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article imageMagic mushrooms transform brain into new hyperconnected state

By Stephen Morgan     Nov 18, 2014 in Health
Scientists have been surprised to find that magic mushrooms transform the entire organization of the brain and rearrange its whole communication system.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) researches have found out that magic mushrooms disassemble the brain's normal communication paths and then reassemble them in an entirely new way, which links parts of the brain which normally don't interact with one another. How it boosts the brain in this way isn't yet fully understood, but the results are conclusive.
Live Science quotes Paul Expert, a physicist at King's College London and co-author of the study who says that the fungi connects "brain regions that don't normally talk together." The study says the scientists found "a less constrained and more intercommunicative mode of brain function.”
The findings were published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface as part of ongoing studies to see how the mushrooms may help psychological health.
The team of scientists scanned the brains of 15 healthy volunteers, first after they had taken a placebo and then after they had taken the hallucinogenic plant. They compared the brain activity of the individuals and mapped the differences in connections between different regions of the brain.
What they saw was that the drug linked up regions of the brain not normally connected and in a highly synchronized way. This meant that the mushrooms were stimulating new long-range connections in the brain which normally don't exist. Once the effects of the drug wore off, so did the new connections.
A remarkable image from the experiment taken by the Journal of the Royal Society is reproduced in an article on the research in the Huffington Post which shows the amazing stimulation of neural networks caused by the drug.
Left β€” normal brain, right after magic mushrooms
Hyperconnectivity of brain s neural pathways before and after using magic mushrooms
Hyperconnectivity of brain's neural pathways before and after using magic mushrooms
Journal of the Royal Society
Researchers are hypothesizing that the active ingredient, psilocybin, could create a brain state similar to synesthesia, a condition in which different sense stimuli pair up with another, so that, for example, when people hear music, they simultaneously see colours and link it or other stimuli like smells or sounds to a specific number, like 5. Something which doesn't normally happen in everyday brain functioning.
But the scientists also think that the creation of these new communication pathways could have psychological effects, which, with further research, may turn out to be useful in treating mental health problems.
Apart from hallucinations, many people also report profound spiritual experiences, as well as positive feeling of happiness and oneness with the world. Some studies seem to show that the drug can even alter people's personalities, provoke greater openness and a wider interest in different experiences and appreciation of things such as art or music, which they may not have had before.
One of the experts said that some people report the effects of taking the drug as being β€œone of the most profound experiences they've had in their lives, even comparing it to the birth of their children."
Scientist know that the mushrooms act on the mood regulator serotonin, but how these experiences are connected to its ability to rearrange brain communication isn't yet clear.
The researchers believe that their findings may even help us to understand what consciousness really is and how we construct our sense of self.
Mitul Mehta, a psychopharmacology researcher at King's College London said that "through studies such as these we can really begin to tackle the questions of how we achieve coherent experiences of ourselves in the world around us, and understand what makes this break down."
The website Collective Evolution quotes from another study done at Hopkins University, where researchers believe their results could also help reduce anxiety, discomfort and fear among people facing death from diseases like cancer.
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