This Is Your Brain on Magic Mushrooms

By Ben Thomas | October 29, 2014 4:16 pm

Left, the stable brain activity in a normal brain. Right, under the influence of psilocybin, diverse brain regions not normally in communication become strongly linked.

Psychedelic substances can change a user’s mindset in profound ways — a fact that’s relevant even to those who’ve never touched the stuff, because such altered states of consciousness give scientists a window into how our brains give rise to our normal mental states. But neuroscientists are only beginning to understand how and why those mental changes occur.

Now some mathematicians have jumped into the fray, using a new mathematical technique to analyze the brains of people on magic mushrooms.

Psychedelic Puzzles

Scientists have known for decades that many of psychedelic drugs’ most famous effects — visual hallucinations, heightened sensory and emotional sensitivity, etc. — are linked to elevated levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

But increasingly neuroscience researchers are interested not just in single chemicals but also in overall brain activity, because the most complicated brain functions arise from lots of different regions working together. Over the last several years, a branch of mathematics known as network theory has been applied to study this phenomenon.

Paul Expert, a complexity researcher at the Imperial College London, and his team took this approach to analyzing fMRI data from people who’d taken psilocybin, the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms. The team had recently been working on a new technique for network modeling — one designed to highlight small but unusual patterns in network connectivity.

Brains on Drugs

The team used fMRI data from a previous study, in which 15 healthy people rested inside an fMRI scanner for 12 minutes on two separate occasions. The volunteers received a placebo in one of those sessions, and a mild dose of psilocybin during the other, but they weren’t told which was which.

The investigators crunched the data, specifically studying the brain’s functional connectivity — the amount of active communication among different brain areas.

They found two main effects of the psilocybin. First, most brain connections were fleeting. New connectivity patterns tended to disperse more quickly under the influence of psilocybin than under placebo. But, intriguingly, the second effect was in the opposite direction: a few select connectivity patterns were surprisingly stable, and very different from the normal brain’s stable connections.

This indicates “that the brain does not simply become a random system after psilocybin injection, but instead retains some organizational features, albeit different from the normal state,” the authors write in their paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Far Out

The findings seem to explain some of the psychological experiences of a psilocybin trip. Linear thinking and planning become extremely difficult, but nonlinear “out of the box” thinking explodes in all directions. By the same token, it can become difficult to tell fantasy apart from reality during a psilocybin trip; but focusing on a certain thought or image — real or imagined — often greatly amplifies that thought’s intensity and vividness.

The authors suggest that effects like these may be rooted in the two connectivity traits they spotted, since the connectivity patterns that rapidly disperse may reflect unorganized thinking, while the stable inter-regional connections may reflect information from one sensory domain “bleeding” into other areas of sensory experience. In fact, the researchers also suggest that synesthesia — the sensory blurring that causes users of psychedelics to experience sounds as colors, for example  may be a result of these connectivity changes too.

The researchers hope that the patterns they’ve found will provide neuroscientists with new approaches for studying the brain on psychedelic drugs, and therefore better understand the strange psychological effects their users report.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • TLongmire

    .Your brain is a matrix that is dispensing substances known as neurotransmitters which don’t actually transmit anything but rather their purpose is to alter the rate and manner in which energy is affected. The resulting diffusion of energy is a 3-dimensional fractal continuously expanding outward in all directions or your ora which is being observed by a Consciousness at a given distance so it appears as a sphere. your ora could and perhaps is being observed at multiple distances giving rise to the sphere within spheres notion. As the observer perceives your ora it analyzes the resulting fractals (like divining the surface of the sun) and forms ideas within itself and then these ideas are conveyed back to you as thoughts to see how You react. This is either due to its choice or more likely due to the nature of “knowing” Let me deconstruct the word know for you, there is a line (l) intersected (->l) that diverges (->K) in (N) and around (O) to double you (W). The act of analyzing and conveying the information is perhaps the 1/2 to 2 second delay in “our” reality Didn’t Plato note that man by his nature is a member of a group which could be taken a step farther by saying man by his nature needs another to “be”. In this reality we are observed so that perhaps we become aware. So what I perceive as my conscious mind is my perception of the observed sphere (that hazy mirrored reflection) and my thoughts which are actually the interpretation of the observed sphere by another. Here is a way to examine what I mean, become a point in space then a sphere then back to a point again over and over, you can easily “see” a star and manipulate it by changing the perceived distance but when you are the point and become the sphere and back again you can only “feel” a sense of expansion and contraction. If we are only this then why do we perceive so readily from the outside and not vise versa. My subconscious is the swirling chaos of the 3-d fractal while my higher consciousness is that part of the interaction that escaped the analysis of the observer and is expanding infinitely fleeing from the observers expanding sphere of analysis. With its own analysis slowing it the only hope for rapture is becoming the leading edge expanding exponentially to complete dissipation. ora becoming light I meant.

