Measuring the effects of psilocybin on long distance endurance activities by way of monitoring focus & heart-rate, validating the constrained-action hypothesis.
Study in progress - this is a living document and is being updated/supplemented with further findings and results - check back regularly
In follow up to a self-study published earlier this year, I and two colleagues of mine had endeavored to incorporate psilocybin into various long-distance endurance activities while measuring any effects on sportive capability.
Over the course of three months, the three of us had micro-dosed prior to engaging in high-endurance activities and had recorded our observations as they related to our focus, heart rate, time, and overall ability. The results - some still pending - had subsequently indicated that psilocybin, when ingested in a psycholytic manner ("microdosing") does, in fact, effect performance to a considerable degree.
This effect, as expected, is more psychological than physiological, though it will be argued that there is little need to differentiate between the mind and the body when it comes to improving sportive ability in this sort of context.
Presented below are the condensed results of this project; our findings are to be presented separately as I felt that trying to achieve uniformity in the current conditions (COVID-19 as well as the fact that the three of us have coordinated everything remotely from one another) would ultimately detract from the value of the observations that have been cultivated and result in a longer delay in presenting these findings.
There's a fervent need to disclose that any scientific studies into the apparent benefits of psychoactive substances are all steeped in risk of bias¹; this particular study is no exception, as we had gone into this experiment with certain preconceived expectations that could not be eliminated.
Note that this study itself is not scientific nor academic in nature - it had been conducted under an entertainment pre-text and driven by honest curiosity. Academia itself is currently spinning its circles and rushing to quantify pro-psilocybin results to better-accommodate a wave of start ups that is currently coursing its way through this sprouting new industry; accordingly, I figured to try and provide honest results based on mounting interest in this subject and in the abundance of questions that arose from my previous study.
No self-improvement trend has ever swept its way through online forums and work spaces in the way that micro-dosing has, with psilocybin promising to be the be-all, end-all wonder drug that propels motivated success-seekers to unprecedented pinnacles of self-mastery.
On the heels of cannabis legalization sprawling throughout North America, all eyes are now eagerly fixed upon the slow but all-too-sure legalization of psilocybin, surfing atop a vast wealth of praise (from both therapeutic and pop-cultured standpoints) as cannabis itself had done only years prior.
The reverberating accounts emanating from Silicon Valley are leaving hoards of consumers in a frenzy to micro-dose their way into cognitive improvement — if not perfection. And, while studies are all too eager to tout the apparent benefits of micro-dosing mushrooms, they're unable to truly circumvent the ever-frustrating placebo effect, as questions remain over how else this once-notorious drug can actually help us on a daily basis.
The first thing to understand about micro-dosing psilocybin is that, despite what many people think, the effects are incredibly subtle. Compounded with the fact that most people who micro-dose are already eager to achieve results surrounding self-improvement, the placebo effect is exceptionally potent in this context.
Beyond this, there remains little to no actual work done to study the potential of psilocybin use in a sportive environment; while some studies are beginning to ascertain that micro-dosing can lead to improved cognitive function, there still remains very little academic research into this subject.²
After trying this for myself with my previous study, I had discovered a lot of interest in expanding this endeavor into more specific categories of examination. My prior findings had uncovered a definitive change in my ability to focus and a clear improvement in my cardiovascular capability.
My hypothesis, which eventually came to function under the shadow of the Constrained-Action Hypothesis³ (to be elaborated on in more detail below), had consisted of the fact that focus can effect physical performance by way of allowing an athlete to transcend various self-perceived limitations like fatigue, strain, discomfort or pain. It could also help harmonize breathing and pacing ability by adjusting thought-processes through an increased engagement with the activity.
Sure enough, my findings did indicate that focus, if altered in the right way, can amount to a dramatic improvement in specific physical capabilities (not so much strength as stamina; not so much talent as motivation; not so much lung capacity as paced breathing). Studies have already conclusively shown that psilocybin has the potential to espouse such an effect.⁴
As evidenced from my previous self-study, psilocybin provokes a more immersed engagement with any activity; in this context, it amounted to a much more motivated sense of engagement with swimming and running as it displaced the perception of discomfort, pain, and fatigue. As referenced in my previous studies, the relaxing-quality of psychedelics have been shown to possibly enhance sportive performance.⁵ There have also been studies, using cannabis, which have illustrated the noticeable change in pain perception amongst athletes who have used such substances.⁶
Moreover, in conjunction with the Constrained-Action Hypothesis, the ingested psilocybin had also shifted focus to be more externalized than internalized - a rather substantial distinction that will be discussed in more detail under the context of this scientifically-studied phenomenon.
Heart rate charts as well as time logs have confirmed the improvement of various categories relating to physical capability - namely, speed, cadence, and stride. In other words, much more effort had been exerted. This is why long-distance, high-endurance activity had been favored as an option - because certain intangible elements (like motivation, pain tolerance and focus) are just as effective in this equation.
For this particular study, I have chosen to engage with two long-distance activities that demand a sustained level of endurance: swimming and running. Initially, this had included cycling - a suitable activity to also incorporate into such a study that I had to unfortunately trim due to external causes (park and trail closures due to COVID).
