Thursday, 4 April 2019

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Machine; The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness. By Jeremy Naydler

This book review first appeared in New Dawn Magazine number 172, January - February 2019.
© Brett Lothian

Book Review:
In The Shadow Of The Machine: The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness.
By Jeremy Naydler

In The Shadow Of The Machine is an accessible, in-depth study of the relationship between human consciousness, technology and the computer. The vast changes and ideas that paved the way for its creation and the dramatic effect that machines have had upon the human psyche in the modern era, in this timely and thoroughly well researched book. The author’s comprehensive writing style, coupled with his skillful recapping artfully intertwines the subject matter into the greater scope of the overall narrative, making what are quite complex topics both easily understood and interesting to read. In this outstanding book by Jeremy Naydler, we are taken along the fascinating journey of the human mind from the dark ages at the very dawn of time into today, the age of the computer and in doing so, we are forced to question the very nature of our reality, our current way of life and our relationship to the ungodly creation we have fashioned in our own image, the thinking machine, AI.

This book is not so much a history of the computer, machines and the differences they have made to our modern life, but more a history of western human consciousness and the radical changes that have taken place in our minds since the very foundations of our culture unto today, the changes that have not only allowed for the creation of automatons, machines and the computer, but made them inevitable due to our ever increasingly soulless modern mindscapes and worldview. The author highlights how in the bedrock of the ancient Egyptians animistic religion, holding everything to be sacred kept in check their desires for technological innovation as for them, first and forefront in their minds was a devotion to the gods in their every act of daily living and being. For them, the gods were not abstract concepts “somewhere else,” but the spirits of the natural world, all around them, in everything, all of the time. Picture for yourself how living with this worldview must have been, with everything being alive, interconnecting and corresponding, amongst the magnificent monuments of ancient Egypt… A truly magical earthly experience, something we have long since lost.

We are shown how the threat of war and invasion drove the technological innovation of the day almost reluctantly, how the rise of the clever man, the cunning trickster like Odysseus was championed and how the move towards otherness, a separateness from the divine led to the great philosophers of ancient Greece, more “logical” thought. Naydler explains that whilst the gods of course lived on in the minds of the ancient Greek, the philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle began to dissect the natural world with reason, stripping it of its divine qualities and replacing them with mere quantities and mathematics in a quest for pure truth. With the creation of the ancient academies, a radical shift in the way people thought began, away from inhabiting a literally divine world, to living in a world of abstract concepts and logical thought, longing for an ‘ideal’ world as if the greatest minds of ancient Greece somehow sensed that something had already gone terribly wrong. This change to a more technical, more cold and logical way of thinking, would have profound implications for the western world going forward.

Through the middle ages we follow along the train of thought that would eventually lead to the industrial revolution, forever altering the fundamental ways in which we live and work. Science gained ever more ground in the minds of the times thinkers, with religion beginning to be openly challenged for the first time, logic, reason and the scientific method now held the promise of answering the great questions and mysteries of life, such as electricity. Now under the watchful eye of the mechanical clock, the human mind became even more detached from the rhythms of the natural world and began living in the influence and shadow of the machine. More than ever before, the world’s great minds focused their attention on practically applying knowledge, not for its own sake or for some higher metaphysical purpose, but for commercial success. Technology, long being removed from the sphere of the priests and philosophers was now unchained from any spiritual purpose or consideration, being turned towards the pursuit of pure profit, what it did to us as people however was given little if any thought.

The harnessing of electricity, despite us still not knowing what it actually is, illuminates the modern mindset, with our technical understanding far outstripping our wisdom and maturity. Jeremy Naydler expertly explains how, In The Shadow OF The Machine , through the long process of the changing of our own minds, of changing the very way we think and picture the world, we have created a completely new world that we are not yet adapted to, that is both redefining us and our place in the universe around us. In an era of an ever increasing reliance upon technology and computers for almost everything, the creation of artificial intelligence and interconnected “smart” technology that we barely understand, we now live firmly In The Shadow Of The Machine, if not right in the palm of its cold, digital hand.

Examining the philosophical and spiritual implications of the hemispheric shift in the way we think and interact with the world, this fantastic exploration of the human psyche and its projection onto the physical world, is right on time for those who are questioning their reality, how and why it all came to be and where we are going in the future. This important and deeply thought provoking book should be read by absolutely everyone that has that itch in the back of their mind, that something is very wrong with the world today.