    • Matt Rixon

      TLongmire: That is total rubbish.

      • TLongmire

        And you say that next to an angel.

      • Brian Palmer

        Don’t be so harsh. Maybe he was under the influence of psilocybin when he wrote that. Maybe it has given him an insight no one else can understand. 😉

    • Whales

      What about harmony? Our brains interpret certain wavelength interactions as harmonious, others as discordant. These interpretations seem significant.

      • Longmire

        I vividly experienced that scenario and was not influenced by mushrooms but I will point out that if you break down hallucinogenic you can come up with their purpose ha(hey)all(all)u(you)c(see)i(I)no(no)geni(genie)c(see)

    • Robin Kunstman


    • briancnelson

      It is remarkable what you can do with random word generators.

    • GoBaby!

      “3 dimensional fractal” was all I needed to see….jibberish!

    • Louisiana Steve

      Sounds intelligent, but my sphere contracted when you spelled aura incorrectly and repeatedly.

      • Longmire

        I intentionally spelled it like that for the essence the word conveys. O (denoting surrounding) and RA (denoting emanating energy) if you can follow.

        • Louisiana Steve

          Sorry, I boarded the wrong astral plane.

      • Necromancer

        Ahahaha… Exactly right. I think that dood is on shrooms :)

    • Sef Mekatoa

      Ora.. LOL muchly, waffling tofu-welding nonsense. My dog can spout better pseudo-pseudo scientific nonsense than that.

    • AltruisticFix

      2 Days later and he is still Long.Mired.
      What is this Co-0n.Trap.Shun ?

      Auto.Bots.. Trick or Re:Treat


    • Queen0fCups

      Well, that explains that. I had been wondering.

    • David Andrade

      While it might be considered gibberish, it catches the essence of a psychedelic trip. The notion of being an observer of your own set of reactions, from which you seem to depart in a state of higher consciousness, matches with my own experiences. This is intensified by the sensorial disruption that vivifies reality, and makes permissible an interpretation based on the very graphic patterns one sees in everything. But it is most certainly a pseudo-science/philosophy, one drawn from an altered state.

      • TLongmire

        You say most certainly pseudo science

        • David Andrade

          Yeah, the non-supression of entropy could certainly give way to a boundless perception of interacting possibilities, if I got u right. I meant “pseudo” only in that from a certain point these are all conjectures, at least coming from me, and any scientific method (besides those in the realm of neuroscience) should take into account the limits of our perceptions and philosophies. My interpretation of what you said was merely tangential, there can be method in madness 😉

          • Longmire

            I won’t lie that first sentence is a tough one to wrap my head around but yes the non-supression of entropy could give rise to boundless perception but wouldn’t the interaction of possibilities be the reason there is a suppression of entropy.

          • David Andrade

            Yes, suppression of entropy in the brain “limits” cognition to filter reality and sharpen the representation of it, and is the evolutionary mechanism behind the existence of our sense of self, as theorized in “The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs”. Google this.

            Considering the highly entropic nature of the psychedelic state, it could enable us to perceive aspects of different interacting worlds by detaching us from our own (our commonly perceived one), which is how I understood the link you made with quantum physics.

          • TLongmire

            Fascinating article thanks for recommending it to me. Seems they call that 3d fractal I saw entropy and the observer the secondary self and I suppose what I witnessed they would call an avalanche. They assumed a scientific view which I can as well but tend towards magical thinking (managed only due to necessity;) There is a lot to there paper as far as formal insights go but the visualization is what is lacking which would open the eyes of many if it could be shone. Ill say it again I vividly experienced it and know what it looks like.

          • David Andrade

            I second that. o/

  • Endrikh Darkvine

    lol they even succeeded in making the graphs looks psychedelic, actually that’s suspicious and kinda suggests cherry picking fallacy imo

  • Ted

    Did they see any machine elves in the scans?

  • Metalhead Nick

    Sweet. I’d like to see that with higher doses, see what happens when you actually go away. Were the participants experienced in psychotropics? That can radically alter the experience and I’d assume, brain activity. As to my own experiences, I noticed that I got much better at keeping track of the swirling thoughts, images, stories, patterns the more I took acid even though I’d go farther away from reality, or at least everyday reality. I’d be curious to see if experienced trippers’ connections would be less fleeting.

    • Metalhead Nick

      Also, did the brain maintain any of the stable connections when the trip was over?

      • bric

        Yes, there is a lot more this research could reveal. In my experience, I felt that the discoveries and new perspectives from the experience have stayed with me – no acid flashbacks, curse my luck – but in my perceptions, attitudes, my ability to accept other interpretations of reality, etc. I don’t know that proves that the brain changes were permanent, but the memory of the experience certainly changed me permanently. Tripping is definitely one of those things that divide one’s life into “before” and “after.” Most trippers I’ve talked to say the same thing.

        • Metalhead Nick

          Yeah, it’s one of those things that sticks with you. I have to say I really find it to be the most amazing thing. All the religious or cosmic aspects aside, it simply amazes me that it actually happens. It’s a phenomenally powerful experience, etc. but it’s just amazing that the mind or anything is capable of something like that or that such an experience is even possible. But beyond just a powerful experience leaving an indelible mark on your perspective or whatnot, I assume it must alter the connections more than that. $hit, I used to have flashbacks (never as good) mostly while getting baked. I don’t so much these days but I haven’t taken acid in quite a while. I feel tripped out sometimes, but it’s not the same. That aside, I do have kind of permatrails though. Worse at night and different lighting affects it, but I even see trails on the tv. It’s okay though doesn’t really affect me much , usually I don’t even notice anymore.

          • Metalhead Nick

            But I know what you mean, it affects more than just that in a way that’s hard to describe. But why would t it be? The experience itself is as impossible to describe as describing an orgasm to someone whose never had one.

          • bric

            Yeah, exactly. It’s so powerful it’s easy to assume it’s magical or supernatural – most people do, I find. But it also could be just the sensation of immanence – like deja vu is the sensation of recurrence – with no basis in fact. Whatever it is, I would hate to live a life without having experienced it. Not only is it indescribably strange that we can experience it, it’s strange that there are so many substances, from vines to cactus to mushrooms to frog skin, that cause us to experience it. Also, that almost every culture has discovered some form of these substances, and usually treasure them. Did we evolve to crave the experience, or is something deeper going on?

          • Metalhead Nick

            It’s easy to see how it would catch on and become bound up with religion. It really is a religious experience, even if you don’t believe in that stuff. As to the other, hallucinagins are reasonably common in nature as I think most of them are related to triptamine. Or substituted triptamines of hich serotonin is one. Basically by changing one element in the chain you get something a little different. DMT, psilocybin, etc. it’s the main component in LSD and many other drugs. I don’t know if I should admit this but I used to order that synthetic incense stuff sometimes from a guy who made it himself. That’s the last time I’ve really hallucinated. I’m sure he used triptamines but I don’t know which ones. That stuff would floor about anyone…I know experienced trippers who swore they’d never been that far out of their mind. The stuff they sold at gas stations kind of did it but not like that…as to our craving it, I think that’s natural too. Animals like it – hence why raindeers fly in legends. I think even jaguars too. I do this from my phone so I can’t really jump around but if you google it I’m sure you get a pretty long list of other animals that actively consume hallucinagins.

  • K-Bob

    The one on the left is a TV news reporter’s brain. The one on the right is people who know how to use search engines.

    • Joan Of Argghh!

      I love this so much I tweeted it with the link to this article. Most amusing is a reporter challenging ANY statement they don’t agree with, with “How do you know that? Give me a citation.” And therein is the problem. No natural curiosity, just a natural assumption of superiority that suggests if they haven’t heard of it, you must be delusional.

      • K-Bob

        Spot on, Joan. I saw those graphs and immediately I thought of that.

        • Joan Of Argghh!

          A year later and I still love this! Hope you are well Mr K-Bob!

          • K-Bob

            Heh. Well thanks! And yes, still doing great. Hope you are, too!

      • Concerned

        Or that you know, for something to be true (and not part of a psychedelic surreality), there needs to be evidence for it beyond your ‘gut feeling’

      • Levin

        To be fair to the journalists, it makes perfect sense to be skeptical about novel information that contradicts one’s worldview. Otherwise the mind would be total chaos.

        • Joan Of Argghh!

          They mere tools of better minds in the producer’s studio. Only an idiot interviews a person without knowing exactly what their views and expertise are. The disingenuous or incurious question, “How do you know that?” never comes across as curiosity, but as a challenge and dog-whistle for their intended dull audience: “Ah, he’s a hard-nose investigative reporter! Give it to ’em! Go get ’em” is the best such an audience can manage. They move on from their happy thoughts to the next 3-second blip, interrupted reply, or other contentious Saturday-morning word-wrestling match.

          • Levin

            “Only an idiot interviews without knowing what their exact views and expertise are.”

            (1) That’s not always true, e.g. in science journalism, and (2) even if the interviewer knows, the audience often doesn’t know. The point of an interview is often to show the audience something.

            The question “How do you know that?” sometimes does come across as disingenuous (e.g. Cathy Newman), but only sometimes. Other times the audience does actually want to know how the person knew that. It’s not just a cheap trick. (Or else you could extend that reasoning to literally any part of an interview).

            Also, I don’t see why the audience is necessarily dull? Are you calling me stupid?

  • Michelle Chewbama

    It makes sense to place the barely-functioning brain on the Left.

    • Connie

      Thank you! Someone had to say it.

    • lindsncal

      You simply embarrass the country with comments like that. I have never in 50 years of voting seen a more ignorant group of voters than today’s republicans or a more ignorant group of news watchers than those who watch fox.

      • Michelle Chewbama

        Somebody’s mad! Sucks knowing you’ll be long dead before the Democrats ever take back the House, huh?

  • bossmanham


  • bossmanham

    The mind uses the brain to interact with the world. Screw with the mind’s tool, and I’m sure the mind will perceive all sorts of things. Very interesting.

  • Chris Rendeiro

    15 people is not an acceptable sample size

  • Barrie Phelan

    If you looking for test subjects contact me!

    • Joan Of Argghh!

      Dude. You make that sort of request on Craigslist.

  • bric

    Fascinating. This corresponds to my own experiences. My visual and other sensory “hallucinations” never appeared as fantastic “pink elephant” type images, but I became aware of subtle shadings and colors of light and shadow that my rational mind ordinarily filters out. The increased connections between disparate areas explains that. I think the same effect explains the perceptual and conceptual revelations as well. Many people interpret these effects as religious experiences, though I never saw the need to call on the supernatural to explain them. I believe all religious visions and revelations are due to the same phenomenon, induced by drugs, chanting, meditation, prayer, fasting, etc. Drugs are just an easier way to get the experience.

  • Ivar Ivarson

    The colors, man, the colors!

  • David Weaver

    TLongmire’s explanation sounds like an attorney trying to explain on “paper” why the physics laws of earth break down when trying to explain the mysteries of the universe.

  • Overburdened_Planet

    “The volunteers received a placebo in one of those sessions, and a mild dose of psilocybin during the other, but they weren’t told which was which.”

    That is, until volunteers on psilocybin started having “visual hallucinations, heightened sensory and emotional sensitivity, etc.”

  • SeekingUnderstanding

    “Linear thinking and planning become extremely difficult, but nonlinear “out of the box” thinking explodes in all directions.” –

    Linearity is a stable, non-creative, predictive pattern, whereas non-linearity is an unstable, creative and unpredictable evolutionary change.

    We’ll never truly understand the meaning of and the reason for our lives until we can explore the 99.9% of the universe we can’t perceive with our conventional, non-overlapping, isolated from each other, sensory detectors.

    We must first overcome the ‘limitations’ of the laws of physics we’re chained to due to the extraordinarily small sliver of the energy spectrum our sensory inputs are designed to perceive.

    We must also evolve enough to be able to condition and reformat our minds to understand that time and mathematics don’t exist. They’re both intangible manifestations and constructions for our minds to establish and stabilize a perceived environmental infrastructure, a scaffolding, to base reality on.

    Think of it this way: reality is a lattice and we’re a vine growing and surviving on it. We also perceive/sense the lattice, our environment, on a very limited basis. But what we can’t sense is that the lattice itself is anchored to something and that there’s an environment, a condition of space, surrounding the lattice. We’re affected by the conditions of this unperceivable environment, but we can’t possibly ‘realize’ it.

    • Longmire

      You say we can’t possibly “realize” it but I say you can experience it if you find a way to remove yourself from the lattice, which is possible. Everyone is different but one way I found is to breath deeply and “expand and contract” your mind in unison with your breathing and beautiful things happen and if you aren’t spooked and don’t try to “figureout” what is happening you may discover that environment you speak of.

      • SeekingUnderstanding

        I like how you think. Yes. The method of ‘experience’ you speak of is a gateway to other ‘extrasensory’ realities.

        I like this comment, “if you aren’t spooked and don’t try to “figureout” what is happening you”
        Dreaming, meditation, astral projection are a ‘reality’ most don’t comprehend. I’ve never engaged in these practices but need to make the leap and try.

  • Jaroslava Svajcrova

    Very interesting post, I enjoy it. Thank you.

  • Novice1

    Questions: Is this similar to neuroplasticity? And understanding that
    new connections are dispersed more quickly with psychedelics, what would be the implications of using psychedelics to facilitate or jump start
    the formation of new neural connections in stroke or Alzheimer’s patients?

    • Connie

      was just thinking the same thing. Even very low dose could stimulate new connections to bypass damaged areas and return/improve some function.

  • Teneo

    Any research trials underway for Children of The Sixties?


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