Psychology

Worth the trip: psychedelics as an emerging tool for psychotherapy

Thirty minutes ago you were given a controlled dose of a highly potent, and highly illegal, hallucinogenic compound—all in the name of science. Unlike psychedelics, drugs of abuse such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine strongly stimulate the brain’s dopamine system, which is critical for their habit-forming potential.

Neuroscientists have recently studied the effects of psilocybin on the brain activity of healthy human participants. They found that psilocybin caused changes in activity across the entire cerebral cortex. These changes were especially pronounced in areas of the cerebral cortex that make up the default-mode network. The default-mode network is composed of a group of brain areas that is most active when we are not actively engaged in a task, and is thought to be important for aspects of cognition such as introspection, mind-wandering, and self-referential thought. Another study using functional brain imaging also found psilocybin-induced changes in brain activity. In particular, they observed that psilocybin led to decreased activity in several brain regions, with some of the largest decreases in default-mode areas like the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. These same brain regions harbor many of the serotonin-sensitive neurons that psychedelics interact with, and show increased activity during self-related thinking under normal conditions. Could one of the major effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics be to decrease activity in certain brain regions, thereby changing the very sense of self that typically frames our everyday conscious experience?

Original Article (Harvard University):
Worth the trip: psychedelics as an emerging tool for psychotherapy
Artwork Fair Use: Evelyn De Morgan

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