Archive for the ‘mental health’ Category

The world’s oldest psychiatric institution, the Bethlem Royal Hospital outside London, this week opened a new museum and art gallery charting the evolution in the treatment of mental disorders.

The original hospital was founded in 1247 in what is now central London and the name spawned the English word “bedlam” meaning chaos and madness.

In the 18th century visitors could pay to gawk at the hospital’s patients and, three centuries later, stereotypes about mental illness still abound.

“The museum is to do with challenging the stigma around mental health and one of the main ways you can do that is actually get people to walk onto the site and realise that this is not a frightening, threatening and dark place,” Victoria Northwood, head of the Archives and Museum, told AFP.

The bleak period in the history of mental treatment is addressed but not dwelled upon in the museum.

Iron and leather shackles used until the mid-19th century to restrain patients are displayed behind a wall of mirrors so they cannot be seen directly.

A padded cell is deconstructed and supplemented with audio of a patient describing what is was like to be locked inside.

The exhibition is full of interactive exhibits, including a video where the visitor is challenged to decide whether to commit a young woman, in denial about the dangers of her anorexia, to hospital against her will.

The decision is surprisingly difficult and it shows the complexity in diagnosing ailments linked to the brain, which we still know comparatively little.

“We are just getting across that this is not a black and white issue. It is not very easy. Human beings aren’t very easy,” Northwood said.

Art features strongly throughout the space, starting with the imposing 17th century statues “Raving Madness” and “Melancholy Madness” by Caius Gabriel Cibber, which used to stand at the entrance to the Bethlem hospital when it was in central London.

Also included are paintings by current or former patients, like Dan Duggan’s haunting charcoal “Cipher” series of a man’s elongated face—a testament to the 41-year-old’s inner turmoil.

Duggan, who made several suicide attempts and was detained three times under the mental health act including at Bethlem, said art was an instrumental tool in his recovery.

“A lot of the time you spend in hospital, particularly a psychiatric hospital, is very prescribed.

“When you’re engaged in a creative process, you’re able to be free of all of that for a while and the power is back in your hands to do whatever you want to do,” he said.

Visual artist and dancer Liz Atkin grew up in an alcoholic household. She developed dermatillomania or Compulsive Skin Picking from the age of eight as a way to manage the stress.

“I could have ended things in a very different way,” said Atkin, now aged 38.

Atkin received treatment and works with patients at the anxiety unit of Bethlem, which is now located in spacious grounds about one hour south of London.

She said the new museum and gallery is a unique space to encourage healing.

“Making artwork isn’t a complete cure and I personally don’t think that I’m cured, but I think it provides a very powerful outlet for some of those things that are hard to talk about.”

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-02-world-oldest-psychiatric-hospital-museum.html

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An analysis of data provided by 135,000 randomly selected participants – including 19,000 people who had used drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms – finds that use of psychedelics does not increase risk of developing mental health problems. The results are published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Previously, the researchers behind the study – from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim – had conducted a population study investigating associations between mental health and psychedelic use. However, that study, which looked at data from 2001-04, was unable to find a link between use of these drugs and mental health problems.

“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” says author and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen.

“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” concurs co-author and neuroscientist Teri Krebs.

For their study, they analyzed a data set from the US National Health Survey (2008-2011) consisting of 135,095 randomly selected adults from the US, including 19,299 users of psychedelic drugs.

Krebs and Johansen report that they found no evidence for a link between use of psychedelic drugs and psychological distress, depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.

In fact, on a number of factors, the study found a correlation between use of psychedelic drugs and decreased risk for mental health problems.

“Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics,” says Krebs.

However, Johansen acknowledges that – given the design of the study – the researchers cannot “exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others.”

Despite this, Johansen believes that the findings of the study are robust enough to draw the conclusion that prohibition of psychedelic drugs cannot be justified as a public health measure.

Krebs says:

“Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personality, and free-time and play.”

Commenting on the research in a piece for the journal Nature, Charles Grob, a paediatric psychiatrist at the University of California-Los Angeles, says the study “assures us that there were not widespread ‘acid casualties’ in the 1960s.” However, he urges caution when interpreting the results, as individual cases of adverse effects can and do occur as a consequence of psychedelic use.

