Do Psychedelics Expand the Mind by Reducing Brain Activity?


Illustration: Dizzy thorns (CC)

So what do you think, psychonauts? Pretty interesting article from Adam Halberstadt and Mark Geyer in Scientific American:

What would you see if you could look inside a hallucinating brain? Despite decades of scientific investigation, we still lack a clear understanding of how hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), mescaline, and psilocybin (the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms) work in the brain. Modern science has demonstrated that hallucinogens activate receptors for serotonin, one of the brain’s key chemical messengers. Specifically, of the 15 different serotonin receptors, the 2A subtype (5-HT2A), seems to be the one that produces profound alterations of thought and perception.

It is uncertain, however, why activation of the 5-HT2A receptor by hallucinogens produces psychedelic effects, but many scientists believe that the effects are linked to increases in brain activity. Although it is not known why this activation would lead to profound alterations of consciousness, one speculation is that an increase in the spontaneous firing of certain types of brain cells leads to altered sensory and perceptual processing, uncontrolled memory retrieval, and the projection of mental “noise” into the mind’s eye…

Read More: Scientific American

24 Comments on "Do Psychedelics Expand the Mind by Reducing Brain Activity?"

  1. Light-It-Up | May 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |

    Reduce brain activity?  Or reduce colorful animation in a scan GIF?  I tend to agree with the first commenter: “while previous PET studies found that psilocybin increased the metabolic activity of certain cells in many regions of the brain”. 

    Sure psilocybin may in the end reduce the amount of activity in some regions, but increase it in others.  Pineal gland, anyone?

    The research is new and naive.  To think we know but a blip about what is going on based on these studies is foolish.  Certainly, anyone now declaring that “science has proved psychedelics slow your brain down” might want to take a hard look at a scan of their own heads.

    • Calypso_1 | May 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |

      A question for you – If you have a mechanism that is designed to coordinate and control a filtering template that regulates how complex sets of data streams are organized and processed, and that template has a certain parametric set point maintained by a an imposed regulatory energy state; what do think would happen if you reduced the supply of energy to that control mechanism?

      • Lord_Goku | May 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

        You trip your ass off. 

      • The secret they do not want us to know.

        • Calypso_1 | May 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm |

          …not really.  I just described the mechanism by which the studies authors arrived at their conclusion. It’s in the article.   I find it bemusing, as indicated by other comments,  that some people interested in psychedelics are unable to see past their own prejudices, or dare I say gross ignorance on the topic and seem to believe this research is somehow a detriment to their view of the topic.  
          The articles author points out the researches study parallels Huxley’s thoughts on psychedelic mechanisms – a conformation of one of the godfathers of modern psychedelic history.  I’ll take such victories as they come, they lay the groundwork for future ones. 

          • People just read “reducing brain activity” and concluded “they’re saying it’s bad.” 

            If anything it’s heartening because it implies that consciousness actually expands as neuromechanics are disabled, which is what you’d hope for if you had mystical/supernaturalist inclinations. 

          • Light-It-Up | May 18, 2012 at 8:38 am |

            > People just read “reducing brain activity” and concluded “they’re saying it’s bad.”

            Exactly.  Now we are going to have to deal with dimwits spreading this as an urban legend for the next ten+ years.  “It not only makes your brain bleed, but slows down your mind mannn”

  2. Short answer: I’m skeptical.

    I have tended to think of my emotional self as a hydraulic system. We have a certain capacity to process and manifest feeling states. That capacity, and the landscape of our traumas through life, changes and distorts when certain chemicals are introduced. Often this happens in very fun ways (e.g. hallucinogens, pot, other entheogens), and if we listen well enough to our own inner voices, we can reach a more peaceful state within our psyches. But also, from time to time, people are brought back to themselves in abrupt and challenging ways. It really just depends on the context (body/mind state, setting, substance).

  3. exactly what about DMT or the pineal gland??? , oh yeah there totally clueless still 🙁

    • Calypso_1 | May 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |

      The Lizard Queen eats the pineal glands of 9 black children for breakfast.  Telemetric control by the False Overmind keeps the true psypher of Osiris people down.  But you will fall to the Black Body Radiation of the sweet Khem-ical Dark Energy.

  4. Dream Alchemy | May 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm |

    No, psychedelic drugs reconnect the experiencer to their dormant natural instincts.
    Only in our sick society defined by disconnection to the environment where health is measured by productivity is this seen as ‘damaging’.

    • Dream Alchemy | May 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm |

       I should clarify that the only thing these drugs can damage is the dominant socioeconomic system of debt slavery.

