Psychedelic medicines like psilocybin are changing the face of psychiatry. They are much more effective in treating conditions like depression and PTSD than standard therapy including antidepressants. Improvement lasts much longer and success is achieved with just a dose or two instead of taking meds daily for months or even years. The reason for this success has to do with how psilocybin and other psychedelic medicines alter not how the brain works but the neurons and neuronal connections within the brain. Researchers are studying how psilocybin alters consciousness as part of understanding how the medicine works and how it can be best used.
New Insights into Psilocybin Neurophysiology
Recent research indicates that while taking psilocybin creates somewhat chaotic brain activity, the brain retains its ability to carry out complex interactions triggered by external stimuli. Studies were carried out using brain imaging technology by the Neurophenomenology of Consciousness Lab at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. They used a technique called the Perturbational Complexity Index (PCI). This imaging process measures complex activity patterns over time and across areas of the brain. What the study did was stimulate parts of the brain of people before and after taking psilocybin and measure the reactions using electroencephalography, EEGs.
Findings of Psilocybin Study Using Brain Stimulation and EEG Recordings
There were two distinct finding in the study. In comparing the EEG results with and without psilocybin, researchers found that the complexity and integration of brain responses to applied stimuli was no different. This was despite the patients having the expected type of clinical responses to the psychedelic medicine. They also noted that during resting periods between application of stimuli that EEG recording showed increased signal diversity in people who had been given psilocybin. They interpreted the increased signal diversity as a wider range of activity in the brain in people who had been given psilocybin. Thus, it shows that psilocybin increases spontaneous activity in the brain, the quality and complexity of brain connections was not affected.
Where Does Psilocybin Work in the Brain?
The effects of psilocybin in the brain were not universally distributed in the study. Rather the main effects of psilocybin were in the frontal cortex which is where behavior control and executive activity are located. The researchers not that this fits the fact that what people who take psilocybin experience includes feelings of unity and a relaxed blissfulness.
An Evolving Method of Brain Study for Psychedelics
The researchers in Zurich note that they believe they are just scratching the surface in their use of brain stimulus and EEG responses. They say their goal is to identify and understand underlying brain states both before and after use of psychedelic medicines. By studying the different brain wave patterns, their intensity, their duration, and their distribution throughout the brain they will be able to take complex activity and break it down into understandable parts useful for diagnosis and treatment.
Dual Actions of Psychedelics on the Brain
What we are learning about psychedelics like psilocybin is that there are two important factors for them to be effective in treating conditions like substance abuse disorders, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. One is the experience that the person goes through after taking the medicine and when guided by an experienced coach or psychotherapist. The other is the constellation of physical changes within the brain. Psychedelics like psilocybin cause the brain to grow more branches to the neurons that connect to adjacent nerve cells which, in turn, increases the quantity and quality of nerve cell connections. This is physical and gives the brain the opportunity to function at a higher and more integrated level even after the person is no longer under the direct influence of the medicine.
The point of studies like the imaging and EEG work done by the folks in Zurich is that we get a better understanding of the basic and essential biology that lies at the root of how psilocybin and other psychedelics work in treating conditions like PTSD and depression. This is critical, not only for treatment of these specific conditions but also because these are major risk factors for suicide and especially veteran suicide which we are dedicated to help reduce and eliminate through our work here at No Fallen Heroes.