Monday, 1 April 2019

DNA Evidence Restores the Trichocereus Genus: The New Taxonomy

Trichocereus taxonomy has undergone numerous changes and revisions over time, some better than others but on the whole it has largely been a complete mess. Some time ago the Trichocereus genus was absorbed into the Echinopsis genus, much to the chagrin of many and this has been widely disputed. This revision was based largely upon morphology and many Trichocereus collectors largely ignored it and continued calling their Trichocereus, well, Trichocereus. For more information on this please read the following link from Keeper Trout who explains what happened in great detail~

The Trichocereus Species: Taxonomic Delineations.

Finally, someone did the smart thing and decided to use DNA testing, as well as morphology to reclassify cacti genera and species, creating the most reliable taxonomy so far proposed. This was done by the French naturalist Joël Lodé who released his findings in the publication, Taxonomy of the Cactaceae volumes 1 &2, which is the most comprehensive work on cacti ever attempted. Thankfully, he has restored the Trichocereus genus to its rightful place as being distinct from Echinopsis. His new classifications for the Trichocereus genus, including the previously accepted names is as follows~

*Note that there are numerous other names being applied to certain Trichocereus plants, but none of them outside of this list have actually ever been accepted. Not that that ever stopped anyone.

  • TRICHOCEREUS  (Berger) Riccobono 1909
    • Trichocereus andalgalensis  (F.A.C.Weber) Hosseus 1939
      • Helianthocereus andalgalensis
      • Helianthocereus huascha var. rubriflorus
      • Helianthocereus pecheretianus
      • Lobivia andalgalensis
    • Trichocereus angelesiae  R.Kiesling 1978
      • Echinopsis angelesii
      • Soehrensia angelesiae
    • Trichocereus arboricola  Kimnach 1990
      • Echinopsis arboricola
      • Soehrensia arboricola
    • Trichocereus atacamensis  (Philippi) W.T.Marshall & Bock 1941
      • Echinopsis atacamensis
      • Echinopsis formosissima
      • Echinopsis rivierei
      • Helianthocereus atacamensis
      • Leucostele atacamensis
      • Trichocereus rivierei
    • Trichocereus atacamensis subsp. pasacana  (F.A.C.Weber ex Rümpler) Ritter 1980
      • Echinopsis atacamensis subsp. pasacana
      • Echinopsis pasacana
      • Helianthocereus pasacana
      • Leucostele rivierei
      • Trichocereus eremophilus
      • Trichocereus pasacana
    • Trichocereus bertramianus  Backeb. 1935
      • Echinopsis bertramiana
      • Helianthocereus bertramianus
      • Helianthocereus conaconensis
      • Trichocereus conaconensis
      • Trichocereus totorensis
    • Trichocereus bolligerianus  (Mächler & Helmut Walter) S. Albesiano 2012
      • Leucostele bolligeriana
    • Trichocereus bridgesii  (Salm-Dyck) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis lageniformis
      • Echinopsis scopulicola ?
    • Trichocereus cabrerae  R.Kiesling 1976
    • Trichocereus camarguensis  Cárdenas 1953
      • Echinopsis camarguensis
      • Soehrensia camarguensis
    • Trichocereus candicans  (Gillies ex Salm-Dyck) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis candicans
      • Echinopsis courantii
      • Soehrensia candicans
      • Trichocereus candicans var. gladiatus
      • Trichocereus candicans var. tenuispinus
      • Trichocereus courantii
      • Trichocereus gladiatus
      • Trichocereus neolamprochlorus
    • Trichocereus candicans subsp. pseudocandicans  (Backeb.) J.Lodé 2013
      • Trichocereus pseudocandicans
    • Trichocereus catamarcensis  F.Ritter 1980
      • Echinopsis crassicaulis
      • Helianthocereus crassicaulis
