Psychedelics and the Default Mode Network

Default Mode Network - Psychedelics Today

by Jasmine Virdi 

Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, as well as ayahuasca operate to significantly reduce activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN). This reduction in DMN activity functions as a kind of ‘rebooting’ of the brain, and is thought to be linked to one of the most enduring therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances. 

What is the Default Mode Network?

The default mode network refers to an interconnected group of brain regions that are associated with introspective functions, internally directed thought, such as self-reflection, and self-criticism. Increased activity of the DMN is correlated with the experience of mind-wandering and our capacity to imagine mental states in others (i.e. theory of mind) as well as our ability to mentally “time travel”, projecting ourselves into the past or future. 

The functioning of the DMN is considered essential to normal, everyday consciousness and is at its most active when a person is in a resting state and their attention is not externally directed on a worldly task or stimulus. For example, if you put somebody in an MRI scanner and don’t give them anything to do, their mind will start wandering and you will see the regions that make up the DMN light up.

The functional connections that make up the DMN increase from birth to adulthood, with the DMN not being fully active until later in a child’s development, emerging around the age of five as the child develops a stable sense of narrative self or “ego”. 

As we mature, we learn to respond to life’s stimuli in a patterned way, developing habitual pathways of communication between brain regions, particularly those of the DMN. Over time, communication becomes confined to specific pathways, meaning that our brain becomes more ‘constrained’ as we develop. It is these constrained paths of communication between brain regions that quite literally come to constitute our ‘default mode’ of operating in the world, coloring the way we perceive reality. 

Evolutionarily speaking, it has been hypothesized that the DMN plays a major role in our survival, helping us form a continuous sense of self, differentiating ourselves from the world around us. The DMN has been described by psychiatrist Matthew Brown as the part of the brain which serves to “remind you that you are you.”

Overactivity of the Default Mode Network & Mental Health Conditions

The DMN has been found to be particularly overactive in certain mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and OCD. Matthew Brown likens DMN overactivity to experiences of “hypercriticality”, “rigid thought patterns”, and “automatic negative thought loops” about oneself.

Imagine that you are at a party, telling a joke that gets met with an awkward silence. Initially, people might think “Oh no, that wasn’t so funny,” but they tend to quickly move on to the next leg of the conversation, forgetting about it entirely. However, you go home that evening, finding yourself completely unable to sleep because you are wrought with worry about the bad joke you told, what a fool you appeared to be, and how others might be judging you harshly for it. This is a classic example of DMN overactivity and the negative thought patterns which tend to be visible in people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and OCD.

How Do Psychedelics Affect the Default Mode Network?

Psychiatric doctor and ayahuasca researcher Simon Ruffell likens the effects of psychedelics on the DMN to “defragmenting a computer.” When you ingest a psychedelic, activity of the DMN is significantly decreased whilst connectivity in the rest of the brain increases. 

“Brain imaging studies suggest that when psychedelics are absorbed they decrease activity in the default mode network. As a result the sense of self appears to temporarily shut down, and thus ruminations may decrease. The brain states observed show similarities to deep meditative states, in which increased activity occurs in pathways that do not normally communicate. This process has been compared to defragmenting a computer. Following this, it appears that the default mode network becomes more cohesive. We think this could be one of the reasons levels of anxiety and depression appear to reduce.

Dr. Simon Ruffell, Psychiatrist and Senior Research Associate at King’s College London

Due to psychedelics’ ability to disrupt the activity of the DMN, they have a particularly strong therapeutic potential when it comes to changing negative thought patterns. For example, a study by Imperial College London assessed the impact of psilocybin-assisted therapy on twelve patients with severe depression. Results demonstrated that psilocybin-assisted therapy was able to dramatically reduce their depression scores for a period of up to three months. 

A follow-up study suggested that the therapeutic impact of psilocybin was linked to its ability to ‘reset’ the DMN, turning it off and reconsolidating it in a way that is a little less rigid than before. 

