About half of Australia’s population will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime, and scientists are looking to an unlikely place in the search for a cure.
Monash University researchers scan the brains of healthy adults under the influence of psychedelic drugs. They aim to identify the brain pathways that underlie the effects of these substances in order to understand how different parts of the brain are connected in general.
PsiConnect (comprising Psilocybin, Connectivity and Context) is the first participant imagery trial of psychedelics in Australia and, with 60 participants, is one of the largest psychedelic imagery trials in the world.
Many types of psychedelics exist, derived from different plants, animals and fungi. When a person takes a psychoactive substance, there is a temporary reorganization of brain connectivity that alters perception. This can cause hallucinations and alter self-perception.
Counterintuitively, psychedelic-induced perceptual distortions may have a positive effect in clinical patients with dysfunctional thought forms – such as self-limiting beliefs and pervasive pessimism.
By temporarily deconstructing perception in the context of therapy, psychedelics can help people find other ways to enhance their self-perception and belief.
It is these changes that have rekindled interest in the therapeutic potential of psychoactive substances.
While some researchers argue that psychedelic therapeutic effects derive from the experience of altered consciousness, others suggest that this may not be the case and seek to separate the therapeutic effects from the psychoactive experience.
It may be that the non-psychoactive properties and the psychoactive properties of these substances contribute to their therapeutic effectiveness.
However, before psychedelics are used to treat a specific mental health diagnosis, some potential issues should be considered.
For example, psychedelics can be harmful to people who have a genetic predisposition to psychosis. Rigorous scientific study is needed if psychedelics are to be integrated into publicly available therapies in a realistic, safe, and sustainable manner.
At the Monash University Computational Neuroscience Lab, the ongoing psychedelic imaging trial uses synthesized psilocybin – the magic ingredient in “magic mushrooms” – provided by the Usona Institute, a medical research organization.
The trial uses a fixed dose of 19 mg, an amount based on previous studies and recommendations from researchers, to reliably create the psychedelic effects of psilocybin at a level generally well tolerated by healthy adults, regardless of either their sex or their body weight.
Participants have two sessions of brain scans at the Monash Biomedical Imaging Center, one before and one after psilocybin. They take the drug in pill form in a comfortable, non-clinical setting at Turner Institute’s BrainPark, along with the researcher, study doctor, and support staff. Most people start feeling the effects of psilocybin about an hour later, so the sweeping begins.
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First, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) takes high-resolution images of the entire brain, including deep-lying subcortical parts, and measures how this activity changes over time. . Researchers also use an electroencephalograph (EEG) after MRI because it can measure changes in brain connectivity in milliseconds, albeit with much lower (spatial) resolution.
The study also examines how context plays a role in the effects of psilocybin, providing different music as the swipe takes place. Finally, the researchers will debrief the participants, to better understand the mechanisms of perception by associating subjective reports with the changes observed.
Researchers have so far found great variability in participants’ experiences. Some participants report patterns of merging and shifting as their eyes are opened; others report no visual impairment.
Some report purely bodily experiences, while others describe tales of mystical journeys. Some revealed a sense of integration and a dissolved separation between themselves and the environment that resulted in euphoria; while others experienced these changes with varying emotions.
At this early stage, research suggests that the quality rather than the intensity of psilocybin experiences may have a greater bearing on psychological changes.
Over time, the work hopes to better understand the biological factors that determine psychedelic response to a given dose, and how mindset and setting can be optimized to support therapeutic outcomes.
Ultimately, having volunteers take psilocybin for science could help us better understand the brain and how the brain allows us to make sense of ourselves and the world.
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Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.