Society For The Study Of Addiction

QMJC May 2022: Narrative identity, rationality, and microdosing classic psychedelics

From May 2022, members of the Department of Community Health and Prevention at Drexel University (Philadelphia, United States) took on hosting duties for the Qualitative Methods Journal Club. In their first blog for the SSA website, the journal club discuss an article about the practice of microdosing small doses of a psychedelic.

Approximately 12 members of the Department of Community Health and Prevention at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health discussed the article for one hour via Zoom on 24 May 2022. Members included a mixture of faculty and doctoral students with backgrounds in substance use research and/or qualitative methods.

Article summary

The article for the May journal club investigated the practice of microdosing small doses of a psychedelic (e.g. LSD and psilocybin) at regular intervals to benefit mental health and social functioning.

Original article: Narrative identity, rationality, and microdosing classic psychedelics. By Megan Webb and colleagues. Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy (2019).

Using qualitative methods, 30 individuals were recruited via social media sites in the US and interviewed to better understand the experience and overall rationale for microdosing psychedelics. The authors deployed narrative identity theory, which theorises identity at the cultural, organisational and personal level, to frame and describe participants’ experiences of microdosing.

Qualitative narratives revealed that participants microdosed for rational and instrumental purposes and that this practice embraced traditional middle-class values. The authors maintained that while people who use drugs recreationally often distance themselves from stigmatised forms of drug use (e.g. “crackheads”, “junkies”), people who microdosed developed identities as conventional citizens, which normalised and enabled persistent use of psychedelics.

Discussion

Since the authors represented the fields of sociology, criminal justice, and public health, members noted that this article was a good example of how interdisciplinary collaborations can help move beyond the limitations of any single discipline and produce well-theorised qualitative findings.

Perhaps due to their privilege as white and middle-class, the participants did not need to explicitly distance themselves from the stigmatising labels often associated with people who use drugs

While the theoretical framework deployed in the article was new to most in the group, many believed it was a strength of the article. A traditional qualitative approach to this data might have largely described the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of microdosing. Instead, the authors used narrative theory to link participants’ rationales to broader cultural and economic imperatives. The framing of microdosing as embracing middle-class values became a central focus of discussion within the group. It was noted that this largely white, older, middle-class sample was able to describe microdosing in positive terms without difficulty or dissonance.

Perhaps due to their privilege as white and middle-class, the participants did not need to explicitly distance themselves from the stigmatising labels often associated with people who use drugs, which is often the case for people of colour and/or people living more economically-disadvantaged lives. Rather, participants implicitly distanced themselves from other people who used drugs by using psychedelics in a controlled manner (i.e. microdosing), which contrasts with more desperate behaviours associated with cocaine or heroin as well as more excited behaviours associated with psychedelic experiences. The group also noted that participants may have been distancing themselves from their own history of problematic substance use (e.g. involving alcohol, prescription drugs), but this was not detailed in the article.

The group indicated that by participants emphasising the performance-enhancing benefits of microdosing, rather than pleasure, they were perhaps embracing the broader values of the self-disciplined, productive citizen conforming to the capitalist order. The discussion of controlled drug use also raised a mention of Zinberg’s (1984) classic book “Drug, set and setting”, which focused on the controlled use of cannabis, psychedelics, and opiates.

Towards the end of the discussion, several members noted how they could apply narrative theory to their own qualitative research to better frame how participants are thinking about their experiences in the moment to connect these experiences to broader institutional and cultural realms.


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