      • Lobivia crassicaulis
      • Soehrensia crassicaulis
      • Trichocereus crassicaulis
    • Trichocereus caulescens  Ritter 1966
      • Soehrensia caulescens
    • Trichocereus chalaensis  Rauh & Backeb. 1956
      • Echinopsis chalaensis
    • Trichocereus chiloensis  (Colla) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis chiloensis
      • Leucostele chiloensis
      • Trichocereus chilensis
    • Trichocereus chiloensis subsp. australis  (F.Ritter) Albesiano 2012
    • Trichocereus chiloensis subsp. eburneus  (Phil. ex K.Schum.) Albesiano 2012
      • Eulychnia eburnea
      • Trichocereus chilensis var. eburneus
    • Trichocereus chiloensis subsp. litoralis  (Johow) Faúndez 2007
      • Echinopsis litoralis
      • Trichocereus litoralis
    • Trichocereus chiloensis subsp. panhoplites  (K.Schum.) Albesiano 2012
    • Trichocereus cuzcoensis  Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis cuzcoensis
      • Echinopsis tarmaensis
      • Trichocereus tarmaensis
    • Trichocereus deserticola  (Werderm.) Looser 1929
      • Echinopsis deserticola
      • Echinopsis deserticola var. fulvilanata
      • Echinopsis fulvilana
      • Leucostele deserticola
      • Trichocereus fulvilanus
    • Trichocereus faundezii  Albesiano 2012
    • Trichocereus hahnianus  (Backeberg) Guiggi 2013
      • Echinopsis hahniana
      • Harrisia hahniana
      • Mediocactus hahnianus
      • Soehrensia hahniana
    • Trichocereus huascha  (F.A.C.Weber) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis huascha
      • Echinopsis hyalacantha
      • Echinopsis lobivioides
      • Helianthocereus huascha
      • Helianthocereus huascha var. auricolor
      • Helianthocereus hyalacanthus
      • Lobivia huascha
      • Lobivia hyalacantha
      • Pseudolobivia lobivioides
      • Soehrensia huascha
      • Trichocereus lobivioides
      • Trichocereus purpureominiata ?
    • Trichocereus huascha subsp. robusta  (Rausch) J.Lodé 2013
    • Trichocereus lamprochlorus  (Lem.) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis lamprochlora
    • Trichocereus macrogonus  (Salm-Dyck) Riccob. 1909
      • Echinopsis macrogona
      • Echinopsis puquiensis
      • Echinopsis santaensis
    • Trichocereus macrogonus subsp. pachanoi  (Britton & Rose) S.Albesiano & R.Kiesling 2012
      • Echinopsis pachanoi
      • Trichocereus pachanoi
      • Trichocereus santaensis
      • Trichocereus scopulicola
    • Trichocereus macrogonus subsp. peruvianus  (Britton & Rose) J.Lodé 2013
      • Echinopsis peruviana
      • Trichocereus peruvianus
      • Trichocereus puquiensis
      • Trichocereus tacnaensis
      • Trichocereus torataensis
    • Trichocereus nigripilis  (Phil.) Backeb. 1935
      • Leucostele coquimbana
      • Trichocereus coquimbanus
      • Trichocereus coquimbanus
      • Trichocereus coquimbanus var. nigripilis
    • Trichocereus pectiniferus  Albesiano 2012
      • Trichocereus coquimbanus
      • Trichocereus serenanus
    • Trichocereus purpureopilosus  Weingart 1930
      • Echinopsis purpureopilosa
    • Trichocereus quadratiumbonata  Ritter 1980
      • Echinopsis quadratiumbonata
      • Soehrensia quadratiumbonata
    • Trichocereus rowleyi  Friedrich 1974
      • Chamaecereus grandiflorus
      • Echinopsis rowleyi
      • Lobivia grandiflora
      • Lobivia grandiflora
      • Soehrensia grandiflora
      • Trichocereus grandiflorus
    • Trichocereus schickendantzii  (F.A.C.Weber) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis fabrisii
      • Echinopsis friedrichii
      • Echinopsis manguinii
      • Echinopsis narvaecensis
      • Echinopsis schickendantzii
      • Helianthocereus narvaecensis
      • Soehrensia fabrisii
      • Soehrensia schickendantzii
