Psychedelics, Ego Death and the Brain

Contemporary neuroscience has shown that psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD and ayahuasca significantly decrease activity in the brain’s DMN (default mode network). This decline in DMN action in a way reboots one’s brain and is associated with one of the lasting therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances.

The DMN is an interlinked group of brain regions that are linked to introspective functions and internally directed thoughts like self-criticism and self-reflection.

The practical connections that constitute the DMN grow between birth and adulthood. It is not until the age of five that a child develops ‘ego’ or a stable sense of narrative self.

It has been theorized from an evolutionarily point of view that the default mode network plays a significant role in an individual’s survival; helping one create a continuous sense of self and helping them differentiate themselves from the world around them.

The default mode network is found to be overly active in some mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and OCD. Matthew Brown, a psychiatrist, equates this hyperactivity to instances of rigid thought patterns, hyper criticality and negative thoughts about oneself.

Research shows that when you consume a psychedelic, DMN activity significantly decreases while connectivity increases in the rest of the brain. In simple words, if you suffer from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and you ingest a psychedelic substance, the levels of depression and anxiety reduce.

Psychedelics therefore have a powerful therapeutic ability to change negative thought processes.

For instance, the Imperial College London conducted a study on 12 patients who suffered from severe depression to evaluate the influence of psilocybin-assisted therapy on them. The results showed that psilocybin reduced their depression score significantly in the three months’ allocated period.

A complimentary study proposed that psilocybin’s therapeutic impact was associated with its potential to reset the default mode network by restoring it in a less rigid way than it was before treatment.

Generally, studies have shown that psychedelics generate increased psychological flexibility, which would explain the decline in anxiety and depression after a psychedelic experience.

A study that was conducted by the Imperial College London in 2016 that utilized various neuroimaging methods measured experiential reports and electrical activity from participants. The aim of the study was to explore the link between reported psychological responses and brain activity to LSD in 20 participants.

The results showed that LSD diminished the DMN’s function, which strongly corresponded to an ego death experience. This indicated that the default mode network performed an important part of supporting the ‘self’ or the ‘ego’.

Likewise, Johns Hopkins University researchers published a study that demonstrated how psilocybin had the ability to trigger an ego death experience in individuals. These experiences elicited positive changes in both behavior and attitude.

As more is understood about the ways in which psychedelics affect the human brain and body, we are likely to see a lot of therapeutic and wellness products from companies like Pure Extracts Corp.

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