Even in the progressive and mostly open-minded society we live in, drugs are a subject of controversy and arguments. This is mostly caused by people clumping them all together under the moniker “drugs”, but also by continuous insistence of the United States government to keep them as illegal as possible.
And while marijuana might have won some traction in the past few years, with its recreational use becoming legal in a few states and its medicinal use in even more of them, other drugs that are just as useful and have as much potential are still universally banned.
And this is a shame, because if researchers were allowed to study those drugs even half as intensely as some people smoke tobacco or drink alcohol, we would have had the cures to many more mental diseases and issues than we do now. But finally, it seems like some researchers are given a green light to do some light experiments on these “dangerous narcotics”, and they discovered some pretty interesting things.
After last week a team of researchers discovered why LSD makes you feel one with the universe, this week we a have a different team that shows that the magic mushrooms’ psilocybin reduces social exclusion pain. In case you haven’t caught on, psilocybin is the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, which are also colloquially known as magic mushrooms.
The study, led by postdoctoral researcher Katrin Preller from the University of Zurich, shows that the psilocybin in magic mushrooms greatly reduces the emotional response associated with being socially excluded. This works by attenuating the activity in the associated areas of the brain.
For the research, 21 participants had to play video games and take magic mushrooms. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but it just goes to show that you can still be paid for doing what you love. Anyway, the participants had to play a video game with what they assumed were two people but were actually two separate AIs.
As they were playing, the AIs were also including the participants in their conversation, but they gradually started ignoring them and only talking among themselves. The test was taken twice by each participant, once as they were given a low dose of psilocybin, and once more as they were given a placebo.
Expectedly, even if they remained aware during both circumstances that the two AIs (whom they thought to be people) were ignoring them, the participants reported far fewer feelings of exclusion when they were given the psychoactive substance.
Of course, the volunteers were also looked at in an MRI machine in order to have their brain activity studied. Three major conclusions were drawn from the brain scans, each related to how the substance affected the brain and how its regions communicated with each other.
First and foremost, there was far less activity in the areas of the brain that had to do with anxiety, stress, and depression. Next, instead of focusing on those areas, the brain instead made connections between areas that don’t normally communicate with each other, thus bringing forth some hallucinations and reducing negative feelings.
Last but not least, just like LSD and some other psychoactive substances, psilocybin was shown to increase subjective feelings of connection to the environment and to other people, something that leads to stronger empathetic connections between people and reduction of the egocentric bias. This allows you to better understand your peers, making it nearly impossible to get upset with them, and allowing you to feel a connection with everyone and everything.
Image source: Wikimedia