Psilocybin: Fostering a Healthy Brain
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As misinformed perceptions of psilocybin wane, psychologists, scientists, and researchers have been conducting a wide variety of studies investigating the health benefits of the active compound of the psilocybe genus of mushrooms. Compelling scientific evidence continues to bolster a new, responsible, and informed discourse about psilocybin. It has been found to give terminally ill patients a new perspective on their impending deaths, pull sufferers of depression out of their obstinate and negative neural patterns of thought, and aid in the healing of trauma and treatment-resistant addiction. In another vein of studies, psilocybin has shown to promote the birth of new neurons in the brain. This adds to the idea that psilocybin, administered in a therapeutic manner, plays an important role in fostering a healthy brain. Moreover, psilocybin’s effect on brain chemistry manifests itself in wonderful ways in the personality, behaviors, and creativity of study participants. One particular aspect of personality influenced by psilocybin- assisted therapy is that of openness. Without the experience of non-ordinary states of consciousness, like the kind brought on by psilocybin ingestion, personality tends to be stabilized by age twenty-five, and more or less fixed by age thirty. However, a new study in a series of investigations into psilocybin at Johns Hopkins University shows that the neural connectivity that happens under the effect of psilocybin reinvigorates the plasticity of openness in personality. This openness in turn inspires creativity and, in a very profound sense, restores youth.
Psilocybin and Neurogenesis
Neuroscientist Zeno Sanchez-Ramos and PhD student Briony Catlow collaborated on an investigation into the way psilocybin grows new brain cells. Catlow had figured out a way to measure neurogenesis, going off of data that showed how patients with depression display a rate of recovery correlated to the time a new neural pathway takes to reach maturity. Sanchez-Ramos’ study focused on the hippocampus area of the brain – a part responsible for certain modes of learning. Sanchez-Ramos found that psilocybin has an impact on the connections that occur in the hippocampus. Psilocybin and “a highly selective serotonin agonist” influence hippocampal neurogenesis, which in turn impacts “classical conditioning.” Classical conditioning are learned behaviors in response to neutral stimuli that is preceded by “potent stimuli,” causing one to automatically react a certain way to something neutral. What this research suggests is that psilocybin does indeed have some effect on the creation of new neural pathways.
Roland Griffiths study for Johns Hopkins perhaps shows the behavioral manifestations of what Sanchez-Ramos’ study shows about new neural pathways created with the help of psilocybin. This study provides evidence that may strongly infer the way psilocybin helps participants “become younger” in the sense that they become more open. The pool of fifty-two healthy adult subjects ranged from ages twenty-four to sixty-five, all were educated and “spiritually active.” Given a standardized dose of psilocybin, the discerning factor was whether participants declared having had a transcendent experience. Those that reported having spiritual-mystical moments during their monitored session showed a significant increase in one of five main domains of personality. Of neuroticism, extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, openness proved to be the only aspect of personality that showed a high increase. This implies that psilocybin reverses the process of fixity that seems to happen to any particular person’s personality by the age of thirty. Follow up testing also showed that these changes in increased levels of openness persisted over a year after the initial study. Griffiths believes the increase in openness set off by psilocybin assisted therapy is permanent –meaning that it shatters the idea that personality necessarily has to remain relatively static after a certain age threshold.
Griffiths contends that the type of spiritual-mystical experiences occasioned by psilocybin occur in the population naturally, without the compound’s use. The difference is that the occurrence is much more seldom and often takes years of practice and spiritual training to achieve the level of transcendence facilitated by psilocybin. Dr. Charles Grob comments on Griffiths’ research results by stating that psilocybin can now be used to bring about these seldom occurring transcendent moments in order to yield lasting positive changes to openness in personality.
Openness, Youth, and Creativity
There are many implications to the effects of psilocybin on openness in personality. Two of the most salient and intriguing are that of our understanding of youth and creativity. Psilocybin’s influence on the birth of new neural pathways and the increase in openness and plasticity in personality fosters youth in a very profound way. Griffiths doesn’t mean youth in the conventional sense. Often times, when we think of youth, we think of physical rejuvenation –some idea of wrinkle-free skin and physical resilience. While psilocybin’s influence in increasing openness can absolutely manifest itself in physical ways, it promotes youth of the kind cultivated by the mind before the body. Youth of the mind is perhaps the first place one should be concerned about in any attempt to prolong physical youth. By increasing the domain of openness, psilocybin assisted therapy catalyzes a profound form of mental and personal rejuvenation. Openness in personality allows for greater space for a periodical, critical revision of one’s ideas about life, the world, and personal relationships. Openness translates into the ability to consider one’s frameworks of thought and place them up for re-drafting or adaptation according to the assessment of newly discovered information. This makes the change in personality contribute to youth by making one open to change for the sake of ever-increasing grace in one’s navigation of life and reality.
Greater openness is also correlated with creativity. One study on psilocybin’s influence on personality mentions the concept of absorption. Absorption is described as a personality trait that holds significant weight in the potential outcome of a mystical experience while on psilocybin. This suggests that a person’s disposition and willingness to focus on new experiences has a noteworthy influence on whether that person achieves a mystical experience. Thus, the trait of absorption and the openness catalyzed by psilocybin, together, contribute to the optimum increase in openness. In essence, being open to the inner experience of psilocybin induced introspection in turn multiplies that already existing disposition to openness. Now that there is scientific evidence that shows psilocybin increases the personality domain of openness, a new research question into creativity seems to follow naturally. If openness to experience is an indication of levels of creativity, then it is absolutely exciting and intriguing to attempt to gauge how psilocybin promotes it. Although there has yet to be a research study to cite the correlation between psilocybin and creativity, the inference seems rational and plausible when considering the number of musicians, poets, painters, and writers that attest to having mystical psilocybin experiences. Before placement of rigid modern drug policy, there were pilot studies conducted to investigate the link between psychedelics and creativity. One such study was conducted in 1955 –in an attempt to measure the creative influence of mescaline and LSD on four prominent graphic designers. In 1967, an informal investigation into the use of psychedelics by artists looked at ninety-one creatives to assess their perspectives on the influence of psilocybin and other drugs on their work. Many of the artists’ testimonies contain similar comments about the psychedelic’s ability to “eliminate superficiality from their work,” imparting their art with more profound meaning. One particular case mentioned in a study on psychedelics and creativity was that of Isaac Abrams. His initial experience with psilocybin prompted him to continue experimenting with other psychedelics under the guidance of a psychotherapist specializing in the creative process. Abrams was quoted as saying that the psilocybin opened him up to the rhythm of life and inspired a great joy and satisfaction in the act of drawing.
Psilocybin shows such promise in the areas of rejuvenation of the mind, openness to experience, and creativity. These are three compelling concepts that could positively change individual personalities and thus the level of kindness and beauty of a greater collective society. Psilocybin can impart its work on keeping our minds open to life and thus to creation, the same way it fosters creation in our brains. Although the link between psilocybin and creativity remains in the realm of speculation, there is convincing intuitive evidence that should inspire scientific research to concretely confirm it. This is yet another exciting reason to change the way the world understands psilocybin and other psychedelics. With guidance from a doctor, a quality controlled, regulated dose of psilocybin could launch waves of unique inspiration within artists, and especially, within those that do not imagine they could call themselves artists.