By Dr Blanche Andrews, 14 October 2021
Microdosing on mushrooms, or rather, their hallucinogenic chemical, psilocybin and MDMA is gaining traction and millions in investment as a viable treatment for mental illness. A host of recent studies have shown promising results – although the placebo effect has called some into question. As more people seek magic, it’s worth asking what the unseen implications may be on insurance, for example.
The short answer: Microdosing on psychedelics is ‘new’, but the underwriting process would be the same as for any other drug.
Microdosing means taking microdoses of a drug to benefit from its physiological action while reducing the risk of side effects. Psychedelic start-ups are currently making bank. Quartz reports psychedelic medicine start-ups have made about $329 million from January to April this year. And the global psychedelic drug market is forecast to be worth $10.75 billion by 2027. The long-stigmatised drugs are making a major comeback and are speculated to be effective for depression, eating disorders, addiction and PTSD.
Why? In an UnHerd article, Tom Chivers suggests that psychedelics disrupt Bayes’ theorem. We all have some level of confidence in prior beliefs – that’s how we make sense of the world. If our prior beliefs are strong, new information won’t change these. A depressed person often forms relentless, incorrect beliefs about their perceived worthlessness and the terrible state of the world. It’s difficult to shift these. But psychedelics do just that. They remove our familiarity with our surroundings.
Quartz explains further: Psychedelics appear to bond with our brain receptors that attract serotonin – the ‘happy’ hormone. They also seem to restrict blood flow to our brain’s default mode network (DMN), which helps us make sense of the tide of information our senses send us. This gets ‘locked’ into ‘rigid, repetitive patterns of thought’. So, when we suppress it, we can break these ‘ruts’ and form new neural connections. Hence, a depressed person may be able to ‘break out’ of repetitive negative thoughts. Does this effect last when the drug wears off? The answer is not yet known and more research into the perceived vs actual efficacy of microdosing is required.
MDMA and psilocybin remain illegal drugs in South Africa. But cannabis has been legal for private use since 2018. Microdosing on marijuana isn’t a new trend – in fact, Rolling Stone did an article on it in 2017, sharing some evidence that small, regular doses of THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana) may be beneficial for moderating moods, boosting creativity and more – without people becoming ‘stoned, paranoid or lethargic’.
When it comes to any drug use, we follow a set procedure for underwriting:
Each insurance application is assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the criteria mentioned and the overall risk profile of the client. An application may accordingly be accepted with ‘a loading’ or an exclusion(s), or rejected.
The bottom line is that it’s critical for individuals to disclose any substance or medication they’re taking to an insurer, to decrease the likelihood of any delays or rejection, should they claim. Honesty is always the best (for your) policy. Even something as seemingly common and innocuous as Ritalin should be disclosed, especially if taken regularly.
Microdosing may be new, but insurers have an existing framework to follow. It demonstrates exciting potential but should be entered into with caution and consideration. Its impact on an insurance application must be one of the things to think about.