How Psychedelics Release Your Brain’s Control Mechanisms

Patrick Smith · February 21st, 2017

One of the most famous recent studies into psychedelics examined the effects LSD had on the brains of volunteers, using high-resolution brain imaging. One of the findings of this study was that LSD (and by extension, other classic psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms) have a dramatic effect on the default mode network, or DMN. This is a system in the brain that is responsible for self-reflection, holding an important role in our everyday consciousness.

When we take high doses of psychedelics, the control of the DMN on consciousness is released, allowing us to break free from typical thought patterns. It’s likely that it’s this disruption of the DMN that causes typical feelings of ‘ego dissolution’ when we take high doses of psychedelics, as studies suggest that it’s the DMN that controls our sense of self and identity.

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the DMN may have a role in various mental health conditions, and may also suppress our natural creativity. Psychedelics can release our minds from the rigorous control of the DMN, offering us an opportunity for therapy and creativity.

Listen to our podcast episode with Zach Mainen talking about The Science Of Serotonin: How Do Psychedelics Influence Behavior? or Click here to read the transcript



This finding has important implications for mental health. In disorders such as depressionanxiety and OCD, it’s been found that the DMN is overactive, linked to repetitive negative thoughts. It’s likely that if we can reduce the control of the DMN on consciousness, we can alleviate symptoms of depression, and potentially control issues related to OCD and anxiety.

Thankfully, we can back up our speculations about psychedelic’s healing benefits through their effects on the DMN with specific studies:

A study of 12 patients with severe depression showed that psilocybin-assisted therapy dramatically reduced their depression scores, and this reduction lasted for at least three months. The participants had gone through two therapy sessions, lasting several hours each, the first with a 10mg dose of psilocybin and the second with a 25mg dose. A follow-up study proposed that psilocybin was ‘resetting’ depressed patient’s brains by turning the DMN off and on again, directly contributing to improvements in symptoms of depression.

To back up these findings, a recent study gave a single dose of the psychedelic ayahuasca to 14 patients with severe depression, and gave a placebo to 15 other depressed patients. Ayahuasca significantly reduced depression scores compared to placebo, and this positive change lasted at least a week after the treatment. This is one of very few studies with a placebo control group, making its conclusions particularly strong.

There have been several studies addressing the use of psychedelics to treat end-of-life anxiety in people suffering from terminal illnesses, which you can read about in more detail here. To summarise, two recent large studies have shown that doses of psilocybin between 20-30mg (combined with therapy) significantly improved anxiety and depression scores in dozens of patients with terminal illnesses, compared to a placebo. It’s likely again that the ‘resetting’ of the brain’s DMN is involved in the improvements seen for these patients.

OCD is another disorder linked to an overactive DMN, and research has linked psychedelics to improvements in OCD symptoms; a study of nine OCD sufferers found that giving them one dose of psilocybin, as low as 7mg, significantly reduced their negative symptoms. Unfortunately, these beneficial effects faded after several months, possible because the patients were not given therapy in combination with their dose of psilocybin. Other evidence points towards psychedelics being useful in treating OCD, which you can read more about here.

Are you feeling drawn to work with plant medicines on your mental health journey? Third Wave’s Psychedelic Directory offers a vetted guide to psychedelic therapists; maybe you can find the right one for you.


Releasing the control of the DMN allows our brain to have more entropy. In other words, more unusual connections can be made between areas of the brain that are normally kept separate.

According to the ‘entropic brain’ theory, this means that psychedelics allow us to reach states of consciousness more similar to dreaming and creative thinking. From what we know, the DMN is partly responsible for restraining creativity during your normal life, enabling you to focus on important ‘follow-the-rules’ tasks. But if you want to really unleash your creative side, psychedelics will help to release the control of the DMN over your brain.

Studies suggest that psychedelics allow us to think more ‘divergently’ – basically, outside-the-box. It’s likely that this divergent, creative thinking is catalysed by the release of DMN control on our minds when we take psychedelics.



The effects of psychedelics on the DMN, from both mental health and creativity perspectives, are substantial to say the least. Their effects on our psychology are wide-ranging and dramatic. By targeting more global mechanisms of consciousness, psychedelics represent a novel form of treatment for mental health conditions, and a unique approach to boosting divergent thinking.

Nevertheless, many of the people who could benefit most from psychedelic therapy are nervous about taking large doses. Almost no one has access to the perfect conditions for a clinically-administered psychedelic therapy session, and don’t like the thought of tripping without extensive professional support.

Thankfully, there’s a perfect option for people who want to make the most of psychedelics’ DMN-diminishing effects without having to dramatically alter their consciousness: microdosing.

Taking tiny amounts of psychedelics is an ideal introduction to the world of psychedelics – and many people report that microdosing is effective in the treatment of depression, and boosts creative thinking.

Sign up to our extensive microdosing course to gain access to every resource you could possibly need to get started on the road of psychedelic medicine. Our course walks you through the basics, helps you optimize your microdosing protocol, and offers you access to an exclusive microdosing community where you can have all your questions answered.

As we learn more about the way in which psychedelics shift brain function, microdosing will be an increasingly attractive option to allow more people to benefit from these substances.

Reader Interactions


    • AvatarStuart Ingalls says

      I have been reset. I stopped drinking. Alcoholic at age 35 now 36. I never tried to quit. I just stopped. Best thing I ever did!

    • AvatarGabe says

      I’ve known about the ability of psychedelics to help since I was a teenager and now as an adult with children with autism I have wondered what theraputic benefit psilocybin could have. Please keep me updated on any potential treatments. Thanks.

    • AvatarCharles Lum says

      I didn’t know what happened. Now I do. THANKS. My DMN was reset by microdot, in mid 70s. After I take blotter, guess I got a virus, because it turned me back into the former ass I was b4 the little purpil pill. My kingdom for more microdot.

    • AvatarBill says

      Hi Stuart,

      I recently completed a psylocibin study for alcohol dependence and I haven’t had a drink since. My new identity that was created through that series of sessions has no intersection with the consumption of alcohol. I’d love to speak with you about your experience.



  1. AvatarLloyd Schley says

    I was first introdiced to psychedelics in 1969 when a friend in college gave me some and we went to the early show at the theater (certainly not a clinical setting!!). I was intriqued by it. When I returned to the dorm I sat in an easy chair and for hours sifted through memories. I had the impression that I was sitting in the middle of a giant stadium and in place of the seats were separate memories of mine. I could go to any of them and relive the memory. One later experience was akin to various stories about mystical experiences. A friend borrowed me a version of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” (commentary by Timothy Leary) and we went a couple of days later to see a Felini movie “The Satiricon”. At some point Ileft the movie theater after I was given a choice. An internal voice said, “Do you wish to go on? You might not return. You will need to let go if you want to see the essence of what is”. I wanted to go on because I felt a compelling need to understand. I experienced what mystics call “non-dual state” where I was immersed in an ocean of consciousnness where there were no boundaries yet I retained a point of consciousness. That is also called the “white light” and during that state there is no thought or time just being. I had this indescribable feeling that this was home and a deep compassion for all those who suffer in this world due to the “fallen” nature of the human race. When I began to have thoughts again I realized that in non-dual state there can be no separation between subject and object and while that might not sound like a big thing, I realized that there can be no question without an answer. So I began to pitch questions into “The Universal Mind” much like you might toss pebbles into a still pond watching the ripples of thought that would result. “Why is the world as it is?” “Why is there evil” “Why am I the way I am?” “What about my family?” etc. There were no limits to the questions and each was followed by flashes or visions of images that explained the answer to my question. I can tell you some of it was very revealing and not for the faint at heart because vioence and evil were shown as they are. I saw myself at the end of a great number of lives some good and others not. I saw the pain that I had directly related to transgressions of my own in other lives. I understood why the New Testament makes a big issue for forgiveness. Its the only way we can go on.

    In an odd twist of irony after the movie I collected myself and walked out of the theater after the movie. It was January in Minnesota and the temperature was well below zero. As anyone who has experienced it 15 below is an altered state of consciousness even in a normal state of mind! While I was waiting for my friend a couple of old women walked past in long coats. Then a man with a cane, top hat and a beard came past who resembled Sigmund Freud! Then an incohertent drunk came up and babbled for a couple of minutes but got bored when I didn’t respond apparently noticing I was deep in thought. Then it dawned on me. Reality was just another facet of what happened inside the theater. Its all the same!

    Obviously I have an interest in this. I remember once a voice spoke to me and said, “You are actually destined to do this much later in life when you are more prepared for it. You did happen to stumble onto it much earlier”. I was given an opportunity to reset my life so that it would happen. I remember being asked if I wanted it given to me or did I need to work at it. In deference to my German-American childhood on the farm where work is raised to a level of a religeon I said, “I want to work for it as it builds good character. That time is now for me.

    • AvatarPopeye79 says

      For 7 years I’ve been extremely depressed, anxiety ridden & dealing with PTSD due to the cancer, loss of a limb & extreme pain from the cancer.
      I took 1 small dose of psilocybin. I did not take enough to hallucinate, but lights were brighter, mood was lighter etc.. But I barely noticed anything else. The next day it was like someone reset my brain. I no longer thought about suicide a hundred times a day & the depression & anxiety just stopped! I was also able to cut back on my pain medications immediately. My wife said she finally has her old husband back, the guy she married. I also had “chemo brain” from the therapy. It has many of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s, it destroys your memories & brain function. Now I feel like I have a chance to return to a normal life, not constantly thinking about suicide & not being so depressed/anxious. I’m 6 weeks out from when I took the shrooms & I’m still doing good but the effects are wearing off. I know I didn’t take enough shrooms the 1st time in order to last longer but that is all I could get. When I’m really depressed, the colors in my brain literally turn kinda grey, like a dark cloud is over everything, it’s difficult to explain but now my colors are back! I also laugh now when I haven’t in many years.
      Every single family member has remarked that they see a huge positive difference in me. I have not told them anything about the shrooms because of the legality of them plus they are very conservative. I had tried virtually every antidepressant made & they all made me worse. I call them suicide pills. I’m one of those who cannot take them. The Drs say “just take them for 3 weeks & then they may help you”, I wouldn’t be alive if I were to take some of them for 3 weeks. I would’ve committed suicide if I had continued to take current antidepressants.
      I can only say that if my story sounds like your story and you can’t beat the depression/PTSD/anxiety then please save your life & try this. Put your fear aside & save your life. I simply can’t say enough good about the changes in my life & in my brain. Some will say it’s a temporary fix. But antidepressants have to be taken several times a day & they don’t work yet it’s ok to take those pills but illegal to use something that helped me and will help people who suffer from depression. Don’t suffer. I’m not saying to break the law, but your life is more important than someones ignorant law that can save lives or give a better quality of life to many people with depression, anxiety and PTSD.
      Thx for reading this. I hope it helps someone like it has helped me.

      • AvatarHaya says

        Hello, thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to a lot of what you have said in terms of psychedelics alleviating depression and I have read countless anecdotal accounts of people finding relief through these medicines. I am sure many others will read this and find comfort through its relatability. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your experience and I hope to hear from you again in the future.

      • AvatarZack Lloyd says

        i completely relate to almost everything you said. the gray somewhat dark vivid dreams can really mess with you. and its not just in dreams too. it affects my daily life. a life with no true vibrant colors is hell. microdosing is a great option for anyone with depression, osd, and helping in aiding past trauma. you can almost feel your brain getting rewired. and it helps slow down time perception, so you can live a long happy life. ive noticed when taking shrooms i can see brighter colors when im in that feel good mood. not to mention all the holidays around the year feel much more special. mushrooms can bring good spirits in your life after fixing past trauma.
        this stuff is really something else.

  2. AvatarPopeye79 says

    You’re welcome. I’m glad my story has helped you or others who suffer (needlessly) from post cancer depression/anxiety or PTSD, whatever their symptoms are, and I hope others will help themselves and seek help. I don’t condone breaking the law, but I definitely don’t condone suicide. All things being equal, breaking the law is definitely better than a needless death. I was prepared to commit suicide. I had my letters written to my loved ones and my explanation for my actions written down to the police etc. But after taking the shrooms, I quickly ripped up the letters and since then I have only thought about suicide when I’m explaining to others how well the shrooms worked for me and that I don’t think about suicide anymore. No other time does the thought even enter my mind. I know I didn’t take enough of the shrooms, I didn’t hallucinate. I only had brighter lights and I chuckled at a few things, that was all I noticed and apparently all I needed! The very next day I was able to cut back by 50% all my pain medications, anxiety meds and every other medication except for the blood thinners I must take. I don’t think you can name another drug on earth that can do anything like that overnight.

  3. AvatarDonna says

    I would not be alive today if I had not been introduced to this healing modality. I can identify will most all the previous comments.

  4. AvatarDaniel Shields says

    I cannot wait to see what mushrooms can offer in the future of medicine. I hope that this magical plant would not be abused and misused. Everything, if used properly and moderately proves to be beneficial. Thank you for sharing and spreading awareness!

    • AvatarKimo says

      Grow them yourself. Easy. Just be patient and follow sterilization procedures to keep other fungi out of the mycelium. Also, lots of fun to watch them grow.

  5. AvatarDanno says

    Dropped acid during college and at many a Dead concert, and I have to say it was not entirely the enjoyable experience everyone else seems to recall here. The first 2-3 hours were a blast, full of cool visuals, laughter, energy, and revelations, but then it would wane, and for the next 5-6 hours the good vibes were gradually replaced with an equal amount of anxiety, sadness, and paranoia. Sleep was not an option for my over-stimulated mind until at least 15-20 hours after dropping. This led me and most of my friends to agree that “acid is a commitment”, because you would lose the better part of a weekend recovering. We stopped doing it by the mid 80s. My question is why wouldn’t the microdosing follow a similar pattern: (mildly) euphoric high followed by a less intense bummer?

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