Do Psychedelics Have the Power to Change Minds?


Do Psychedelics Have the Power to Change Minds  Clinical trials of MDMA, psilocybin, ketamine, and ayahuasca are offering a glimpse that the future may hold psychiatric treatments far different from daily drug prescriptions currently used for anxiety and addictive disorders. Research is only beginning to unravel how these experiences in altered states of consciousness produce large shifts in psychological functioning. Although a purely biochemical model is not inclusive of psycho-spiritual or transpersonal explanations, here I describe what scientific explorations are reveling about how the brain responds when exposed to mind-altering compounds and how consciousness is intrinsically related to sculpting of neural networks. Psychedelic substances being investigated for mental health disorders target different receptors in the brain and produce various subjective effects, yet all appear capable of producing durable changes in thoughts and behaviors. Is there a common underlying mechanism for the therapeutic benefits being shown in these studies? The latest findings are suggesting that neuroplasticity is likely one common denominator for the effectiveness of these drugs. Networks Wired for Change You’ve probably heard by now that the human brain can rewire itself. Neuroplasticity is the basis for learning that shapes our cognition, memories, and behaviors in response to experience (Sagi et al., 2012) Recovery of normal functioning after brain injuries, such as strokes, often involves a restructuring of neural networks to compensate for the loss of neurons in affected brain regions. Similar reorganization can occur as a person overcomes an addictive disorder or long-term depression. New synapses are formed and others deleted as sensory information is uploaded to the brain through our interactions with the world. Even mental events crafted by the imagination can impact this process (Askenasy & Lehmann, 2013). When we try something new, like learning to surf or riding a bike, repetition through practice or memorization strengthens the synaptic pathways necessary to perform the activity. In a similar way, re-exposure to stressful events trains the brain to respond in certain ways. Being able to react to different situations is what keeps us alive, but if the predominant pathway constantly activates fear and anxiety, then the learned response can become maladaptive. Psychedelic Neurochemical Soups Antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in clinical trials of ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin last after the drugs have left the body, suggesting something in the brain has changed. What has been amended and the processes underlying positive gains isn’t fully understood, but various studies are converging on a persuasive pathway that may explain at least some of the therapeutic effects.

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