For instance, Grob describes hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, sometimes referred to as “a never-ending trip.” Patients with this disorder experience “incessant distortions” in their vision, such as shimmering lights and colored dots. “I’ve seen a number of people with these symptoms following a psychedelic experience, and it can be a very serious condition,” says Grob.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290461.php

A new study published in the journal PLOS One and conducted by researchers at the Free University of Berlin in Germany found that listening to sad music evoked feelings of nostalgia, peacefulness, tenderness and wonder.

“For many individuals, listening to sad music can actually lead to beneficial emotional effects,” the researchers, led by psychologist Liila Taruffi, report. “Music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but [it] also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.”

Nostalgia was the most common emotion associated with listening to sad music, not surprisingly, since we know that listening to music can take you back to a time and place long ago.

The study also found that people tend to listen to sad music when they’re feeling sad themselves, though the music doesn’t make them sadder. Instead, it helps regulate their mood. Researchers conjecture that this information could be useful in understanding how music therapy helps treat certain conditions.

“Thus, from a therapeutic perspective, one could reasonably interpret a patient’s decision to select sad music as, apart from an aesthetic preference, an indicator of emotional distress. This might be useful especially in children or adults with autism spectrum disorder or alexithymic individuals, who have a reduced ability to express their emotions verbally,” the researchers said. “By ‘tuning’ their emotions with the ones expressed by the music, patients may feel heard and understood, even in the absence of a specific emotional vocabulary. This empathic connection between the music and the patient may help to relieve distress and to progress in therapy.”

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/why-do-we-like-listening-to-sad-music

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0110490

Few concepts in popular psychology have gotten more attention over the last few decades than self-esteem and its importance in life success and long-term mental health. Of course, much of this discussion has focused on young people, and how families, parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors can provide the proper psychological environment to help them grow into functional, mature, mentally stable adults.

Research shows that low self-esteem correlates with poorer mental health outcomes across the board, increased likelihood of suicide attempts, and difficulty developing supportive social relationships. Research also shows that trying to raise low self-esteem artificially comes with its own set of problems, including tendencies toward narcissism, antisocial behavior, and avoiding challenging activities that may threaten one’s self-concept.

This division in the research has led to a division amongst psychologists about how important self-esteem is, whether or not it’s useful to help people improve their self-esteem, and what the best practices are for accomplishing that.

In one camp, you have people who believe improving self-esteem is of paramount importance. On the other side of the fence are those who feel the whole concept of self-esteem is overrated and that it’s more critical to develop realistic perceptions about oneself.

But what if we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along? What if the self-esteem discussion is like the proverbial finger pointing at the moon?

New research is suggesting this may indeed be the case, and that a new concept — self-compassion — could be vastly more important than self-esteem when it comes to long-term mental health and success.

Why the Self-Esteem Model Is Flawed

The root problem with the self-esteem model comes down to some fundamental realities about language and cognition that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, pronounced all as one word) was designed to address.

The way psychologists classically treat issues with self-esteem is by having clients track their internal dialog — especially their negative self talk — and then employ a number of tactics to counter those negative statements with more positive (or at least more realistic) ones. Others attempt to stop the thoughts, distract themselves from them, or to self sooth.

Put bluntly, these techniques don’t work very well. The ACT research community has shown this over and over again. There are many reasons that techniques like distraction and thought stopping tend not to work — too many to go into all of them here. For a full discussion, see the books Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. For the purposes of our discussion here, we will look at one aspect of this: How fighting a thought increases its believability.

Imagine a young person has the thought, “There is something wrong with me.” The classic rhetoric of self-esteem forces this person to take the thought seriously. After all he or she has likely been taught that having good self-esteem is important and essential for success in life. If they fight against the thought by countering it, however, that means the thought is confirmed. The thought is itself something that is wrong with the individual and has to change. Every time they struggle against it, the noose just gets tighter as the thought is reconfirmed. The more they fight the thought, the more power they give it.

This is a classic example of why in ACT we say, “If you are not willing to have it, you do.”

The simple fact is, we can’t always prevent young people from experiencing insecurity and low self-esteem. Heck, we can’t eliminate those feelings in ourselves. All people feel inadequate or imperfect at times. And in an ever-evolving, ever-more complex world, there is simply no way we can protect our young people from events that threaten their self-esteem — events like social rejection, family problems, personal failures, and others.