In general, it has been shown that psychedelics produce increases in psychological flexibility, positing another explanation for why we see decreases in depression and anxiety following a psychedelic experience. Based on what we know about the DMN, we could hypothesize that it plays an influential role in one’s ability to be psychologically flexible. 

Matthew Brown gave an analogy for how psychedelics are able to reset the DMN, enabling an increased sense of psychological flexibility:

“If you do the same thing repeatedly, it is like you are walking down the same path all the time. Naturally, that path becomes very well worn and easy to walk down. However,  you realize that maybe there is another path that might be more advantageous for you and you want to try walking down that path. Psychedelics ‘mow the lawn’ so that it doesn’t seem that the weeds are quite so high and you can walk down that new path a little bit more easily.”

Entropic Brain Theory & The Reducing Valve 

Psychedelics tend to disrupt the activity of the DMN, temporarily disintegrating the highly organized system of networks that it is made up of, allowing for “less ordered neurodynamics”, and a greater degree of entropy within the brain. That is to say that open, freer conversations begin to take place between brain regions that are normally kept separate. 

According to the ‘entropic brain’ theory, the state of consciousness associated with psychedelics is comparable to that which exists in early childhood – we experience awe and wonder, looking at everything in the world around us as wholly novel. 

These findings are in line with writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley’s early reflections on the psychedelic experience, in which he described psychedelic consciousness as “Mind at Large” in that it grants us access to a larger set of brain functions, allowing us to tap into an unbounded state of consciousness which extends beyond the individual and into the collective. He theorized that in order “to make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system.” 

In this case, we can think of the “reducing valve” as a metaphor for the DMN which in some sense serves  “to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, […] and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.”

The Default Mode Network & Ego Death 

In 2016, a breakthrough study by Imperial College London used a combination of neuroimaging techniques to measure electrical activity and experiential reports from participants to investigate the link between brain activity and reported psychological responses to LSD in twenty volunteers.

Results demonstrated that LSD dampens the function of the DMN, and that this decrease in activity strongly correlated with the subjective experience of “ego dissolution” or “ego death”, indicating that the DMN performs a vital part in sustaining the “ego” or “self”.

Similarly, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a pioneering study, demonstrating that psilocybin is able to produce mystical-type experiences in participants, such as the experience of ego death. These experiences were considered to be deeply meaningful by participants and were seen to elicit sustained positive changes in attitude and behaviour.

Generally, it’s our ego – our sense of “I” – that tends to create and harbor negative thought patterns. In conditions such as depression and anxiety, we become self-absorbed, narrowly focused on thoughts about ourselves, unable to take a step back and see the bigger picture. The ego erects boundaries that can lead to us feeling isolated from the people around us, disconnected from nature and even ourselves. 

In a state of ego dissolution, these boundaries are let down and a great “zooming out” takes place where you begin to see things on a macroscopic level. You are no longer an individual isolated from life as it takes place around you, but rather you are interconnected with everything through the web of life. It is not a logical, but rather a felt experience of incredible love and reconnection.

When asked about the therapeutic implications of having an experience like ego dissolution, Matthew Brown explained that it can be tremendously healing as our consciousness is able to extend itself beyond the confines of our individual experience, and become one with nature’s larger whole.

“You realize that you are extremely insignificant, and perhaps that sounds defeating. However, it can be very freeing to realize that you are just one human who is existing for a very small blip of time in the grand scheme of the universe.” — Dr. Matthew Brown, DO, MBA, ABPN, Child, Adolescent, Adult Psychiatry

It is important to note that although experiences of ego death can lead to deep personal insight, and thus have therapeutic benefits, they can also be terrifying. Author of Changing our Minds, Don Lattin reminds us that ego death can be a “fearful and/or enlightening experience” that “depends in large part on whether mind travelers are ready for the journey, what baggage they bring along, and who’s accompanying them.”