      • Trichocereus fabrisii
      • Trichocereus manguinii
      • Trichocereus narvaecensis
      • Trichocereus shaferi
      • Trichocereus tenuispinus
      • Trichocereus volcanensis
    • Trichocereus schoenii  Rauh & Backeb. 1958
      • Echinopsis schoenii
    • Trichocereus serpentinus  (M.Lowry & M.Mendoza) J.Lodé 2013
      • Echinopsis serpentina
    • Trichocereus skottsbergii  Backeb. 1950
      • Echinopsis skottsbergii
      • Trichocereus skottsbergii var. breviatus
    • Trichocereus smrzianus  (Backeb.) Backeb. 1966
      • Echinopsis smrziana
      • Soehrensia smrziana
    • Trichocereus spachianus  (Lem.) Riccob. 1909
      • Echinopsis spachiana
      • Soehrensia spachiana
      • Trichocereus santiaguensis ?
    • Trichocereus spinibarbis  (Otto) F.Ritter 1965
    • Trichocereus strigosus  (Salm-Dyck) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis strigosa
      • Echinopsis strigosus
      • Soehrensia strigosa
    • Trichocereus tacaquirensis  Cárdenas 1953
      • Echinopsis tacaquirensis
    • Trichocereus taquimbalensis  Cárdenas 1953
      • Echinopsis tacaquirensis subsp. taquimbalensis
      • Echinopsis taquimbalensis
      • Trichocereus taquimbalensis var. wilkeae
    • Trichocereus tarijensis  (Vaupel) Werderm. 1940
      • Echinopsis antezanae
      • Echinopsis conaconensis
      • Echinopsis herzogiana
      • Echinopsis poco
      • Echinopsis tarijensis
      • Echinopsis tarijensis subsp. herzogiana
      • Echinopsis tarijensis subsp. totorensis
      • Helianthocereus antezanae
      • Helianthocereus herzogianus
      • Helianthocereus herzogianus var. totorensis
      • Helianthocereus orurensis
      • Helianthocereus orurensis var. albiflorus
      • Helianthocereus tarijensis
      • Soehrensia tarijensis
      • Trichocereus antezanae
      • Trichocereus formosa subsp. tarijensis
      • Trichocereus herzogianus
      • Trichocereus herzogianus var. totorensis
      • Trichocereus poco
      • Trichocereus poco var. albiflorus
      • Trichocereus poco var. fricianus
    • Trichocereus terscheckii  (Parm.) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis terscheckii
      • Echinopsis valida
      • Echinopsis valida var. densa
      • Leucostele terscheckii
      • Trichocereus terscheckii var. montanus
    • Trichocereus thelegonoides  (Speg.) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis rubinghiana
      • Echinopsis thelegonoides
      • Soehrensia thelegonoides
    • Trichocereus thelegonus  (Weber) Britton & Rose 1920
      • Echinopsis thelegona
      • Soehrensia thelegona
      • Trichocereus rubinghianus
    • Trichocereus tulhuayacensis  Ochoa 1957
      • Echinopsis tulhuayacensis
    • Trichocereus tunariensis  Cárdenas 1959
      • Echinopsis taratensis
      • Echinopsis tunariensis
      • Leucostele tunariensis
      • Trichocereus taratensis
    • Trichocereus undulosus  Albesiano 2012
    • Trichocereus uyupampensis  Backeberg 1936
      • Echinopsis uyupampensis
      • Trichocereus glaucus
      • Trichocereus glaucus
    • Trichocereus vasquezii  Rausch 1974
      • Echinopsis vasquezii
      • Soehrensia vasquezii
    • Trichocereus vatteri  R.Kiesling 1976
      • Echinopsis vatteri
    • Trichocereus vollianus  Backeb. 1935
      • Echinopsis volliana
      • Soehrensia volliana
      • Trichocereus vollianus var. rubrispinus
    • Trichocereus walteri  (Kiesling) J.G.Lambert 1998
      • Echinopsis walteri
      • Lobivia walteri
      • Soehrensia walteri
    • Trichocereus werdermannianus  Backeb. 1935
      • Echinopsis escayachensis
      • Echinopsis werdermanniana
      • Helianthocereus escayachensis
      • Leucostele werdermanniana
      • Trichocereus escayachensis

