-assessment-for-phase-3-trials
2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/09/trip-treatment
3. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/treating-addiction-with-psychedelics/
4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201705/radical-new-approach-beating-addiction
5. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-13282-7
6. http://journals.sagepub.com/toc/jop/30/12
7. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stress-anxiety-depression-mental-illness-increases-study-finds/
8. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/3/16079772/opioid-epidemic-drug-overdoses
9. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2647079
10. Tabs sold as acid on the street may actually contain 25i-NBOMe, a dangerous psychedelic research chemical linked to more than 20 deaths worldwide since 2012. Research published in the February. 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Forensic Science International found only two of the five deaths linked to LSD toxicity in its 75-year history of existence plausible. One case involved the intravenous injection of a dose 3,000 times higher than a standard dose; the other involved ingestion of an unknown amount. For context, the Centers for Disease Control reports that more than six people die of alcohol poisoning every day in the U.S. alone.