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.
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THE DMN AND MENTAL HEALTH
This finding has important implications for mental health. In disorders such as depression, anxiety 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.
THE DMN AND CREATIVITY
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.
HOW CAN YOU BENEFIT?
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.