      • Dream Alchemy | May 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm |

        Debt slavery being the only sure way to provide a return on the investment of social security for our population.

    • Calypso_1 | May 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm |

      That may very well be part of the picture, but what this study is showing is that an area of the brain that controls part of the ‘neural network’ is being slowed down.  So in doing so this is going to change how patterns in the brain are connected.  Is this connecting to ‘dormant’ areas, possibly, but something had to change the switching station to get you there.

    •  Psychedelic ‘drugs’ open the gateway to the subconscious by enabling right-brained perceiving. Alignment of right-left brained thinking is what they fear. Psychotropic drugs have the exact opposite effect to degrees.

      By the bye, I love your name 🙂

  5. Drewhempel | May 17, 2012 at 7:28 pm |

    It’s kind of like dopamine — you got the prefrontal dopamine circuit for intentional goals and then the limbic thalamus dopamine circuit for the primal bliss rewards.  The primal dopamine is the “addiction” to primal stuff like gambling, sex, nicotine, alcohol, etc.  So the prefrontal dopamine circuit actually is a negative feedback control on the primal dopamine.

    So for psychedelics it’s serotonin instead of dopamine — the brain is flooded with serotonin as love bliss energy and this increases the limbic thalamus regions which then stop the prefrontal cortex from their normal negative feedback screening or filtering.  So then there is also increased anterior cingulate gyrus and prefrontal cortex only not the usual type of activity — instead it’s serotonin based instead of dopamine based as the two are inversely related.

    It’s best to test the psychedelics while in full lotus yoga position so that the HPA axis connection is properly understood — aka kundalini or N/om as the Bushmen called it or jing as the Taoist call it.  In other words the plant chemicals stimulate the release of the lower body serotonin which bypasses the blood brain barrier through vagus nerve ionization — increase vagus nerve increases the serotonin activation in the brain.  This is also the internal bliss as proven for female climax — the trigger of the vagus nerve.  The dopamine switches to serotonin.

    Yeah then there’s the whole biophoton holographic brain angle on it — science is a long way off from reproducing this stuff in a lab.  Just as quantum entanglement in birds and plants is proven but can not be reproduced in a lab.  When the serotonin gets strong enough then it increases the oxytocin of the heart and this also increases the electromagnetic energy of the heart through the vagus nerve connection.  This creates the “astral” realm of visions as a rainbow vortex.

    Normally psychedelics cause subconscious visions aka hallucinations but through yoga training a person can already “flex” their pineal gland so that their prefrontal cortex can still over-ride the otherwise limbic thalamus “take over” of the awareness.  The rainbow vortex is the background biophoton astral realm while the subconscious visions can just be processed rationally.  So normally the plant chemical will take over and this can even cause the spirit to leave the body as with Salvia Divinorum which activates the cannibinoid receptors.  But again if a person is in full lotus and already has a permanent magnetic bliss in the pineal gland this electromagnetic focus of the mind will be stronger than the electrochemical energy of the plant.  The spontaneous OHM sound from the heart is well known in yoga training — called “converting jing to chi” by Master Nan, Huai-chin for example — and the spontaneous OHM also happens from the psychedelic training while in full lotus.

  6. Gregory Wyrdmaven | May 18, 2012 at 9:08 am |

    Considering that most brain activity is concerned with processing/remembering the arbitrary perceptions created by the biomechanical functions of our sensory apparatus, which is also a collection of arbitrary, untrue data, and doesn’t sense actual reality but only what it is able to receive, (and of course grass isn’t green)…then yes.  One reason we like sex so much (and why wingnuts want to suppress it) is that the moment of orgasm is one of few times we are conscious but our reptile/monkey brains can shut the hell up for a second or two.

    Fiat lux.

  7. moongrim69 | May 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm |

    The problem with exanding your mind- Stretch Marks.  An overly ‘expanded’ mind loses it’s elasticity.

  8. Hmm, I’m no neuroscientist so forgive my terminology (I have tried but I’m usually punching above my weight), but according to my own observations whilst under the influence of LSD I’d probably say that I’d probably believe more that things were shut down to favour other functions rather than more things just ‘turning on’. I felt *efficient* rather than ‘more’, like there were some things no longer in the picture that were clogging up normal functioning. Other than the obvious shrink’n’grow and fantasy landscapes e.t.c which I wouldn’t in the past have considered ‘normal functioning’ but these days.. not so sure XD

  9. Taan Maat | Sep 15, 2012 at 11:49 am |

    Satori is the bliss of decentralization

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