This is an essay on the phenomenology of DMT. The analysis here presented predominantly uses algorithmic, geometric and information-theoretic frameworks, which distinguishes it from purely phenomenological, symbolic, neuroscientific or spiritual accounts. We do not claim to know what ultimately implements the effects here described (i.e. in light of the substrate problem of consciousness), but the analysis does not need to go there in order to have explanatory power. We posit that one can account for a wide array of (apparently diverse) phenomena present on DMT-induced states of consciousness by describing the overall changes in the geometry of one’s spatiotemporal representations (what we will call “world-sheets” i.e. 3D + time surfaces; 3D1T for short). The concrete hypothesis is that the network of subjective measurements of distances we experience on DMT (coming from the relationships between the phenomenal objects one experiences in that state) has an overall geometry that can accurately be described as hyperbolic (or hyperbolic-like). In other words, our inner 3D1T world grows larger than is possible to fit in an experiential field with 3D Euclidean phenomenal space (i.e. an experience of dimension R2.5 representing an R3 scene). This results in phenomenal spaces, surfaces, and objects acquiring a mean negative curvature. Of note is that even though DMT produces this effect in the most consistent and intense way, the effect is also present in states of consciousness induced by tryptamines and to a lesser extent in those induced by all other psychedelics.
And if so, does it matter? In a new book, philosopher Chris Letheby confronts the nature and implications of the mystical experiences people often have while taking psychedelics.
Psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, may be at least as effective as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the leading type of antidepressant medication, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The phase 2, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial compared psilocybin to the antidepressant medication escitalopram.
“Our previous research in treatment-resistant depression and as well as human brain scanning strongly suggested the therapeutic potential of psilocybin. Pitting psilocybin in a head to head versus a conventional antidepressant felt like a brave and interesting test to do,” said study author Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London and founder of MyDelica.
The researchers recruited 59 men and women between the ages of 18 and 80 years who suffered from moderate-to-severe depression for their 6-week trial. Thirty patients were randomly assigned to the psilocybin group, while the remaining 29 patients were assigned to the escitalopram group.
Addiction may be only the beginning. In a 2020 research paper published in the journal Chronic Stress, Davis and his team found that among 51 U.S. veterans who had taken ibogaine in Mexico from 2017 to 2019, there were “very large reductions” in symptoms related to every domain they measured, including suicidal thoughts, PTSD, depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment. “Their improvement [was] way above what we would see with typical currently approved treatments,” Davis says. “Even if you cut these effect sizes in half”—assuming that the data aren’t as accurate as they’d be in a rigorous, controlled trial—”that’s still two to three times more powerful than our currently approved treatments.” More than 80% of the vets surveyed said the psychedelic experience was one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives.
When Aldous Huxley emerged from a mescaline trip that veered from an obsession with the folds in his trousers to wonder at the “miraculous” tubularity of the bamboo legs on his garden chairs, he offered an opinion on how the drug worked.
Writing in The Doors of Perception, his 1954 book that took its name from a William Blake poem, Huxley declared that the psychedelic “lowers the efficiency of the brain as an instrument for focusing the mind on the problems of life”.
Even for Huxley, the assessment now seems remarkably prescient. In new research, scientists have found evidence that LSD, another psychedelic, lowers the barriers that constrain people’s thoughts. In doing so, it frees the mind to wander more easily and experience the world anew.
A psychedelic trip can be among the most sacred experiences of a person’s life. And yet, that impulse to take a psychedelic for a spiritual reason is often overlooked as a reason to lift prohibition for psychedelic substances.
Oftentimes, cannabis legalization is seen as a model for psychedelics. With cannabis, we are seeing the plant being legalized piecemeal, usually for medical and then recreational use. Indeed, we’ve already begun to see two main routes to ending psychedelic prohibition: medicalization and decriminalization. But what this binary paradigm of medicalization versus decriminalization conceals is a third way of using psychedelics: getting legal sanction for the spiritual or religious use of psychedelic substances, which, among a variety of traditions, are deemed to be sacred tools used in holy rituals.