  • Tuesday, 29 January 2019

    Inside the Psychedelic Mind: The New Frontier for Consciousness Studies, Innovative Therapies, Micro-dosing & Creativity

    This article first appeared in New Dawn Special Issue Volume 12, Number 6, 2018. © Brett Lothian

    Inside the Psychedelic Mind: The New Frontier for Consciousness Studies, Innovative Therapies, Micro-dosing & Creativity.

    “LSD is a psychedelic drug that occasionally causes psychotic behaviour in people who have NOT taken it.” ~ Timothy Leary, Ph.D.

    Psychedelic plants and drugs have been a controversial subject ever since the late 1960’s and the hippy flower power movement, despite having a history of human use going back thousands upon thousands of years all over the world. In recent times, attitudes have begun to change in the way in which we see psychedelics and their potential applications for humanity, with new scientific research moving ahead in leaps and bounds after the long halt in official research caused by the American led ‘war on drugs.’ Today, we understand far more about how psychedelics actually work in the brain and how they affect our consciousness, often in very profound ways and are as such we are now on the verge of once again having psychedelic plants and drugs legalized and used in modern medicine. Interestingly, the ways in which psychedelics are being used and the reasons for doing so are also changing and evolving, opening up whole new vistas in the psychedelic field, modern medicine and even the very way in which we think about and solve the many and varied problems that are affecting our world today.

    Firstly, if we want to truly understand the psychedelic experience and how it affects our minds and consciousness, we have to understand exactly what is happening in the brain when we take these substances. Research has shown that the classic psychedelic compounds primarily act upon the brain's neural cortex, where they activate specific receptors called 5-HT2A receptors that are usually activated by serotonin. "In order to function, (the cortex is) integrating different signals, for example glutamate signals and serotonin signals," said neuroscientist Stuart Sealfon of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, "and what hallucinogens must be doing is they are disrupting this process so that sensory perception is altered by them." However, not all compounds that activate these receptors lead to psychedelic experiences. In the past, scientists perceived neurotransmitter receptors such as the 5-HT2A receptor as being like "locks and keys," in which certain compounds would fit into a specific receptor as a key fits into a lock. The receptor would then turn on and signal to the other molecules in the cell. But this has been found to not be the case for psychedelics. Research by Sealfon and his colleagues published in the journal Neuron revealed that the 5-HT2A receptor has in fact more than one "on" position. "When a non-hallucinogen activates the receptor, it causes one pattern of signaling of the cells in the brain that is not hallucinogenic," Sealfon told LiveScience. "When a hallucinogen turns on this receptor, the receptor we infer must go into a different position and that leads to a different pattern in responses in the cell and is what makes the hallucinogen have its unique effect."

    In 1954, the author and philosopher Aldous Huxley in his seminal work The Doors of Perception proposed that the brain in its ordinary state, acts as a kind of ‘reducing valve,’ restricting conscious awareness. “The function of the brain and nervous system is in the main eliminative”, he observed, “leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful”. He theorized whilst under the influence of the psychedelic compound Mescaline (that is found in San Pedro and Peyote cacti) that the compound allowed him to see that what we normally call “reality” is in fact the product of a massive filtering out of reality, a systematic closing of the doors, leaving only the programs of measurement and utility, reality as it would necessarily appear “to an animal obsessed with survival.” Tom Wolfe in his classic book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, explained it as follows, “Aldous Huxley compared the brain to a ‘reducing valve.’ In ordinary perception, the senses send an overwhelming flood of information to the brain, which the brain then filters down to a trickle it can manage for the purpose of survival in a highly competitive world. Man has become so rational, so utilitarian, that the trickle becomes most pale and thin. It is efficient, for mere survival, but it screens out the most wondrous part of man's potential experience without his even knowing it. We're shut off from our own world.”

    Huxley proposed that when we are under the influence of a psychedelic substance, this ‘reducing valve’ is opened up and that we are able to consciously perceive a much richer, more meaningful and wondrous existence. Modern research is showing us now that Huxley was in fact right all along. A 2016 study headed by lead researcher David Nutt, the UK government’s former drugs advisor and professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, showed the profound changes that LSD has upon the brain and consciousness, changes that dramatically altered the activity and connectivity across the human brain. Brain scans revealed in those studied that they experienced images through information drawn from many parts of their brains, not just the visual cortex that normally processes visual information. Using three different brain imaging techniques, named arterial spin labelling, resting state MRI and magnetoencephalography, the scientists measured blood flow, functional connections within and between brain networks, and brainwaves in the volunteers both on and off of the psychedelic compound. Under the influence of LSD, entire regions of the brain that are normally cut off from each other, instead worked together to produce the altered state of perception and consciousness. “The drug can be seen as reversing the more restricted thinking we develop from infancy to adulthood,” said Nutt, whose study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Further images also showed that the brain regions that usually form a network in ordinary consciousness, became more separated as those studied experienced “feelings of oneness with the world and a loss of personal identity” that is often called ego dissolution or as it known in traditional shamanism, as ego death. “You don’t recognize yourself as a separate being from the universe. It feels, in a way, like transferring the consciousness from within your own body to the outside world; the focus is in the objects that surround you rather than outside.” Scans revealed a loss of connections between parts of the brain called the parahippocampus and another region known as the retrosplenial cortex. “This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way, and seems to be associated with improvements in wellbeing after the drug’s effects have subsided,” Carhart-Harris said. Importantly, researchers noted in this study that the regions in the brain involved with introspection (thinking about one’s self) and the way one perceives the outside world, communicated with each other much more intensely under the influence of LSD. “When we measured the brains of subjects who were really blown away by LSD, who had a really strong feeling of ego dissolution, they were also the ones who had the strongest increase in communication between the network regions in charge of introspection and the network regions in charge of perceiving the external world.”