What we can do is help young people to respond to those difficult situations and to self-doubt with self-compassion. And a couple of interesting studies that were recently published show that this may indeed offer a more useful way forward not only for young people, but for all of us.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Before we look at the studies, let’s take a moment to define self-compassion.

Dr. Kirstin Neff, one of the premier researchers in this area, defines self-compassion as consisting of three key components during times of personal suffering and failure:
1. Treating oneself kindly.
2. Recognizing one’s struggles as part of the shared human experience.
3. Holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness.

Given this context, the negativity or positivity of your thoughts isn’t what’s important. It’s how you respond to those thoughts that matters. Going back to the example above — “There is something wrong with me” — instead of fighting against that thought or trying to distract yourself from it, you could notice this thought without getting attached to it (become mindful), understand that it is common to all humans and part of our shared experience as people, and then treat yourself kindly instead of beating yourself up.

Does this approach really work better than simply improving self-esteem?

It seems it does.

A just-published longitudinal study that followed 2,448 ninth graders for a year found that low self-esteem had little effect on mental health in those who had the highest levels of self-compassion. That means that even if they had negative thoughts, those thoughts had minimal impact on their sense of well-being over time as compared to peers who didn’t have self-compassion skills.6

This suggests that teaching kids who suffer from self-esteem issues to be more self-compassionate may have more benefit than simply trying to improve their self-esteem.

The question is: How do we do that?

As it turns out, this is exactly where ACT excels.

Using ACT to Enhance Self-Compassion

Knowing that enhancing self-compassion has been shown not only to mitigate problems with self-esteem, but also impacts other conditions including traumatic stress. Jamie Yadavaia decided to see in his doctoral project if we could enhance self-compassion using ACT.

The results were promising.

A group of 78 students 18 years or older was randomized into one of two groups. The first group was put in a “waitlist condition” which basically means they received no treatment. The other group was provided with six hours of ACT training.

As anticipated, ACT intervention led to substantial increases in self-compassion over the waitlist control post-treatment and two months after the intervention. In this group self-compassion increased 106 percent — an effect size comparable to far longer treatments previously published. Not only that, but the ACT treatment reduced general psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and stress.

At the heart of all these changes was psychological flexibility, this skill seemed to be the key mediating factor across the board, which makes sense. After all, learning how to become less attached to your thoughts, hold them in mindful awareness, and respond to them with a broader repertoire of skills — like self-kindness, for example — has not only been posited in the self-compassion literature as a core feature of mental health but proven time and again in the ACT research as essential for it.

Taken together these studies have an important lesson to teach all of us.

It’s time for us to put down the idea that we have to think well of ourselves at all times to be mature, successful, functional, mentally healthy individuals. Indeed, this toxic idea can foster a kind of narcissistic ego-based self-story that is bound to blow up on us. Instead of increasing self-esteem content what we need to do is increase self-compassion as the context of all we do. That deflates ego-based self-stories, as we humbly accept our place as one amongst our fellow human beings, mindfully acknowledging that we all have self-doubt, we all suffer, we all fail from time to time, but none of that means we can’t live a life of meaning, purpose, and compassion for ourselves and others.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-c-hayes-phd/is-selfcompassion-more-im_b_6316320.html

Imagine discovering a plant that has the potential to help alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and paralyzing anxiety. That’s what some believe ayahuasca can do, and this psychedelic drink is attracting more and more tourists to the Amazon.

If you Google “ayahuasca,” you’ll find a litany of stories about Hollywood celebrities espousing its benefits, as well as the dangers of this relatively unstudied substance that triggers hallucinations.

On this Sunday’s episode of “This Is Life,” Lisa Ling goes inside an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru and talks to the men and women who are drinking this potent brew in hopes that it will alleviate their mental and emotional traumas.

Here are six things to know about ayahuasca, which some call a drug and others call a medicine:

War vets are seeking it for PTSD

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan LeCompte organizes trips to Peru for war veterans, like himself, who are seeking ayahuasca as a possible treatment for PTSD and other emotional and mental trauma suffered after multiple combat deployments.

