A new study on psychedelic mushrooms claims that their ingestion activates certain parts of the brain and suppresses other parts, creating a state of consciousness akin to a "waking dream." The effect is said to persist for months.
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 ...
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 ...
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,” [neuropsychopharmacology researcher] 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 ...
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.
In the comments section, one reader warns that psychedelic mushrooms can have negative effects not mentioned in the article.
The first experience is almost always shocking, even ego-shattering, while subsequent experiences are more mind-expanding... However, I've known people who never got past the trauma of having their egos shattered by magic mushrooms, and it changed them forever, but not in a beneficial way.
Another commenter describes a nightmarish shroom trip that left him emotionally damaged for years.
Bottom line: I definitely would not take this research (which was done under medical supervision) as an invitation to experiment with something as potentially destabilizing as psychedelic substances. But the effects are interesting, and are more or less in line with what we might expect if access to a higher plane of consciousness is normally suppressed by the ego.