Such activities are ideal in that the prolonged physical exertion is made easier or more difficult through the level of focus and motivation that is employed.
I had relied upon a particular trail which, from it's entrance, measures about 1.73 kilometers before reaching the shore of a lake that spans about half a kilometer in distance (.62km to be exact)
I had participated in 7 different study sessions - one at the start to provide a baseline result, followed by alternating attempts both under the influence of psilocybin and not.
* It has to be acknowledged that there are numerous other factors that play a role - specifically, in my particular experience with this study, the weather. While I have tried to minimize all other external variability (mainly diet, sleep, and unrelated bodily fatigue/injury) as much as possible, weather played a large factor as there had been record heat waves throughout the entirety of this summer. Two sessions had been conducted in the rain (whereby fatigue is less pressing) and three had been conducted in temperatures over 30C (over 86F); the remaining two had been conducted in temperate weather.
* There is something also to be said about equipment. Due to cost, compatibility and accuracy, I use a medium-quality fitness tracker to measure my heart rate, distance, time, pace, etc. While the device is known to be accurate (and I found that it had been), it's certainly far from one of the best trackers available. Unfortunately, the device does not perform well at all in water, as the sensitivity of the touch-screen renders any tracking of water-based activities futile. Nonetheless, I had been able to time the swimming portion of my sessions by other means while also measuring the distance accordingly.
Until one tries it, it's rather difficult to understand the way by which psilocybin stretches the limits of motivation. Akin to other chemical substances - perhaps we can look at alcohol as a way to increase pain tolerance or amphetamines as a way to stave off fatigue - psilocybin transfixes the mind into a level of immersion with whatever activity it is engaged in, allowing the user to maximize their effort.
An apt comparison, and an opportunity for validation, presents itself in the Constrained-Action Hypothesis.
The Constrained-Action Hypothesis posits that shifting attentional focus from internal to external contributes to improved athletic performance. For example - a cyclist who focuses on the wheels of the bicycle moving atop pavement rather than focusing on their calf muscles straining to push the pedals, or a swimmer focused on the movement of the water around them rather than their own movements through the water.
We must remember that focus is everything in such contexts and, as trivial as it may seem, much scientific study has been conducted to sustain this hypothesis.
One study, specifically examining the effects of the Constrained-Action hypothesis on soccer players - specifically goalkeepers - found that an external focus can result in more agile and quicker goalkeepers:
"One concept, the constrained-action hypothesis, suggests that an internal attentional focus could be negative on an athlete, causing them to interfere with their body’s natural movements. For soccer goalkeepers, this could be especially problematic due to the nature of their position and magnification of mistakes. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to test the constrained-action hypothesis on agility test outcomes in NCAA Division I soccer goalkeepers... Results suggest than maintaining an external attentional focus could result in more agile and quicker goalkeepers."⁷
Another study, focusing on long-jumpers, presented a similar conclusion:
"Results suggest that while attentional focus may not directly influence movement coordination condition, there is still a change in movement strategy resulting in greater jump distances following an external focus of attention."⁸
Yet another study sought to elucidate the reasoning behind the Constrained-Action Hypothesis, working to decipher the psychi-physical automation at play; it too served to validate this phenomenon.
"An external focus of attention has been shown to result in superior motor performance compared to an internal focus of attention. This study investigated whether this is due to enhanced levels of movement automatization, as predicted by the constrained action hypothesis ... An external focus of attention resulted in more fluent and more regular movement execution than an internal focus, whereas no differences were found concerning muscular activity. These results indicate that an external focus of attention results in more automatized movements than an internal focus and, therefore, provide support for the constrained action hypothesis."⁹
It is worth noting and underscoring that the academic research on this subject goes well beyond these three cases, as the Constrained-Action Hypothesis has been tried and tested in a wide-range of applicable settings, all serving to validate the notion that the mind plays a critical role in respect to performance.
It is this point that needs to be reiterated ad infintum: the mind is not only a channel through which physical performance may be improved upon, but it is also the source of motivation and effort and the decision-maker when it comes to self-perceived limits.
This study is sponsored in part by Blue Goba, visit www.bluegoba.com for a full inventory of 100% organic magic mushrooms, available via mail-order to all of Canada.
To say that the psilocybin amounted to an improvement in my physical capability would be erroneous, but to say that it amounted to an improvement in my endurance would be an understatement.
Such is the reason that many have had a hard time interpreting the true effects of this substance. It does not improve physical capability in the way that we traditionally expect supplements or, say, caffeine boosters to do so. Psilocybin works directly through the mind, and it is through the mind that any increased physical ability materializes.
My experience with this trial has led me to conclusively believe that microdosing psilocybin has improved my capabilities with respect to long distance endurance activities. While many will instinctively write this off to placebo effect (as I myself have done so before), I can attest to the fact that it is beyond any measure of a placebo as the mind is able to focus, provoke engagement and displace discomfort in ways that hopeful thinking cannot accommodate.
Analyzing the exercise records, this had been more than evident, as my heart race, speed, cadence and stride all improved drastically.