He says he’s aware of the risks, as there’s very little known about ayahuasca’s effect on the body, but he says “it’s a calculated risk.”

“Ayahuasca is a way to give relief to those who are suffering,” says LeCompte, who says many veterans are not satisfied with the PTSD treatment they receive when they return from combat.

“It’s just, ‘Here’s a pill, here’s a Band-Aid.’ The ayahuasca medicine is a way to, instead of sweeping your dirt under the rug, you know, these medicines force you to take the rug outside and beat it with a stick until it’s clean,” LeCompte explains. “And that’s how I prefer to clean my house.”

Libby, an airman 1st class, is one of the veterans who accompanied LeCompte to Peru to try ayahuasca for her PTSD diagnosis, which includes sexual trauma while on active duty. She says antidepressants made her more suicidal.

“I would like to wish not to die all the time,” she said, when asked why she was seeking ayahuasca. “I want that to go away”

It’s endorsed by some Hollywood celebrities

As more ayahuasca centers pop up in the United States, not surprisingly, celebrities including Sting and Lindsay Lohan have spoken publicly about their experiences with the substance — albeit illegal outside of religious purposes in the United States.

Lohan, who has struggled with addiction, called her ayahuasca experience “eye-opening” and “intense.” “I saw my whole life in front of me, and I had to let go of past things that I was trying to hold on to that were dark in my life,” she said on her OWN reality series “Linsday.”

Sting said he and his wife, Trudie Styler, traveled to a church in the Amazon where they tried ayahuasca, which the British singer said made him feel like he was “wired to the entire cosmos.”

It’s not a cure
Those of have tried ayahuasca say that any benefits — like with other drugs or medicine — must be combined with therapy.

“If you think you’re just going to take ‘joy juice’ … you’re nuts,” explained author and ayahuasca expert Peter Gorman, who settled in Iquitos, Peru, during the first wave of ayahuasca tourism in the 1990s.

“The five years of work to get rid of [mental trauma] is still gonna be on you.”

Gorman, author of “Ayahuasca in My Blood,” explains that ayahuasca can help “dislodge that negative energy” and show people what their life could be like without the negativity.

“[Then] you can go back home and work on getting rid of it.”

And it used to be taken by only the shaman

Gorman says ayahuasca traditions in the Amazon have changed since Western tourists began seeking its benefits.

“Traditionally, the shaman drinks [ayahuasca], he accesses other realms of reality to find out where the dissonance is, that if the shaman corrects, will eliminate the [symptoms] — could be physical, could be emotional, could be bad luck,” Gorman explains. “[Then] we Americans come, and we said we insist on drinking the damn stuff — we want our lives changed and we want that experience, so that certainly set things right on its head.”

You can even buy ayahuasca powders and extracts online and in the local markets in the Peruvian Amazon, but Gorman warns “you don’t know what it would be.”

As more and more Western tourists consume ayahuasca, Gorman says it has him worried. “I’ve had this feeling in my bones for five or six years that something could go slightly wrong here that could sour a lot of stuff.”

Some ayahuasca tourists have died

In April, 19-year-old Briton Henry Miller died after taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony in Colombia, according to various media reports. And Kyle Nolan, an 18-year-old from northern California, died under similar circumstances in August 2012 in Peru.

The shaman who provided Nolan with the ayahuasca and who initially lied about his death was sentenced to three years in prison, his mother, Ingeborg Oswald, told CNN.

There have been other reported deaths, as well as reports of physical and sexual assaults. Writer Lily Kay Ross says she survived sexual abuse by an ayahuasca shaman.

“We have to take seriously the potential for harm alongside the huge potential for benefit,” Ross says on a video on a fundraising website for the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council. “Standards of safety and ethics would go a long way in making sure that this kind of abuse isn’t experienced by anyone else.”

Ron Wheelock, an American shaman who leads an ayahuasca healing center in the Peruvian Amazon, says he fears there may be more deaths.

“I hate to say it, yes there probably will be,” he told Lisa Ling. “It’s in the cards”

There’s a movement to create safe ayahuasca

Through IndieGogo.com, the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council is raising money to create a health guide for ayahuasca centers in the Amazon, so tourists know which centers are safe and harvesting the plants in a sustainable manner that supports the local communities.