Perhaps what is most interesting about the ego death experience, and the temporary rewiring of the brain enabled by psychedelics, is the long-lasting, enduring therapeutic effects that remain beyond the temporality of the drug. The resetting of the DMN combined with the powerful experience of ego death induced by psychedelics are often described as amongst the most meaningful of experiences in a person’s life. Such experiences help us to break free from negative thought patterns, become more psychologically flexible as well as dissolve the barriers between ourselves and the world around us, realizing our place in the interconnected web of life. 


Jasmine Virdi  is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. She currently works for the fiercely independent publishing company Synergetic Press, where her passions for ecology, ethnobotany and psychoactive substances converge. Jasmine’s goal as an advocate for psychoactive substances is to raise awareness of the socio-historical context in which these substances emerged in order to help integrate them into our modern-day lives in a safe, grounded and meaningful way.

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze: The Impact of Climate Change, Development, and Psychonauts on the Sonoran Desert Toad

B. Alvarius art

By Jeff Kronenfeld – Dec. 17, 2019

Sonoran Desert toads emerge from earthly tombs every year after the late summer monsoons roll in, which cause countless tiny ponds and lakes to form. Though most will evaporate in a few hours or days, toads lay eggs in the depths of these small water beds. Most of the tadpoles won’t last longer than the waters in which they are born, a few will become pollywogs then toads, ensuring survival for another generation. 

Life in the desert is stark as it is. But these unique desert toads are currently facing a host of new threats, including climate change, habitat loss and — perhaps most dangerous — commodification. Bufo alvarius, the Sonoran Desert toad’s scientific name, is the only known animal source of 5-MeO-DMT, a popular chemical among psychedelic users. Unfortunately, poachers overharvest toads to feed the ever-growing market for this powerful substance. While the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species placed these toads in the lowest category of risk for extinction in 2004, the same report acknowledged they were virtually extinct in California. Scientists, conservationists, and artists are banding together to ensure the rest of the species avoids a similar fate. 

Climate Change on Habitats

To understand how human-caused climate change could impact Sonoran Desert toads, we first need to look at potential effects on their home region. A 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted that the Southwest would continue to get hotter and drier. A 2018 National Climate Assessment bore out those predictions. This is bad news for toads, who already live near their physiological limits. More troubling was a 2017 report in Nature Climate Change, which predicted the probable decline of monsoons by 30 to 40 percent over the next century. 

Thomas R. Jones, Amphibians and Reptiles Program Manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, believes parsing the impact of climate change from other threats and historical fluctuations is difficult if not impossible. This past summer he observed a decrease in toad populations at a site where they are normally abundant. “I think it’s a reasonable assumption to say if the monsoon gets squirrely and we have drier years, it will be rougher on summer breeding anurans — toads and frogs — like the Sonoran Desert toad,” Jones said. 

Psychedelic Training for Therapists and Clinicians - Navigating Psychedelics

Overdevelopment and the Destruction of Habitats

While climate change looms like ominous clouds in the distance, habitat loss is the single greatest threat to Sonoran Desert toads. According to a 2013 report from the USDA, 90 percent of riparian areas in Arizona and New Mexico converted to other land uses over the last century, ultimately turning habitats into agriculture fields or residential developments. At the same time, surface water was diverted from the few year-round rivers into massive reservoirs as aquifers pumped out groundwater in order to supply the region’s growing population and agricultural production. 

These toads once thrived in farmland irrigation systems, too. But, due to the increasingly intense use of chemicals — both pesticides and fertilizers — and mechanization, they disappeared from some agriculture areas, such as the Southern California side of the Colorado River and the Imperial Valley. 

Paved roads are also particularly deadly to these creatures. Toads go to pools that form on impermeable surfaces where water can more easily absorb through their skin. The hot spots for Sonoran Desert toads are lined with roads, often putting them in harm’s way. In fact, a 2010 study in Human-Wildlife Interactions estimated 12,264 amphibians died annually on roads in and around Saguaro National Park just west of Tucson, Arizona. Roads also hinder the toad’s range, causing a loss in gene flow, or genetic evolution, which negatively effects populations, according to Jones. “The number of animals that die on roads are just huge.”

Pop Culture, Money, and Psychedelic Tourism

The least understood threat is the impact of poaching and overharvesting for the 5-MeO-DMT market. Though Sonoran Desert toads can be legally gathered with appropriate licenses in Arizona, collecting them for the extraction of 5-MeO-DMT — which became a Schedule 1 substance in 2011 — is a federal crime. 

In order to extract 5MeO-DMT, the toads must be agitated, which causes their glands to excrete poison. Then, it’s squeezed or scraped out. Robert Villa, president of the Tucson Herpetological Society (THS) and a research associate at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, is concerned about the harm this poses to toad survival. 

“I think what’s going to happen over time is that if intensive collection continues,” Villa explained, “it’s going to create a vacuum in these areas, what is also known as a mortality sink.”

Some argue that indigenous communities have used the drug for centuries. But Villa points to flaws in this argument, saying that some advancing this position may have a vested financial interest in doing so. Some scholars have cited the discovery of toad bones at shamanic burial sites. If true, it could legitimize the toad extraction industry, helping businesses grow at the expense of the toad populations. For doctors or others selling 5-MeO-DMT, this would be a boon. 

But Villa noted the bones were from a different species of toad that doesn’t produce 5-MeO-DMT. He is not convinced by the evidence that indigenous people historically used the toad as a source of 5-MeO-DMT. “We couldn’t decipher it from residues. There’s research that discovered cacao residue in pots in New Mexico,” Villa explained. “What we see today is a blatant misuse of indigenous culture to do it.”

We may never know who first smoked 5-MeO-DMT for sure, but one of the earliest academic papers citing its psychedelic properties appeared in a 1967 issue of Biochemical Pharmacology. Then, knowledge about how to extract, prepare, and consume 5-MeO-DMT from toads was first widely propagated by a pamphlet written in 1983. The document contained detailed instructions, diagrams, and background information. Its author was listed as Albert Most, a pen name, though multiple people throughout history have claimed to be Most. 

In a 2017 episode of VICE’s Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, a man named Alfred Savinelli claimed he wrote the pamphlet and that he was the first person to ever consume the toad’s venom. Savinelli is the author of Plants of Power: Native American Ceremony and the Use of Sacred Plants, but aside from that his claims have not been verified. 

Though its authorship is disputed, the pamphlet’s role in raising awareness about the drug is not. Following its publication, groups like the Church of the Toad of Light started promoting 5-MeO-DMT consumption. Its proponents claim the drug can help with depression and anxiety, which was supported by a study in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse earlier this year. Advocates also claim it helps with recovery from substance abuse. 

Unfortunately, a number of bad actors are harming toads and humans by providing the toad excrement for consumption. An open letter published earlier this year accused two doctors who facilitate 5-MeO-DMT use, Octavio Rettig and Gerry Sandoval, of defrauding, harming, and even causing patients to die. Numerous self-proclaimed shamans administer the drug illegally throughout the US and other countries. One such person was identified as Shaman Dan. He is alleged to have led a series of 5-MeO-DMT parties at the residence of a woman in Southern California, who we’ll call Christina (not her real name) for the sake of anonymity.

Christina was connected to Shaman Dan by her mentors, who recruited her into Amway, a multi-level marketing company accused of being a pyramid scheme by consumer advocates, academics, and newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She described Shaman Dan as a white male under 25-years-old who formerly sold energy drinks through a multi-level marketing company. He told Christina that he was trained in Mexico by a woman named Shaman Sandra. After extracting the toad’s poison — which Christina incorrectly identified as venom — Shaman Dan described using an undisclosed chemical as a bonding agent into the 5 MeO-DMT blend. 

“It’s not something the individual taking it knows,” Christina said. “That’s why it’s very important that you trust whoever is administering this, because if they do not know what they’re doing, they will mess you up. It’s basically like taking crystal meth from a drug dealer off the street.”

Public awareness of the toad has grown rapidly in recent years, with increasing references not just in academic journals, but in popular media as well. Journalist and author Michael Pollan discussed his negative experience with 5-MeO-DMT in his 2018 book How to Change Your Mind, which reached number one on the New York Times bestsellers list. Pollan also discussed the subject on The Joe Rogan Experience, a popular podcast. Host Joe Rogan has covered 5-MeO-DMTs transformative power many times, perhaps most notably in an episode from earlier this year with Mike Tyson. All this buzz leaves the little toads facing evermore heavyweight dangers from all corners. 

B. Alvarius Poster

The Sonoran Desert toad does not face these challenges alone, however. The THS is funding a project to study how the ionic composition of cement water holes may be harmful or even lethal to amphibians. Villa partnered with Cream Design and Print to produce t-shirts, posters and other items that spread awareness about the danger extraction poses to toads, and to raise money for conservation efforts. He hopes that if potential 5-MeO-DMT users know the harm they’re doing to these hardy animals, that they will choose less-harmful methods for obtaining whatever it is they seek. 

While the toad may be the only animal source for 5-MeO-DMT, the compound can be synthesized and found in many plants. The seeds of one species of Anadenanthera trees in South America contain 5-MeO-DMT and DMT. Virola trees also originate from South America, and some species of this plant contain both forms of DMT as well. They are both typically prepared as snuffs but can be consumed otherways as well. 

Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is in many ways a superior delivery vehicle to the toad-sourced variety. The extract from toads contains many other chemicals and can be dangerous if it is not consumed correctly. Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT can be precisely dosed, whereas every toad’s extract is a little different. The study cited earlier showing 5-MeO-DMT’s effectiveness as a treatment for depression and anxiety used the syntheitc variety in its experimental trials. 

The benefits of synthetic versus toad-sourced 5-MeO-DMT were even discussed by Rogan on his podcast. Rogan reported a very positive experience when he consumed synthetic 5-MeO-DMT. Pollan had a very different reaction, describing his consumption of the toad-sourced variety as horrible. For the most toad-loving psychonauts, these alternatives can provide a safer and more eco-conscious way to experience this unique molecule. 

“It boils down to your individual ethics,” Villa said. “As psychonauts, I would hope that you are able to think about how your use of substances and your acquisition of those substances has an effect on the rest of the world.”

bufo alvarius poster

About Jeff

Jeff Kronenfeld is an independent journalist and fiction writer based out of Phoenix, Arizona. His articles have been published in Vice, Overture Global Magazine and other outlets. His fiction has been published by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Four Chambers Press and other presses.

For more info, go to www.jeff-k.com

Socials
Facebook: @JeffKron
Twitter: @jeffthereporter
Instagram: jeff.the.scrivener 

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Psychedelics in Your Neighborhood

Psychedelics in your neighborhood

Zoe Moynihan – December 10, 2019

The psychedelic revolution is upon us. After receiving an FDA “Breakthrough Therapy” designation for psilocybin (a hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms) and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy against treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hallucinogens are finally finding place amongst the most viable psychiatric protocols of the modern-day. With appropriate dosage, set and setting, psychedelics have demonstrated unparalleled clinical efficacy in alleviating symptoms of some of the most prevalent and pressing psychological disorders and afflictions—depression,1,2 PTSD,3 substance abuse and addiction,4,5,6,7 obsessive-compulsive disorder,8 anxiety in the terminally ill…9,10  The list goes on. And whether its the decriminalization of psilocybin by Denver and Oakland, new strides in clinical research with MDMA, or microdosing LSD to enhance corporate creativity in Silicon Valley, I open the paper to a new headline every day. The reach of these psychedelic agents is great, and only becoming greater.  

With the second advent and accruing legitimacy of these therapeutic tools, we are confronted with an entirely new era of psychiatry and consciousness studies. It is the marriage science and spirituality, or, in the words of UCLA psychiatrist and psychedelic researcher Charles Grob, a form of “applied mysticism.”11 Under the auspices of integrative medicine, individuals are benefitting tremendously from psychedelically-occasioned mystical-type experiences. They are afforded feelings of unity, euphoria, vastness, unbridled love, and profound peace and joy.12,13,14 Also referred to as “plant teachers” and “entheogens”—literally translated to that which “releases the divine within”—psychedelics seem to open us up, to expose us to ourselves and the entire palette and majesty of existence, and then return us graciously to our more familiar form of being, endowed with an enhanced capacity for the fundamental human tenets of empathy, love, and compassion. 

Undoubtedly, then, it is an exciting time — But a provocative and precarious time at that. There is still so much to know. So we must learn from the lessons of our psychedelic past, temper our excitement, and exercise faith and patience in the gradualism of empirical science. In order to fully realize the potential of psychedelics in psychological healthcare, we must all act together, slowly, steadily, and with altruistic intention.

As a recent undergraduate, I completed an independent Senior research project on the biochemistry of hallucinogenic mushrooms, in order to do my very small part. Word got around that I was studying psychedelics, even quicker than you would expect at a small liberal arts college in the middle of a rural farm state. To strangers, I became “the girl who studies shrooms,” and I did not mind. 

Magic mushrooms? Spirituality? And Biochemistry? At an academic institution? How could that be? 

To those inquisitors, I was prepared and passionate to discuss my findings. But I never could have anticipated the explosion of interest and many thoughtful inquiries I did receive. 

My email inbox was deluged with “your research,” “looking to connect,” or “coffee?” subject headings, from people of all walks of life—those that fit the psychedelic archetype, and those remarkably unsuspecting or straight edge; those in tie-dye and those in polo shirts; students of every grade and social circle, athletes and artists, of red and blue states, all races, religious ideologies or lack thereof, and socioeconomic class; professors of music and mathematics, biology, economics, gender studies, and yes, of course, physics and poetry. Many were already knocking on Alfred Huxley’s Doors of Perception and finding that their particular variety of everyday existence just wasn’t cutting it anymore. 

I was startled by how many were curious to try psychedelics, or were already actively exploring the subtlest realms of their unconscious mind; how many aspired for a better understanding of themselves, or felt spiritually deprived and were seeking validation or comradery of the soul; how many sought antidote to their feelings of anger, alienation, or dissatisfaction in “recreational” psychedelic use, and spoke with me in crisis of the psyche, believing there is and wanting more. 

I wondered, is this a time of collective awakening and curiosity, but occurring behind closed doors? According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17% percent of people surveyed between ages 21 and 64 reported lifetime use of one or more psychedelics, LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline, and/or peyote.15 That is an estimated 32 million Americans tripping. People are doing psychedelics — on a therapist’s couch, in National Parks, in your very own neighborhood streets. And, consistent with accounts from clinical therapeutic psilocybin and MDMA trials, people are having extraordinary revelations. They are experiencing undiluted joy or traversing phantasmagorical landscapes of kaleidoscopic complexity. Some are enduring adversity there, confronting buried traumas and subconscious discontent, while others come face-to-face with God. Some experience an extinction of self, sheer terror, or utter bliss. Psychedelics are reawakening individuals to life, and sometimes, to love as its essence. And upon return to baseline “consensus reality,” many don’t quite know what to do.

The majority of those with whom I spoke or exchanged emails with were concerned with reintegration. They were apprehensive of the applicability of their psychedelic insight into day-to-day life. Put simply, they worry, where to put all the love? How to incite this change? 

And I hope we can agree, it is sad that this dilemma exists. That inspired individuals struggle to find practical or quotidian applications for newfound senses of interconnectedness, peace and joy. Many feel estranged or paralyzed in the aftermath of a psychedelic experience, under the impression that their come-to-God realizations or mystical musings are not compatible with their preexisting way of life. Some worry that if they speak of their journey, eyes will roll, and their story will be met with skepticism. People do not feel adequately supported, socially or societally. 