The following results had been taken from three comparative trials, all performed on the same trail with similar sleep, fitness and diet conditions. Weather had proven to be the only variable, fluctuating between 24C and 33C.
Note that at this time, the results are being presented in a rather raw format as time is admittedly not on my side when it comes to publishing these findings before certain deadlines.
Without psilocybin: Average heart rate of 141 with a maximum of 161. Average speed of 8.59km/h and a cadence of 141 steps/min with a 101cm stride.
Without psilocybin: Average heart rate of 138 with a maximum of 162. Average speed of 8.25km/hr and a cadence of 119 steps/min with a 96cm stride.
Without psilocybin: Average heart rate of 144 with a maximum of 168. Average speed of 9.25km/hr and a cadence of 136 steps/min with a 106cm stride.
With 200mg psilocybin: Average heart rate of 149 with a maximum of 170. Average speed of 11.89km/hr with a cadence of 152 steps/min and a 130cm stride.
With 210mg psilocybin: Average heart rate of 158, maximum of 174. Average speed of 10.08km/h and cadence of 153 steps per minute with a 109cm stride.
With 220mg psilocybin: Average heart rate of 156, maximum of 173. Average speed of 10.91km/h and cadence of 157 steps per minute with a 118cm stride.
* Another trial had been performed with too high of a dose (250mg) which led to a cancellation of the trial as fatigue and disinterest had immediately set in.
As mentioned, the fitness tracker I had utilized for this particular study did not fare well when exposed to water, despite having a swim-tracking capability.
While I had timed each swimming session, the results are to ultimately be deemed inconclusive given a number of external factors, primarily wind. In two of the sessions, I had posted faster swim times on psilocybin (26 minutes and 32 minutes compared to 38 minutes and 40 minutes to cross the lake) but these had still been greatly affected by the wind/current.
Rather than getting caught up in the statistics and numbers (of which, I'll admit, I have a hard time tracking and presenting), it behooves me to focus on describing the experience - which is predominantly the manner through which I found this study to be particularly successful.
Circling back to the Constrained Action Hypothesis, my focus in the water had been categorically affected and improved by the consumed psilocybin.
Primarily, my technique had been more fluid as I had been more aware and more attuned to my maneuvering. My mind had been better able to focus on the collaborative movements of my arms and legs/hands and feet, which is something that is usually easy to overthink.
Moreover, the fatigue had not been as noticeable of a concern as it would otherwise be. Whether this can be attributed to a lack of boredom or a more consistent swimming technique remains to be discerned.
Ultimately, I had been able to shift my focus in a similar way that one would under the Constrained Action Hypothesis - rather than trying to perfect my technique and achieve a desired time, and rather than being distracted by discomfort or fatigue or variable forms of over-thinking, I had been permitted entry into the full immersion of this activity whereby I simply swam as fluidly as I could.
All in all, I had posted better times and found the swims themselves to be not only more effective but also more enjoyable.
In complete truth, I had half-expected and partially-hoped that my numbers would come out to be the same with psilocybin and without, simply because it would mean that I'm able to achieve better results without requiring a mental supplement of this kind - one that does get rather exhausting and tiresome when used repeatedly over time.
Alas, this hadn't been the case, on land nor water. Categorically, psilocybin had improved my performance across many spectrums of exercise, illustrating to me that the mentality exercised throughout an activity is just as important as other factors that we find to be so crucial - sleep or diet, for instance.
While some of the above-presented results scream placebo effect, it becomes immediately evident (on the part of the user) that this is not necessarily the case. The placebo effect, in contrast to the psilocybin effect, becomes completely trivial and so far from the overall formula of what the mind is doing that it pains me to give it this much attention.
That said, the next self-study (planned for this fall) is going to finally eliminate the placebo effect by way of a double-blind administering of microdosage-level capsules.
On the other hand, it can ironically be admitted that there is a measure of placebo effect happening. It may be easier for skeptics to think of it this way: psilocybin creates an irresistible placebo effect in the mind which ultimately leads to improved physical capability. If we were to accept this premise, we can say the same of training or other supplements available to the user.
All in all, psilocybin is not necessarily needed to improve physical capability - it is the motivation that rests at the center of this dynamic relationship between the mind and any supplement. The experience is enhanced with psilocybin - leading the user to maximize their effort and achieve an optimal sense of focus that subsequently, and undeniably, improves the physical capability.
If there is one major take away from all of this, it is the simple but powerful notion that the mind and body are so much more intimately connected than we usually like to think they are.
- Tolerance builds fast - hence the incrementally raised dosages throughout this trial.
- I find that with increased use, I'm more likely to experience an anxious build-up prior to the peak of effects; this has been documented by other users and something I've come across from the accounts of others
- As discovered in my previous study, there certainly exists a sweet-spot when it comes to dosage, as anything too high of a dose leads to an immediate lack of both mental and physical motivation. I had experienced this with my last running trial (whereby I had consumed 250mg), ultimately rendering me completely disinterested and rather fatigued in trying to race along the trail.
- In my experience, microdosing psilocybin is not something that can be done on a permanent or even long-term basis; it's something that can be used to boost performance (through motivation and focus) for a short term duration (a handful of weeks).