    Another researcher involved in the study, Robin Carhart-Harris, said that whilst under the influence of LSD, the brain scans suggested that the volunteers were “seeing with their eyes shut, we saw many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD, even though volunteers’ eyes were closed.” The more pronounced the effect in the brain, the more intense people rated their psychedelic visions. Under the influence of LSD, brain networks that deal with vision, attention, movement and hearing became far more connected, leading to what looked like a “more unified brain”, he said. David Nutt, went on to say that neuroscientists had waited 50 years for this moment. “This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics,” he said. “We didn’t know how these profound effects were produced. It was too difficult to do. Scientists were either scared or couldn’t be bothered to overcome the enormous hurdles to get this done.” Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation, said in response to this study that “we are finally unveiling the brain mechanisms underlying the potential of LSD, not only to heal, but also to deepen our understanding of consciousness itself.”

    Furthering this important work, the researchers at Imperial College London as well as researchers from the University of Sussex, measured the activity of neurons in people’s brains under the influence of the psychedelics LSD, ketamine and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms). The brain scans revealed the first scientific evidence for what appears to be a heightened state of consciousness. The volunteers studied were found to have more random brain activity than normal while under the influence of these psychedelics. The shift in brain activity came with a plethora of peculiar sensations that the participants described as ranging from floating and finding inner peace, to distortions in time and a conviction that the self was disintegrating. “What we find is that under each of these psychedelic compounds, this specific measure of global conscious level goes up, so it moves in the other direction. The neural activity becomes more unpredictable,” said Anil Seth, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Sussex. “Until now, we’ve only ever seen decreases compared to the baseline of the normal waking state.” The scans found the most notable effects in parts of the brain that are known to be important for perceptions, rather than other roles such as language and movement. “I think people would have the intuitive idea that their experience on psychedelic compounds is a bit more random, a bit less constrained, that there’s a mixing of the senses, and all kinds of connections that are experienced between things that are previously unconnected,” Seth said.

    “We see an increase in the diversity of signals from the brain,” said Seth. “The brain is more complex in its activity.” Previous studies have demonstrated that people in a state of wakefulness or ordinary consciousness, have more diverse patterns of brain activity than people who are asleep. The researchers have found that people who have taken psychedelics show an even greater amount of diversity, in fact the highest level of diversity ever measured. Robin Carhart-Harris, who also took part in this study, said the sudden increase in randomness and diversity in brain activity appears to show a deeper and richer state of consciousness. “People tend to associate phrases like ‘a higher state of consciousness’ with hippy speak and mystical nonsense. This is potentially the beginning of the demystification, showing its physiological and biological underpinnings,” he said. “Maybe this is a neural signature of the mind opening.” Beyond confirming what shaman all over the world have known for millennia and what the hippies learned back in the 60’s, the research could help scientists to finally understand exactly what types of neural activity correspond to the different levels of consciousness in humans.

    It is also hoped that by understanding how different people respond to taking psychedelics, that doctors can more accurately predict which patients might benefit from taking psychedelics to treat mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. “The evidence is becoming clear that there is a clinical efficacy with these drugs,” said Seth. “I think there’s an awful lot of potential here, if you suddenly see things in a different way, it could give your outlook a jolt that existing antidepressants can’t because they work on the routine, wakeful state.” In fact, more and more research is confirming this to be exactly the case. In another study produced by David Nutt, Robin Carhart-Harris and others, the psychedelic compound psilocybin has been shown to be effective in alleviating symptoms in otherwise treatment resistant depression. There had been numerous studies suggesting psychedelics could play a role in treating depression by acting as a sort of "lubricant for the mind," allowing people to break destructive cycles of depressive symptoms, but the precise effect on brain activity was not yet known. The team at Imperial College London performed fMRI brain scans before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after, once the psychedelic effects had worn off. The study showed psilocybin affected two important areas of the human brain, the amygdala, which is largely involved in how we process emotions such as fear and anxiety, became less active. The greater the reduction, the greater the improvement in the reported symptoms. Also effected was the default-mode network, a collaboration of different brain regions which became more stable after taking psilocybin.

    Dr Carhart-Harris, said that the depressed brain was being "clammed up" and that the psychedelic experience had "reset" it. He told the BBC News website: "Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming they would say, 'I've been reset, reborn, rebooted', and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up," with the effects lasting for weeks and even months. Prof Mitul Mehta, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said: "What is impressive about these preliminary findings is that brain changes occurred in the networks we know are involved in depression, after just a single dose of psilocybin. This provides a clear rationale to now look at the longer-term mechanisms in controlled studies." Carhart-Harris believes that the use of psychedelics effectively "heats up" the mind from its rigidity, enabling people to overcome ingrained, self-destructive patterns of thinking. With support from a qualified therapist, those who have undergone the treatment can then "recalibrate in a healthier way, so you're revising your beliefs and assumptions and addictions", Carhart-Harris says. Furthermore and importantly, Dr Carhart-Harris acknowledges that psychedelics are never going to be for everyone. "Some people won't want to go to the depths of their soul or face demons or traumas they've experienced, or dark aspects of the human condition that are there in all of us," he said.

    Another interesting psychedelic compound that is showing remarkable effectiveness in alleviating the symptoms of treatment resistant depression is Ketamine (commonly known as ‘Special K’), that has in recent times come to be thought of as one of the biggest breakthroughs in the psychiatric treatments for severe depression. In as little time as half an hour, it has been shown to banish severe depression symptoms and even suicidal thoughts in the patients tested, often after all other psychiatric options have been exhausted and the effects can last for weeks. A recent study published in the journal Nature, has been able to elucidate just how ketamine acts in the brain to achieve its impressive results. A team of doctors and neuroscientists from Zhejiang University in China have shown that ketamine switches off an erratic burst of electrical impulses firing in neurons in the brain region known as the lateral habenula. “The lateral habenula is like the ‘anti-reward center’ in the brain,” the study’s lead author Professor Hailan Hu told The Independent. When the lateral habenula is firing erratic bursts of electrical impulses, it acts against the areas where key mood-boosting neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin are produced by the brain. “The lateral habenula inhibits both of those reward centers,” she added. “So when it goes into the bursting mode, the suppression becomes much stronger, it’s like a machine gun compared to a single shot.” Whilst in the last decade or so, the lateral habenula has become thought of as a major driver for the negative moods involved in depression, the reasons for this have been difficult to exhibit.

    Professor Hu’s team had been examining this region of the brain, using rats to study the differences in depressed and normal brains and had identified certain patterns of irregular electrical activity that they thought could be playing a role. “In previous experiments we had delivered ketamine generally into the body, so you wouldn’t know which brain region was being affected,” Professor Hu said. “But in this study we injected it directly into the lateral habenula and we were surprised to find that just affecting this very localized area was sufficient to have this very rapid antidepressant effect.” The findings in rats were akin to the extremely rapid relief of symptoms that can be seen in humans and suggests that ketamine’s remarkable effects could be largely derived from this one area, as no other parts of the brain were being treated. With further experimentation, the researchers were able to show that a group of receptors (NMDARs) are causing these signals and are effectively blocked by ketamine. Also published in the journal Nature, an analysis of the findings by Dr Paul Kenny, professor of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said that “ketamine is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of major depressive disorder with imminent risk of suicide, but the mechanisms by which ketamine acts have been a puzzle to scientists. These findings suggest that the therapeutic actions of ketamine might relate, at least in part, to its ability to block burst firing in the lateral habenula, this knowledge might facilitate the development of next-generation ketamine-related antidepressants that specifically target lateral habenula activity.”

