The Brain on Psilocybin

Based on clinical trials at Imperial College, London researchers analysed fMRI scans of 15 people after being injected with psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and compared them to scans of their brain activity after receiving a placebo. See full research article here  

“In a normal brain, many things are happening. You don’t know what is going on, or what is responsible for that,” said Petri. “So you try to perturb the state of consciousness a bit, and see what happens.”

A representation of that is seen in the image above. Each circle depicts relationships between networks — the dots and colours correspond not to brain regions, but to especially connection-rich networks, with normal-state brains at left, and psilocybin-influenced brains at right.

In mathematical terms, said Petri, normal brains have a well-ordered correlation state. There’s not much cross-linking between networks. That changes after the psilocybin dose. Suddenly the networks are cross-linking like crazy, but not in random ways.

New types of order emerge. “We can speculate on the implications of such an organisation,” wrote the researchers, who were led by neurobiologist Paul Expert of King’s College London. “One possible by-product of this greater communication across the whole brain is the phenomenon of synaesthesia” — the experience, common during psychedelic experiences, of sensory mix-up: tasting colours, feeling sounds, seeing smells, and so on.

Petri notes that the network depiction above is still a simplified abstraction, with the analysis mapped onto a circular, two-dimensional scaffold. A truer way of visualising it, he said, would be in three dimensions, with connections between networks forming a sponge-like topography.

Highlighting, hyper neuroplasticity of the brain. Also known as neural plasticity, or brain plasticity, can be defined as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.

There are many possible applications where increasing neuroplasticity are beneficial from treating mental health conditions such as depression (where a person can have trouble shifting their perception of themselves and their life) to being an agent in a world of accelerated change.

It’s encouraging that in recent years we are seeing a resurgence of psychedelic research across the globe. In Australia (where I’m based) seven clinical trials testing potential breakthrough combination therapies (including psychedelics) to treat debilitating mental illnesses received almost $15 million from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)

Organisations like Mind Medicine Australia are lobbying the TGA to reschedule MDMA & Psilocybin, so that they are legally accessible to clinicians. Mind Medicine needs many voices to support their application. Please consider doing your own desktop research and becoming informed by science and not the propaganda. 

Main article reference: Petri, G., et al(2014). Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 11(101), 20140873. 

Other local articles worth checking out:

https://www.svhm.org.au/newsroom/news/australia-s-first-psychedelic-clinical-trial-commences-recruitment 

https://adf.org.au/insights/magic-mushrooms-medicine/ 

https://www.csiro.au/en/news/news-releases/2022/csiro-starts-work-on-medicinal-psychedelics 

https://www.monash.edu/turner-institute/paul-liknaitzky-lab/research 

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