Psychedelics plus psychotherapy can trigger rapid changes in the brain − new research at the level of neurons is untangling how
The human brain can change – but usually only slowly and with great effort, such as when learning a new sport or foreign language, or recovering from a stroke. Learning new skills correlates with changes in the brain, as evidenced by neuroscience research with animals and functional brain scans in people. Presumably, if you master Calculus 1, something is now different in your brain. Furthermore, motor neurons in the brain expand and contract depending on how often they are exercised – a neuronal reflection of “use it or lose it.”
People may wish their brains could change faster – not just when learning new skills, but also when overcoming problems like anxiety, depression and addictions.
Social scientists call events like these psychologically transformative experiences or pivotal mental states. For the rest of us, they’re forks in the road. Presumably, these positive experiences quickly change some “wiring” in the brain.
How do these rapid, positive transformations happen? It seems the brain has a way to facilitate accelerated change. And here’s where it gets really interesting: Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy appears to tap into this natural neural mechanism.
Those who’ve had a psychedelic experience usually describe it as a mental journey that’s impossible to put into words. However, it can be conceptualized as an altered state of consciousness with distortions of perception, modified sense of self and rapidly changing emotions. Presumably there is a relaxation of the higher brain control, which allows deeper brain thoughts and feelings to emerge into conscious awareness.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy combines the psychology of talk therapy with the power of a psychedelic experience. Researchers have described cases in which subjects report profound, personally transformative experiences after one six-hour session with the psychedelic substance psilocybin, taken in conjunction with psychotherapy. For example, patients distressed about advancing cancer have quickly experienced relief and an unexpected acceptance of the approaching end. How does this happen?
Research suggests that new skills, memories and attitudes are encoded in the brain by new connections between neurons –…