Hallucinogens have long been used by indigenous cultures to induce a religious experience, or vision.
Now a new study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping has found that psychedelic mushrooms send the mind into a dream-like state. Most of the subjects in the study reported feeling less depressed and anxious for weeks after consuming the ‘shrooms.
Psilocybin and the Brain
The psilocybin in magic mushrooms is the chemical that causes the trip and makes one see pretty colors. The chemical has been under investigation as a treatment for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and drug addiction. According to this new study, patients that were injected with psilocybin had increased brain function in the areas that dominate emotion and memory.
Mushroom supporters argue that psilocybin works by opening the mind and allowing users to engage from a different perspective. Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, co-author of the investigation and researcher at Imperial College London, compared it to the brain in the midst of a dream sleep. He told the press, “You’re seeing these areas getting louder, and more active. It’s like someone’s turned up the volume there, in these regions that are considered part of an emotional system in the brain.” Carhart-Harris continued, “When you look at a brain during dream sleep, you see the same hyperactive emotion centers.”
It turns out that while the drug opens one part of your mind it also closes a few doors as well. Researchers found that the induced patients had decreased brain activity in the higher part of their brain while tripping. According to Carhart-Harris these are the parts of the mind responsible for high-level cognition that are more recent in an evolutionary sense.
Many users are attracted to drugs for the mind-altering side effects. Carhart-Harris notes that magic mushrooms and LSD are not addictive in the classic sense of the word. Instead of providing a pleasant rush of serotonin, hallucinogens send the user into a unique, neurological state of mind. Rather than chasing a high, users are engaging in a beneficial form of self-exploration.
All 15 subjects experienced higher brain activity similar to a dream state. Researchers believe psilocybin may help people with severe depression who have not responded to standard treatments.
Learn more about the risks and side effects of mushrooms and psilocybin