The idea would be to put the ESC’s logo outside ayahuasca ceremony sites to signify those centers that meet the council’s criteria for safety and sustainability.

In addition, there are efforts to study the medicinal benefits of ayahuasca so that it can be regulated and legalized in the United States, explains Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies.

“At a time when drug policy is being reevaluated, when marijuana looks like it’s on the road toward legalization, when psychedelic medicine is moving forward through the FDA and we can envision a time when psychedelics are available as prescription medicines, how ayahuasca should be handled in a regulatory context is really up in the air,” Doblin said.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/22/health/ayahuasca-medicine-six-things/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

brain

The many documented cases of strange delusions and neurological syndromes can offer a window into how bizarre the brain can be.

It may seem that hallucinations are random images that appear to some individuals, or that delusions are thoughts that arise without purpose. However, in some cases, a specific brain pathway may create a particular image or delusion, and different people may experience the same hallucination.

In recent decades, with advances in brain science, researchers have started to unravel the causes of some of these conditions, while others have remained a mystery.

Here is a look at seven odd hallucinations, which show that anything is possible when the brain takes a break from reality.

1. Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome
This neurological syndrome is characterized by bizarre, distorted perceptions of time and space, similar to what Alice experienced in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Patients with Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome describe seeing objects or parts of their bodies as smaller or bigger than their actual sizes, or in an altered shape. These individuals may also perceive time differently.

The rare syndrome seems to be caused by some viral infections, epilepsy, migraine headaches and brain tumors. Studies have also suggested that abnormal activity in parts of the visual cortex that handle information about the shape and size of objects might cause the hallucinations.

It’s also been suggested that Carroll himself experienced the condition during migraine headaches and used them as inspiration for writing the tale of Alice’s strange dream.

English psychiatrist John Todd first described the condition in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1955, and that’s why the condition is also called Todd’s syndrome. However, an earlier reference to the condition appears in a 1952 article by American neurologist Caro Lippman. The doctor describes a patient who reported feeling short and wide as she walked, and referenced “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to explain her body image illusions.

2. Walking Corpse Syndrome
This delusion, also called Cotard’s Syndrome, is a rare mental illness in which patients believe they are dead, are dying or have lost their internal organs.

French neurologist Jules Cotard first described the condition in 1880, finding it in a woman who had depression and also symptoms of psychosis. The patient believed she didn’t have a brain or intestines, and didn’t need to eat. She died of starvation.

Other cases of Cotard’s syndrome have been reported in people with a range of psychiatric and neurological problems, including schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury and multiple sclerosis.

In a recent case report of Cotard’s syndrome, researchers described a previously healthy 73-year-old woman who went to the emergency room insisting that she was “going to die and going to hell.” Eventually, doctors found the patient had bleeding in her brain due to a stroke. After she received treatment in the hospital, her delusion resolved within a week, according to the report published in January 2014 in the journal of Neuropsychiatry.

3. Charles Bonnet syndrome
People who have lost their sight may develop Charles Bonnet syndrome, which involves having vivid, complex visual hallucinations of things that aren’t really there.

People with this syndrome usually hallucinate people’s faces, cartoons, colored patterns and objects. It is thought the condition occurs because the brain’s visual system is no longer receiving visual information from the eye or part of the retina, and begins making up its own images.

Charles Bonnet syndrome occurs in between 10 and 40% of older adults who have significant vision loss, according to studies.

4. Clinical lycanthropy
In this extremely rare psychiatric condition, patients believe they are turning into wolves or other animals. They may perceive their own bodies differently, and insist they are growing the fur, sharp teeth and claws of a wolf.

Cases have also been reported of people with delusional beliefs about turning into dogs, pigs, frogs and snakes.

The condition usually occurs in combination with another disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, according to a review study published in the March issue of the journal History of Psychiatry in 2014.

5. Capgras delusion
Patients with Capgras delusion believe that an imposter has replaced a person they feel close to, such as a friend or spouse. The delusion has been reported in patients with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, advanced Parkinson’s disease, dementia and brain lesions.

One brain imaging study suggested the condition may involve reduced neural activity in the brain system that processes information about faces and emotional responses.

