Archive for the ‘Psychological Medicine’ Category

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/

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Pedophiles’ brains are “abnormally tuned” to find young children attractive, according to a new study published this week. The research, led by Jorge Ponseti at Germany’s University of Kiel, means that it may be possible to diagnose pedophiles in the future before they are able to offend.

The findings, published in scientific journal Biology Letters, discovered that pedophiles have the same neurological reaction to images of those they find attractive as those of people with ordinary sexual predilections, but that all the relevant cerebral areas become engaged when they see children, as opposed to fellow adults. The occipital areas, prefrontal cortex, putamen, and nucleus caudatus become engaged whenever a person finds another attractive, but the subject of this desire is inverted for pedophiles.

While studies into the cognitive wiring of sex offenders have long been a source of debate, this latest research offers some fairly conclusive proof that there is a neural pattern behind their behavior.

The paper explains: “The human brain contains networks that are tuned to face processing, and these networks appear to activate different processing streams of the reproductive domain selectively: nurturing processing in the case of child faces and sexual processing in the case of sexually preferred adult faces. This implies that the brain extracts age-related face cues of the preferred sex that inform appropriate response selection in the reproductive domains: nurturing in the case of child faces and mating in the case of adult faces.”

Usually children’s faces elicit feelings of caregiving from both sexes, whereas those of adults provide stimuli in choosing a mate. But among pedophiles, this trend is skewed, with sexual, as opposed to nurturing, emotions burgeoning.

The study analyzed the MRI scans of 56 male participants, a group that included 13 homosexual pedophiles and 11 heterosexual pedophiles, exposing them to “high arousing” images of men, women, boys, and girls. Participants then ranked each photo for attractiveness, leading researchers to their conclusion that the brain network of pedophiles is activated by sexual immaturity.

The critical new finding is that face processing is also tuned to face cues revealing the developmental stage that is sexually preferred,” the paper reads.

Dr. James Cantor, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, said he was “delighted” by the study’s results. “I have previously described pedophilia as a ‘cross-wiring’ of sexual and nurturing instincts, and this data neatly verifies that interpretation.”

Cantor has undertaken extensive research into the area, previously finding that pedophiles are more likely to be left-handed, 2.3 cm shorter than the average male, and 10 to 15 IQ points lower than the norm.

He continued: “This [new] study is definitely a step in the right direction, and I hope other researchers repeat this kind of work. There still exist many contradictions among scientists’ observations, especially in identifying exactly which areas of the brain are the most central to pedophilia. Because financial support for these kinds of studies is quite small, these studies have been quite small, permitting them to achieve only incremental progress. Truly definitive studies about what in the brain causes pedophilia, what might detect it, and what might prevent it require much more significant support.”

Ponseti said that he hoped to investigate this area further by examining whether findings could be emulated when images of children’s faces are the sole ones used. This could lead to gauging a person’s predisposition to pedophilia far more simply than any means currently in place. “We could start to look at the onset of pedophilia, which is probably in puberty at about 12 or 14 years [old],” he told The Independent.

While Cantor is correct in citing the less than abundant size of the study, the research is certainly significant in providing scope for future practicable testing that could reduce the number of pedophilic crimes committed. By being able to run these tests and examine a person’s tendency toward being sexually attracted to underage children, rehabilitative care and necessary precautions could be taken to safeguard children and ensure that those at risk of committing a crime of this ilk would not be able to do so.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/23/study-finds-pedophiles-brains-wired-to-find-children-attractive.html#

bull

A recent study by a researcher at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) at the Hôpital Louis-H. Lafontaine and professor at the Université de Montréal suggests that bullying by peers changes the structure surrounding a gene involved in regulating mood, making victims more vulnerable to mental health problems as they age.

The study published in the journal Psychological Medicine seeks to better understand the mechanisms that explain how difficult experiences disrupt our response to stressful situations. “Many people think that our genes are immutable; however this study suggests that environment, even the social environment, can affect their functioning. This is particularly the case for victimization experiences in childhood, which change not only our stress response but also the functioning of genes involved in mood regulation,” says Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, lead author of the study.

A previous study by Ouellet-Morin, conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (UK), showed that bullied children secrete less cortisol — the stress hormone — but had more problems with social interaction and aggressive behaviour. The present study indicates that the reduction of cortisol, which occurs around the age of 12, is preceded two years earlier by a change in the structure surrounding a gene (SERT) that regulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and depression.

To achieve these results, 28 pairs of identical twins with a mean age of 10 years were analyzed separately according to their experiences of bullying by peers: one twin had been bullied at school while the other had not. “Since they were identical twins living in the same conditions, changes in the chemical structure surrounding the gene cannot be explained by genetics or family environment. Our results suggest that victimization experiences are the source of these changes,” says Ouellet-Morin. According to the author, it would now be worthwhile to evaluate the possibility of reversing these psychological effects, in particular, through interventions at school and support for victims.

Journal Reference:

1.I. Ouellet-Morin, C. C. Y. Wong, A. Danese, C. M. Pariante, A. S. Papadopoulos, J. Mill, L. Arseneault. Increased serotonin transporter gene (SERT) DNA methylation is associated with bullying victimization and blunted cortisol response to stress in childhood: a longitudinal study of discordant monozygotic twins. Psychological Medicine, 2012; DOI: 10.1017/S0033291712002784

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121218081615.htm