Surian Soosay/FlickrOnce a week, upon waking promptly at 6:30 am, Daniel works out, takes a shower, eats breakfast, and takes his vitamins. Then, before heading to his job as a software engineer, Daniel claims he swallows a gel capsule containing 10 micrograms of LSD.
An hour and a half later, Daniel, a 30-year old living in Berlin who declined to give his last name because of the stigma that still surrounds LSD, is ready to attack the day — his brain razor-sharp, his empathy dialed straight to 11.
For most people, a morning cup of coffee is enough to get them through the day. But for a growing number of tech workers, most notably those in Silicon Valley, LSD is the productivity-boosting drug of choice.
Their preferred method of ingestion is known as microdosing. It involves taking the drug at one-tenth the normal dosage, one to two times a week.
"It really increases your empathy and the way you pick up on social cues," says Daniel. "It makes it much easier to listen, to really listen, and to get a better sense of what the other person is going on about."
The chief proponent of microdosing is a psychologist named James Fadiman. He's received hundreds of self-reports over the years from people, including Daniel, who claim to reap huge benefits — emotionally, socially, creatively, professionally — from taking LSD at these small doses.
Flickr/arhadetruitEven though there have been no randomized controlled trials to support the recreational use of microdosing, people like Fadiman still point to anecdotal evidence and an extensive body of research that finds LSD and other hallucinogens can help people overcome certain mental illness.
In Daniel's case, illness has never been an issue. He eats well, he runs on the weekends, and he meditates. LSD is simply another tool he uses in the pursuit of holistic well-being.
Daniel says he first heard about microdosing a few years back. He stumbled across online testimonials that sparked a curiosity about the secret world.
In the early months of 2014 he plunged into the Dark Web — the internet's back alley, known for its marketplaces of drugs, stolen goods, and weapons — to buy LSD.
A year and a half since he first started, Daniel has settled into a manageable microdosing routine.
He gets a regular supply of pre-dosed tabs from a Canadian supplier whose quality he says he can trust. The 10 micrograms he takes once a week before work supply him with enough focus throughout the day to reach a crucial state of "flow." Through placebo or not — no one knows if microdoses actually affect the brain — he becomes a better problem solver, a better multitasker, and a stronger thinker overall.
Part of his job involves interviewing potential new hires. Here, too, LSD offers a helping hand.
"I find it's a lot easier to get an idea of the personality of the person," he says.
When he and his colleagues run into disagreements on microdosing days, Daniel finds himself considering new points of view more quickly and easily. He lets his ego step aside.
"You just go 'Yep, I understand where you're coming from. Let's find a solution that's good for everybody,'" he says.
In the middle of our conversation, I ask Daniel if today was a microdosing day. He says it is. But when I ask if he's still feeling the effects, his voice lowers and he says no, almost sounding disappointed.
Daniel admits there have been a number of days in the last year, mostly when he was still figuring out how to self-regulate, that he's taken too much LSD before work.
In those cases, his productivity suffers. Problems that would normally solve themselves now appear as fuzzy impossibilities. His concentration levels plummet. (Thankfully, no one has noticed. At only twice the dosage, it's not like the walls are melting, he says.)
Flickr/PhotKing ♛Nowadays, he keeps stronger doses confined to the weekends. He might not be able to concentrate on work on 20 micrograms, but he'll still run or go to an art museum. "It just brightens the day a little bit," he says. Then once or twice a year he and a friend will take a full-on trip, closer to 250 micrograms, for the reality-shifting experiences LSD is most known for.
Daniel concedes the routine won't last forever.
His meditation and mindfulness training are starting to replace LSD some weeks. The jolts of self-awareness Daniel receives from the drug are starting to come from within. His ideal world is one where he can meditate at home and still get LSD if he wants it, preferably without relying on a shady, if effective, underground source.
"I would love to be able to go to a doctor and have it prescribed to me, and then go to a pharmacy and get it properly dosed as medication," he says, "instead of having to go through some Canadian vendor who cooks it up in his own lab."