6. Othello syndrome
Named after Shakespeare’s character, Othello syndrome involves a paranoid belief that the sufferer’s partner is cheating. People with this condition experience strong obsessive thoughts and may show aggression and violence.

In one recent case report, doctors described a 46-year-old married man in the African country Burkina Faso who had a stroke, which left him unable to communicate and paralyzed in half of his body. The patient gradually recovered from his paralysis and speaking problems, but developed a persistent delusional jealousy and aggression toward his wife, accusing her of cheating with an unidentified man.

7. Ekbom’s syndrome
Patients with Ekbom’s syndrome, also known as delusional parasitosis or delusional infestations, strongly believe they are infested with parasites that are crawling under their skin. Patients report sensations of itching and being bitten, and sometimes, in an effort to get rid of the pathogens, they may hurt themselves, which can result in wounds and actual infections.

It’s unknown what causes these delusions, but studies have linked the condition with structural changes in the brain, and some patients have improved when treated with antipsychotic medications.

http://www.livescience.com/46477-oddest-hallucinations.html

imrs

Psychedelic mushrooms can do more than make you see the world in kaleidoscope. Research suggests they may have permanent, positive effects on the human brain.

In fact, a mind-altering compound found in some 200 species of mushroom is already being explored as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety. People who consume these mushrooms, after “trips” that can be a bit scary and unpleasant, report feeling more optimistic, less self-centered, and even happier for months after the fact.

But why do these trips change the way people see the world? According to a study published today in Human Brain Mapping, the mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.

The study examined brain activity in those who’d received injections of psilocybin, which gives “shrooms” their psychedelic punch. Despite a long history of mushroom use in spiritual practice, scientists have only recently begun to examine the brain activity of those using the compound, and this is the first study to attempt to relate the behavioral effects to biological changes.

After injections, the 15 participants were found to have increased brain function in areas associated with emotion and memory. The effect was strikingly similar to a brain in dream sleep, according to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doctoral researcher in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.

“You’re seeing these areas getting louder, and more active,” he said. “It’s like someone’s turned up the volume there, in these regions that are considered part of an emotional system in the brain. When you look at a brain during dream sleep, you see the same hyperactive emotion centers.”

In fact, administration of the drug just before or during sleep seemed to promote higher activity levels during Rapid Eye Movement sleep, when dreams occur. An intriguing finding, Carhart-Harris says, given that people tend to describe their experience on psychedelic drugs as being like “a waking dream.” It seems that the brain may literally be slipping into unconscious patterns while the user is awake.

Conversely, the subjects of the study had decreased activity in other parts of the brain—areas associated with high level cognition. “These are the most recent parts of our brain, in an evolutionary sense,” Carhart-Harris said. “And we see them getting quieter and less organized.”

This dampening of one area and amplification of another could explain the “mind-broadening” sensation of psychedelic drugs, he said. Unlike most recreational drugs, psychotropic mushrooms and LSD don’t provide a pleasant, hedonistic reward when they’re consumed. Instead, users take them very occasionally, chasing the strange neurological effects instead of any sort of high.

“Except for some naïve users who go looking for a good time…which, by the way, is not how it plays out,” Carhart-Harris said, “you see people taking them to experience some kind of mental exploration, and to try to understand themselves.”

Our firm sense of self—the habits and experiences that we find integral to our personality—is quieted by these trips. Carhart-Harris believes that the drugs may unlock emotion while “basically killing the ego,” allowing users to be less narrow-minded and let go of negative outlooks.

It’s still not clear why such effects can have more profound long-term effects on the brain than our nightly dreams. But Carhart-Harris hopes to see more of these compounds in modern medicine. “The way we treat psychological illnesses now is to dampen things,” he said. “We dampen anxiety, dampen ones emotional range in the hope of curing depression, taking the sting out of what one feels.”

But some patients seem to benefit from having their emotions “unlocked” instead. “It would really suit the style of psychotherapy where we engage in a patient’s history and hang-ups,” Carhart-Harris said. “Instead of putting a bandage over the exposed wound, we’d be essentially loosening their minds—promoting a permanent change in outlook.”

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/07/03/psychedelic-drugs-put-your-brain-in-a-waking-dream-study-finds/