University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers have shown that psilocybin—the active chemical in “magic mushrooms”— still works its antidepressant-like actions, at least in mice, even when the psychedelic experience is blocked. The new findings, published this week in PNAS, suggest that psychedelic drugs work in multiple ways in the brain, and it may be possible to deliver the fast-acting antidepressant therapeutic benefit without requiring daylong guided-therapy sessions. A version of the drug without, or with less of, the psychedelic effects could loosen restrictions on who could receive the therapy and lower costs, making the benefits of psilocybin more available to more people in need.
Magic mushrooms have a long and rich history. Now scientists say they could play an important role in the future, with their active ingredient a promising treatment for depression.
The results from a small, phase two clinical trial have revealed that two doses of psilocybin appears to be as effective as the common antidepressant escitalopram in treating moderate to severe major depressive disorder, at least when combined with psychological therapy.
“I think it is fair to say that the results signal hope that we may be looking at a promising alternative treatment for depression,” said Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the centre for psychedelic research at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study.
In recent years, the scientific study of meditation and psychedelic drugs has seen remarkable developments. The increased focus on meditation in cognitive neuroscience has led to a cross-cultural classification of standard meditation styles validated by functional and structural neuroanatomical data. Meanwhile, the renaissance of psychedelic research has shed light on the neurophysiology of altered states of consciousness induced by classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin and LSD, whose effects are mainly mediated by agonism of serotonin receptors. Few attempts have been made at bridging these two domains of inquiry, despite intriguing evidence of overlap between the phenomenology and neurophysiology of meditation practice and psychedelic states. In particular, many contemplative traditions explicitly aim at dissolving the sense of self by eliciting altered states of consciousness through meditation, while classical psychedelics are known to produce significant disruptions of self-consciousness, a phenomenon known as drug-induced ego dissolution. In this article, we discuss available evidence regarding convergences and differences between phenomenological and neurophysiological data on meditation practice and psychedelic drug-induced states, with a particular emphasis on alterations of self-experience. While both meditation and psychedelics may disrupt self-consciousness and underlying neural processes, we emphasize that neither meditation nor psychedelic states can be conceived as simple, uniform categories.
In a new study investigating the effects of LSD on volunteers, scientists found that the psychedelic enables the brain to function in a way beyond what anatomy usually dictates, by altering states of dynamic integration and segregation in the human brain.
“The psychedelic compound LSD induces a profoundly altered state of consciousness,” explains first author and neuroscience researcher Andrea Luppi from the University of Cambridge.
“Combining pharmacological interventions with non-invasive brain imaging techniques such as functional MRI (fMRI) can provide insight into normal and abnormal brain function.”
The new research falls within the study of dynamic functional connectivity – the theory that brain phenomena demonstrate states of functional connectivity that change over time, much in the same way that our stream of consciousness is dynamic and always flowing.
On a sunny day in London in 2015, Kirk Rutter rode the Tube to Hammersmith Hospital in hopes of finally putting an end to his depression.
Rutter had lived with the condition off and on for years, but the burden had grown since the death of his mother in 2011, followed by a relationship break-up and a car accident the year after. It felt as if his brain was stuck on what he describes as “an automatic circuit”, repeating the same negative thoughts like a mantra: “‘Everything I do turns to crap.’ I actually believed that,” he recalls.
The visit to Hammersmith was a preview. He would be returning the next day to participate in a study, taking a powerful hallucinogen under the guidance of Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Imperial College London. Years of talking therapy and a variety of anti-anxiety medications had failed to improve Rutter’s condition, qualifying him for the trial.
Combining the psychedelic drug psilocybin with supportive psychotherapy results in substantial rapid and enduring antidepressant effects among patients with major depressive disorder, according to a new randomized clinical trial. The findings have been published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The new study provides more evidence that psilocybin, a compound found in so-called magic mushrooms, can be a helpful tool in the treatment of psychiatric conditions.
“Prior studies in cancer patients and in an uncontrolled clinical trial in depressed patients using psilocybin-assisted therapy showed promising results. Because there had not been a control group those prior studies were limited,” said study author Alan K Davis, an assistant professor at Ohio State University and adjunct assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University.
“We were interested in testing whether psilocybin-assisted therapy would be helpful for people with depression because depression is one of the most prevalent and debilitating conditions in the world.”
Mona Strelaeff survived breast cancer with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in 2002, but later suffered from depression. She recently got permission from Health Canada to use psilocybin, the naturally occurring ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms, and says she emerged with a deeply satisfying sense of spirituality and peace.