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  1. Phungushead
    Psychedelic substances can change a user’s mindset in profound ways — a fact that’s relevant even to those who’ve never touched the stuff, because such altered states of consciousness give scientists a window into how our brains give rise to our normal mental states. But neuroscientists are only beginning to understand how and why those mental changes occur.

    Now some mathematicians have jumped into the fray, using a new mathematical technique to analyze the brains of people on magic mushrooms.

    Psychedelic Puzzles

    Scientists have known for decades that many of psychedelic drugs’ most famous effects — visual hallucinations, heightened sensory and emotional sensitivity, etc. — are linked to elevated levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

    But increasingly neuroscience researchers are interested not just in single chemicals but also in overall brain activity, because the most complicated brain functions arise from lots of different regions working together. Over the last several years, a branch of mathematics known as network theory has been applied to study this phenomenon.

    Paul Expert, a complexity researcher at the Imperial College London, and his team took this approach to analyzing fMRI data from people who’d taken psilocybin, the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms. The team had recently been working on a new technique for network modeling — one designed to highlight small but unusual patterns in network connectivity.

    Brains on Drugs

    The team used fMRI data from a previous study, in which 15 healthy people rested inside an fMRI scanner for 12 minutes on two separate occasions. The volunteers received a placebo in one of those sessions, and a mild dose of psilocybin during the other, but they weren’t told which was which.

    The investigators crunched the data, specifically studying the brain’s functional connectivity — the amount of active communication among different brain areas.

    They found two main effects of the psilocybin. First, most brain connections were fleeting. New connectivity patterns tended to disperse more quickly under the influence of psilocybin than under placebo. But, intriguingly, the second effect was in the opposite direction: a few select connectivity patterns were surprisingly stable, and very different from the normal brain’s stable connections.

    This indicates “that the brain does not simply become a random system after psilocybin injection, but instead retains some organizational features, albeit different from the normal state,” the authors write in their paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

    Far Out

    The findings seem to explain some of the psychological experiences of a psilocybin trip. Linear thinking and planning become extremely difficult, but nonlinear “out of the box” thinking explodes in all directions. By the same token, it can become difficult to tell fantasy apart from reality during a psilocybin trip; but focusing on a certain thought or image — real or imagined — often greatly amplifies that thought’s intensity and vividness.

    The authors suggest that effects like these may be rooted in the two connectivity traits they spotted, since the connectivity patterns that rapidly disperse may reflect unorganized thinking, while the stable inter-regional connections may reflect information from one sensory domain “bleeding” into other areas of sensory experience. In fact, the researchers also suggest that synesthesia — the sensory blurring that causes users of psychedelics to experience sounds as colors, for example — may be a result of these connectivity changes too.

    The researchers hope that the patterns they’ve found will provide neuroscientists with new approaches for studying the brain on psychedelic drugs, and therefore better understand the strange psychological effects their users report.

    October 29, 2014 4:16 pm

    By Ben Thomas
    Discover Magazine


  1. idfma
    I just have to say, with a name like Paul Expert, he better know what the fuck he's talking about.

    Sorry, PH, I couldn't resist. In all seriousness I love these articles--I hope this research hits the mainstream before it's too late, if it's not already.
  2. 5-HT2A
    What Tripping On Mushrooms Looks Like In The Brain

    [IMGR="WHITE"]https://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=41430&stc=1&d=1414808524[/IMGR]We've all heard recreational hallucinogen users describe their trips as "consciousness expanding," and according to some new research, this poetic description may have a scientific basis.

    Using fMRI imaging from healthy participants who ingested psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms, researchers from Imperial College London found that the drug caused brain regions that are typically disconnected to communicate with each other.

    In a normal brain state, there's little cross-linking between different networks. But researchers found that on the psilocybin, the networks begin cross-linking all over the place. And these new connections weren't random. "It not so much that the number of connections are increased but rather that the connectivity pattern is different in the psychedelic state," Paul Expert, the study's lead author, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

    That corroborates some of the common effects of psilocybin reported by users, such as new insights and realizations, synesthesia and nonlinear thinking.

    Expert and colleagues used a new technique for network modeling, which is designed to look at network connectivity across the brain, rather than isolated systems or chemicals. The researchers compared the fMRI scans of the people who had taken psilocybin to fMRI data from 15 healthy individuals who had taken a placebo. Specifically, they were looking at functional connectivity -- the communication between different brain regions that share functional properties.

    While a simple reading of the data would suggest that psilocybin is simply relaxing constraints on brain function and improving cognitive flexibility, it's a bit more complicated, Expert says.

    "The brain does not simply become a random system after psilocybin injection, but instead retains some organizational features, albeit different from the normal state," Expert and his team wrote in the report. "Functional connections support cycles that are especially stable and are only present in the psychedelic state."

    Functional connectivity of a normal brain (left), compared to a brain on psilocybin.

    "We find that the psychedelic state is associated with a less constrained and more intercommunicative mode of brain function, which is consistent with descriptions of the nature of consciousness in the psychedelic state," Expert and colleagues conclude.

