But the report just published in the journal Psychopharmacology doesn’t reveal whether anyone told them the experimenters planned to dose them with enough psilocybin to investigate “ego death.” Also known as ego dissolution.
It is possible that psilocybin could break the influence of bad memories.
Ego dissolution is suspected to be the reason psilocybin is proving so effective in treating mental health issue. Now science is getting a glimpse into how it happens.
The volunteers were split into two groups. Thirty of them got the psilocybin, the other 30 got a placebo.
Afterwards, all participants received MRIs that could reveal chemical changes in the brain and where they occurred.
For the first time, scientists were able to pinpoint what happened and why it might have such a profound impact.
Glutamate Gets Shifted Under the Influence
The results were strong. The mid frontal pre-cortex (mPFC) and the hippocampus showed different reactions.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for empathy, insight, intuition and other emotional functions. It’s the part of the brain that looms over your eyes in your forehead.
The hippocampus is a much smaller string-bean-shaped region buried several layers deeper, just above the ear. It is responsible for memory, comparing sensations, and navigating.
Here’s what the scientists say:
“Specifically, participants who received psilocybin demonstrated higher relative glutamate concentration levels in the mPFC, and lower relative glutamate concentration levels in the hippocampus. Analyses indicated that region-dependent alterations in glutamate were also correlated with different dimensions of ego dissolution.”
Glutamate is the most common neurotransmitter in the brain. It allows signals from one nerve cell to jump over empty space (a synapse) to reach another nerve cell. The levels of glutamate need to be well regulated.
This experiment showed that changes in the glutamate levels in the hippocampus were “the strongest predictor of positively experienced ego dissolution.” And in contrast, too much glutamate in the mPFC went along with a bad ego dissolution experience.
We still don’t know how glutamate levels are linked to our ego. The best hypothesis is that psychedelics decouple regions of the brain. With the mPFC handling emotions and the hippocampus in charge of memory, it is possible that psilocybin could break the influence of bad memories on emotional wellbeing. ,
There’s still much to learn, but this experiment verifies something good happens with magic mushrooms, and while it may be all in your head, it’s real.