Your Brain on Drugs: Psilocybin

Your Brain on Psilocybin – What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced in more than 200 different species of mushrooms. The mushrooms are known as psilocybin mushrooms or in more common terms, magic mushrooms. The effects of psilocybin include euphoria, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, and spiritual experiences.  Repeated use of psilocybin does not seem to lead to physical dependence.

Your Brain on PsilocybinThe Human Brain

Our brains are programmed to filter information for us, to make sense of the world around us, to use past experiences to quickly be ready for a present experience and so much more. Our brains process what is helpful to us and leave the rest. According to a postdoctoral student at Imperial College London, Robin Carhart-Harris even says, “…a lot of brain activity is actually dedicated to keeping the world very stable and ordinary and familiar and unsurprising.” So what happens when you stop your brain from being able to do all the things mentioned above?

Your Brain on PsilocybinThe Study

For the first time ever a study done by British researchers shows how Psilocybin, which you may know better as shrooms or magic mushrooms, actually affects the connectivity of the brain. These researchers found that this psychedelic drug (which is known to produce feelings of ‘oneness”, hyperconsciousness, spiritual experiences and hallucinations) doesn’t work by stimulating your brain’s activity but actually by reducing it.

While taking psilocybin your overall brain activity actually drops. Not in a scary unhealthy way either but particularly in certain parts of the brain that are connected to your sensory areas. When your brain is working normally this connective sensory part of the brain helps give you your perception. It makes the way you see, hear and experience the world, and it is also what grounds you in reality or at least your brain’s perception of reality.

These same parts of the brain network are also linked to self-consciousness and depression. Psilocybin stops activity in these areas and severs their connection to other brain areas, allowing all of your senses to run free. In essence, psilocybin quiets the brain.

Your Brain on PsilocybinPsychological Side Effects

Psilocybin’s effects on the brain also last much longer than the initial high. Recently, a study done at John Hopkins University found that just one experience with psilocybin in a controlled environment can alter someone’s personality, making people more open to new experiences. This new finding is extremely profound because it is widely accepted that personalities are very hard to change after the ages of 25-30. In fact a recent study showed that by the time we’re in first grade our personalities are set.

Your Brain on Psilocybin – The Bottom Line

Researchers such as Robin Carhart-Harris plan on looking more into the effects psilocybin has of quieting the brain because the regions psilocybin quiets down are also the regions in the brain that are overactive in depression. Psilocybin could possibly be used for the treatment of depression. Although, this does not mean everyone should start self-medicating with magic mushrooms.

“These are preliminary results, and a lot more research is required before claims can be made about the therapeutic value of psychedelics,” Carhart-Harris said. “However, the initial signs are promising.”

Up until now not a lot has been known about how your brain acts on psilocybin so these findings are important.

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Read all “Your Brain on Drugs” articles here.

 

Sources:

http://www.livescience.com/18067-psychedelic-mushrooms-brain-activity.html

http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/24/magic-mushrooms-expand-the-mind-by-dampening-brain-activity/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin