A single dose of psilocybin “couples” “uncoupled” brain networks
If consciousness is a state of being awake and aware, does it mean you are unconscious in your sleep?
For many years the majority of researchers considered dreamless sleep being equal to an unconscious state. Consciousness, however, is not a binary on/off state. Many states of consciousness are well known — dreamless sleep, REM sleep, sleepwalking, waking consciousness, vegetative state, and finally, a state of coma. More precisely, sleep is a state of reduced consciousness, and coma is the state of unconsciousness. On that spectrum of consciousness shades, a special place is reserved for a psychedelic state of consciousness.
Traditionally consciousness is defined by simultaneous wakefulness and awareness. According to that definition, REM sleep and vegetative state must be anomalies. REM sleep is considered sleep consciousness opposite to a state of dreamless reduced sleep consciousness. A vegetative state, on the other hand, is wakefulness without awareness. Some parts of the cortex are still functioning in ‘vegetative’ patients.
If there are irregularities to sleep consciousness, there are must be exceptions to wakefulness. Psychedelic drugs perturb traditional wakeful consciousness. Maybe in a good way. Psilocybin, a classic psychedelic (still stigmatized mainly because of antiquated political will), invokes an altered state of waking consciousness. An altered state of mind may be a mind-broadening experience beneficial for treating devastating humankind’s mood disorder and improving brain network connectivity.
The excellent news, in the psychedelic state of wakefulness, the latter is not reduced. Although awareness is altered, it would be misleading to say that it is reduced. It is instead an expansive state of consciousness serving to broaden the consciousness, not to limit.
Consciousness is integrated information.
Let’s say you have learned new concepts (awareness of the information) but failed to integrate the new data to become a whole integral part of your mind. Being aware of data and being able to successfully integrate, two things required for a balanced state of mind.
Maybe the psychedelic state of mind helps to achieve a better integration?
Optimal brain function occurs at levels of synchrony and metastability that allow both efficient information flow and the adaptive changes to network states in response to external or internal demands.
Published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience paper from Imperial College London, UK reported probably the most striking result of a single mild of psilocybin. In that study, authors argue that there were marked increases in between-network resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) under a single mild dose of psilocybin.
The University research team recruited 15 healthy individuals via newspaper ads. The participants were prescreened for personal or family history of a significant psychiatric disorder, substance dependence, cardiovascular disease, and no record of adverse response to a hallucinogenic drug. The participants have received a saline solution of psilocybin 2 mg and underwent a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of the brain. Participants were also given a pretreatment fMRI for comparison.
Patterns of functional brain connectivity between different brain networks are associated with several mood disorders and psychiatric diseases. Also, patterns of established connections between brain networks are well-known features of a normal brain, which means that the human brain has set patterns of specific networks communicating to certain networks but not to others.
Some, but not all, brain networks include:
1) Visual — Medial (VisM),
(2) Visual — Lateral (VisL)
(3) Visual — Occipital pole (VisO)
(4) Auditory (AUD)
(5) Sensorimotor (SM)
(6) Default Mode Network (DMN)
(7) DMN2 — A hybrid of anterior DMN and Executive Control Network
(8) Executive Control Network (ECN)
(9) left Frontoparietal Network (lFP)
(10) right Frontoparietal Network (rFP)
(11) Dorsal Attention Network (DAN)
The UK team discovered that under psilocybin, functional connectivity did not affect the whole of the brain uniformly. Visual and sensorimotor brain networks (usually highly connected) showed decreased connectivity in the participating individuals. In ordinary consciousness, visual cortex network activity is driven by and anchored to visual input.
Default Mode Network
The most studied network within the brain (DMN) is subject to faulty neural activity patterns across distinct mental health conditions from autism to Alzheimer’s disease. The connectivity within the DMN network and other networks have been studied in an attempt to modulate certain disorders like autism. According to the Human Brain Mapping journal, the more severe the autism, the less connected the parts within the DMN are, argue the proponents of the developmental disconnection model within DMN.
Under normal circumstances, also Default Mode Network activity responsible for introspection is inversely correlative with visual network connectivity.
Under psilocybin, the functional connectivity between Auditory and right Frontoparietal Networks has increased. The functional connectivity also was activated between Executive Control and left Frontoparietal Networks.
Weakly (or negatively) connected (under normal circumstances, “uncoupled”) networks, such as Default Mode and Lateral Visual Networks, under psilocybin seem to increase connectivity and “synchronize”. Increased connectivity between Default Mode and Visual Networks is thought to influence the imagination. After a single moderate dose of psilocybin, these two networks seem to become “coupled” and promote imagination.
Intriguing data coming from the science-driven psilocybin human trials prove fascinating new avenues to explore the treatment of mood disorders and facilitate mind-broadening experiences.