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Change Your Mind: How Psychedelics Alter Your Brain Chemistry

June 2, 2023

Psychedelic Healing

You may have heard the hype surrounding magic mushrooms – also known as psilocybin – but how do they really work? What enables this so-called ‘magic’ that has such a unique effect on us? 

Read this post to find out how psychedelics such as psilocybin have the ability to alter our brain chemistry and change the way we think.

How does psilocybin alter your brain chemistry?

If you’ve ever dabbled in magic mushrooms or heard of their ability to seemingly create euphoric feelings, you likely know the kind of sensations that arise once these types of psychedelics are ingested… from changes in sensory inputs such as taste, touch, sound, and sight, to a sense of detachment, or the feeling of being in dream-like state. 

Hallucinogenic substances like psilocybin, along with other various psychedelics, produce these kinds of psychoactive experiences that can alter your state of consciousness.

But why do these out of body, mystical experiences happen to us when we ingest psychedelics? 

Well, in short, the answer is that our brain elicits changes that create powerful, altered states of consciousness when we consume psychedelics. While it can be ‘fun’ to experience changes in our sensations, what is more remarkable is the ability of psychedelics to produce positive therapeutic outcomes through changing our brain chemistry.

There has been a lot of recent research on this particular topic, as scientists are eager to uncover the therapeutic potentials of psilocybin that have been unfortunately covered up by the lasting negative stigmatization and previously held misconceptions around the idea of psychedelic drugs. 

Fred Barrett, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, has revealed some profound transformations that study participants have experienced through psychedelic-assisted therapy. These findings show that when psychedelics are consumed in a therapeutic and controlled setting, the brain becomes more “plastic,” or flexible, and open to change.

An important caveat to mention in this study, is that the controlled therapeutic environment is an important influence; it creates a setting that is receptive to learning, healing, and growth. Simply making the brain more plastic itself doesn’t necessarily lead to a positive outcome. 

Adverse outcomes can happen when psychedelics are misused in improper settings, where they have the potential to do more harm than good. Since our brains respond to the environment we are in, to safely experience the effects and benefits of psilocybin, it is important to be in a setting that promotes healing and growth. 

This is why psilocybin therapy is rapidly gaining popularity – with a therapist facilitating the process, it helps create a relaxed environment where the patient can be comfortably guided to a positive outcome when psilocybin is ingested into their system. 

Psychedelics such as psilocybin seem to increase the connections in the brain. In a new study, Yale researchers reveal that one dose of psilocybin given to mice caused an immediate and long-lasting increase in the connections between neurons.

These new connections may be structural changes that the brain uses to store new experiences and promote the growth of more neuronal connections. 

Connections in the brain are important to us as they build the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Our early years are the most active period for establishing neural connections, but new connections can also be formed throughout life.  

Chronic stress and depression are known to reduce the number of these neuronal connections. This is why psilocybin therapy has shown positive and long-lasting effects of those who suffer with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with a wide range of mood and substance disorders, as researchers theorize that these lost neuronal connections are replenished by the effects of psilocybin. 

One of the reasons why scientists are curious to expand the current research on psychedelic-assisted therapy, is because this form of therapy has shown profound results that last with just a single session. 

The transformation that many studies have unveiled from psilocybin therapy is proof enough for scientists that research involving psychedelics has the potential to change lives by starting from the root cause: changing the way we think.

The evident changes to our brain chemistry and the promising results of psilocybin therapy research tells us that there is more to learn from different psychedelics and how they interact with our mind.

Megan Binder

B.A Psychology

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