One friend of mine, a highly successful financial analyst in his mid 50’s, wrote to me after a particularly potent psilocybin journey, “society is not a place for the loving. It is ill-compassionate in conception and now character. And I am afraid I will be called a hippie.” I, too, struggle with this. My goal is to become an integrative psychiatrist, but I have been counseled to refrain from mentioning psychedelic research in my medical school application. I am not supposed to speak openly about my belief that hallucinogens are tremendous tools for personal transformation, or of the love and gratitude I have been afforded by incredible psychedelic insights of my own. I am not Michael Pollan and lack his immediate credibility. How may we legitimize our curiosity and excitement?  

I believe the power to do so is in the hands of the people. By practicing acceptance, acting with kindness, cultivating community, and welcoming the return of psychedelic voyagers with open ears and arms, we, as an evolving society, may eliminate the stigma. We may realize the full potential of these medicines, in and outside of sanctioned medical settings. Because let’s face it, people are tripping anyway. Much like clinical psychedelic-assisted therapeutic models, in which debriefings are held, explorers of the mind may benefit from similar sympathetic settings to decompress, review and reflect, to derive meaning from their experience, assimilate and grow. In the absence of a mediating shaman or psychiatrist, by default, this responsibility may be assumed by friends and family. People should not be left to confide only in “the girl who studies shrooms.” Not to mention, risks associated with psychedelic use are most pronounced when used recklessly and/or in unsupervised settings. The likelihood of experiencing panic and paranoia of potentially lasting psychological detriment, or of injury or fatality due to impaired judgment, is reduced in safe and supportive physical session environments, which we may create and hold for one another. 

May we remain leery and methodological regarding the process of legalization, then, to the extent that it does not inhibit personal growth, freedom of expression, cognitive liberty, and the propagation of love. While psychedelics are finding their rightful nook in modern medicine and perhaps, impacting the lives of some you hold dear, we should engage in communion, and indulge in the most effectively human thing about us, our ability to care and connect. To give and listen and learn. Hopefully, someday soon, there will be formal research and psychiatric training facilities, providing comfortable, secure environments for sensible psychedelic use. But in the meantime, may we embrace this important avenue of self-exploration, by being there for one another.  

Bio:  Zoe Moynihan graduated in May, 2019 from Middlebury College, with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, Summa Cum Laude. Zoe completed independent senior research on the biochemistry of psilocybin mushrooms, which culminated in her final paper entitled Magic Mushrooms: A Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality; Psilocybin Phenomenology, Pharmacodynamics, and Psychopharmaceutical Applications

References:

1) Carhart-Harris, R.L., Bolstridge, M., Rucker, J., Day, C.M, Erritzoe, D. and Kaelen, M. 2016. Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study. The Lancet Psychiatry 3(7): 616-627. 

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(16)30065-7/fulltext

2) Watts, R., Day, C., Krzanowski, J., Nutt, D. and Carhart-Harris, R. 2017. Patients’ accounts of increased “connectedness” and “acceptance” after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 57(5): 520-564. 

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022167817709585

3) Oehen, P., Traber, R., Widmer, V., and Schnyder, U. 2012. A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (±3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Journal of Psychopharmacology 27(1): 40-52. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23118021

4) Bogenschutz, M.P., Forcehimes, A.A., Pommy, J.A., Wilcox, C.E., Barbosa, P. and Strassman, R.J. 2015. Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: a proof-of-concept study. Journal of Psychopharmacology 29: 289-299. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25586396

5) Bogenschutz, M.P., Podrebarac, S.K., Duana, J.H., Amegadzie, S.S., Malone, T.C., Owens, L.T., Ross, S. and Mennenga, S.E. 2018. Clinical interpretations of patient experience in a trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder. Fronteirs in Pharmacology 9(100).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29515439

6) Garcia-Romeu, A., Griffiths, R.R. and Johnson, M.M. 2014. Psilocybin-occasioned mystical experiences in the treatment of tobacco addiction. Current Drug Abuse Reviews 7(3): 157-164. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25563443

7) Johnson, M.W., Garcia-Romeu, A. and Griffiths, R.R. 2017. Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 43(1): 55-60. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27441452

8) Moreno, F.A., Wiegand, C.B., Taitano, E.K. and Delgado, P.L. 2006. Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin in 9 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 67(11): 1735-1740.

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