    Previous research on psychedelics from Imperial College London found that people on psilocybin had brain activity patterns more commonly associated with dreaming and heightened emotional functioning. In a Slate article on the finding, researcher Robin Carhart-Harris explained that when the emotion system is activated, the brain's "ego system," from which we get a sense of self, quiets down.

    "Evidence from this study, and also preliminary data from an ongoing brain imaging study with LSD, appears to support the principle that the psychedelic state rests on disorganized activity in the ego system permitting disinhibited activity in the emotion system," Carhart-Harris wrote in Slate. "And such an effect may explain why psychedelics have been considered useful facilitators of certain forms of psychotherapy."

    Expert's research is part of a larger effort to understand how psychedelics work and what their potential psychiatric applications might be. So far, the growing body of research has made some promising findings. A 2012 study found that psilocybin might be an effective intervention for depressive thinking, while research published earlier this year found LSD psychotherapy to be effective in easing end-of-life anxiety among patients suffering from terminal illness. Research being conducted on ayahuasca -- a potent hallucinogen, derived from the compound DMT, which has been used as a healing tool in Amazonian shamanism for hundreds of years -- is being studied as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and other conditions.

    Expert's research itself could be an important step towards devising psilocybin-assisted therapy for treating chronic depression.

    "One of the characteristics of the depressed brain is that it gets stuck in a loop, you get locked into repetitive and negative thoughts," Expert told HuffPost. "An analogy is a particle stuck in a deep minimum in an energy landscape and is stuck there. The idea is that using psilocybin might help break the loop, change the patterns of functional connectivity in the brain, or in the analogy of the particle, give it enough energy so that is can escape from its minimum and explore the rest of the energy landscape."

    CORRECTION: An image caption in an earlier version of this story stated that the image on the right was that of a normal brain, but it is the image on the left. We regret the error.

    by Carolyn Gregoire

    October 31, 2014

  3. SmokeTwibz
    Magic Mushrooms Create a Hyperconnected Brain

    Magic mushrooms may give users trippy experiences by creating a hyperconnected brain.

    The active ingredient in the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, seems to completely disrupt the normal communication networks in the brain, by connecting "brain regions that don't normally talk together," said study co-author Paul Expert, a physicist at King's College London.

    The research, which was published today (Oct. 28) in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is part of a larger effort to understand how psychedelic drugs work, in the hopes that they could one day be used by psychiatrists — in carefully controlled settings — to treat conditions such as depression, Expert said.

    Magic mushrooms

    Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is best known for triggering vivid hallucinations. It can make colors seem oversaturated and dissolve the boundaries between objects.

    But the drug also seems to have more long-lasting effects. Many people report intensely spiritual experiences while taking the drug, and some studies even suggest that one transcendent trip can alter people's personalities on a long-term basis, making those individuals more open to new experiences and more appreciative of art, curiosity and emotion.

    People who experiment with psilocybin "report it as one of the most profound experiences they've had in their lives, even comparing it to the birth of their children," Expert told Live Science.

    Making connections

    Scientists have long known that psilocybin binds to a receptor in the brain for serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a role in mood, appetite and sleep, but exactly how the drug transforms the whole brain's pattern of communication isn't clear.

    In past work, Expert's colleagues had found that psilocybin spurred the brain into a more dreamlike state, and that the drug decreased brain activity.

    In the current study, the team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brain activity of 15 healthy volunteers — once after they had taken a placebo, and once after they took the hallucinogen psilocybin. (The team chose only people who had reported past positive experiences with magic mushrooms to prevent them from panicking inside the claustrophobic MRI machines.)

    The team then compared the brain activity of the individuals on and off the drug, and created a map of connections between different brain regions.

    Psilocybin dramatically transformed the participants' brain organization, Expert said. With the drug, normally unconnected brain regions showed brain activity that was synchronized tightly in time. That suggested the drug was stimulating long-range connections the brain normally wouldn't make. After the drug wore off, brain activity went back to normal.

    Drug's effect

    Psilocybin may create a brain state akin to synesthesia, a sensory effect in which one sense stimulus (such as a number) always gets paired in the brain with another (such as a color or a sound), the researchers wrote in the paper. People with synesthesia may see certain colors when they hear music, or always see the number 3 in yellow, for instance, Expert said.

    The findings could help scientists who are studying the drug as a potential treatment for depression, Expert said. Past work has found that people tend to be happier even after using psilocybin just once, but scientists would need to get a much better picture of how the drug impacts the brain before using psilocybin to treat depression, Expert said.

    The research could ultimately also help answer bigger questions of the mind, like how people construct a sense of self.

    "Through studies such as these we can really begin to tackle the questions of how we achieve coherent experiences of ourselves in the world around us, and understand what makes this break down," said Mitul Mehta, a psychopharmacology researcher at King's College London, who was not involved in the study.

    October 29, 2014
    Tia Ghose | Live Science
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