    A study released in June of this year has shed even more light on the impressive effects of ketamine in the brain and how it helps to treat mental illness. Importantly, the researchers tested a number of psychedelic compounds for comparison and the results were truly astounding. "These are some of the most powerful compounds known to affect brain function, it's very obvious to me that we should understand how they work," said senior author David E. Olson, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, Davis. “One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex – a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety – those neurites tend to shrivel up,” said Olson. It had previously been believed that depression stems from imbalanced brain chemistry, but recent studies have shown that depression manifests as structural changes in brain circuitry or as an atrophy in parts of the brain. This does not mean that the neurons die off in those suffering mental illness, but that the neurites retract. Neurites are the sections of a neuron that bridge the gap between two neurons at the synapse to enable communication. These brain changes are also apparent in the cases of people suffering anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In the study, Olson and colleagues tested psychedelics from the amphetamine, tryptamine, tropane and ergoline drug classes. In both test tube and animal experiments, the psychedelics displayed functional and structural changes that were similar to those produced by ketamine in cortical neurons. Psychedelics increased both the density of dendritic spines and the density of synapses. Some psychedelics tested, including LSD, proved to be even more potent and effective than ketamine in promoting neurite growth.

    What this basically means is that psychedelic compounds literally have the power to rewire damaged brains, confirming the intuitive findings of the people who say that psychedelics have “reset, rebooted or defragged” their minds. The researchers conducted their experiments in both vertebrates and invertebrates, showing that psychedelics produced similar effects across species. This demonstrates that the biological mechanisms involved with psychedelic effects have remained the same across millions of years of evolution and that psychedelics will most likely have the same brain growth or neural plasticity effects in humans. Olson and his team also set out to test exactly how these psychedelics produced neural plasticity. The researchers explored which biological pathways psychedelics activate to promote neural growth. Ketamine's neural plasticity effect was previously discovered to be largely dependent upon a protein named brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). When BDNF signaling was blocked, interestingly the psychedelics lost their capability to promote neurite growth. BDNF binds to a receptor, named TrkB that is part of a signaling pathway which includes mTOR that is known to play a major part in producing the proteins necessary for the creation of new synapses. When mTOR was also blocked, it also completely inhibited the psychedelics' ability to promote neurite growth. Intriguingly the one psychedelic tested that did not promote neural plasticity was ibogaine (the active ingredient in iboga) but that a metabolite of ibogaine, namely noribogaine did, which explains iboga’s effectiveness.

    Unfortunately space in this article does not permit me to examine all of the interesting work that is being done in regards to psychedelics with depression, anxiety, PTSD and addiction as there has been literally a flood of recent studies that are all saying the same things, that they work and are far more effective and longer lasting (even at a single dose) than anything that is currently being prescribed in the treatments of these debilitating mental illnesses. A number of psychedelic compounds are presently being fast tracked through the clinical trial phases of human testing and will soon be available to doctors to help treat these diseases. I encourage our intrepid New Dawn readers to please do research the studies cited in the references for this article and the veritable compendium of scientific literature and anecdotal evidence that is freely available on the internet, as well my previous article for New Dawn on psychedelic research, Sacred Plant Healing: Shamanic Plant Medicine and the New Science, which appeared in the special issue volume 10, number 5 and is now freely available on my Tricho Serious Ethnobotany blog, for more in depth information. As our societies mental health issues, addictions and suicide rates continue to grow at an alarming rate, this extremely important information needs to be disseminated as widely as possible and brought to the attention of the wider public, and of course our policy and law makers.

    Other debilitating mental scourges that are ever increasing in our modern society such as Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome may also benefit from the use of psychedelic substances. In a study released by the D'Or Institute for Research and Education, it was discovered that harmine which is present in the popular psychedelic drink ayahuasca and which has been used by psychonauts to potentiate other psychedelics, inhibits what is known as DYRKIA which is located on chromosome 21 and is overly activated in patients suffering from Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. Also it was ascertained that the beta-carboline harmine also led to an increase of 70% in the proliferation of human neural progenitor cells. "It has been shown in rodents that antidepressant medication acts by inducing neurogenesis. So we decided to test if harmine, an alkaloid with the highest concentration in the psychotropic plant decoction ayahuasca, would trigger neurogenesis in human neural cells," said Vanja Dakic, PhD student and one of the authors in the study. "Our results demonstrate that harmine is able to generate new human neural cells, similarly to the effects of classical antidepressant drugs, which frequently are followed by diverse side effects. Moreover, the observation that harmine inhibits DYRK1A in neural cells allows us to speculate about future studies to test its potential therapeutic role over cognitive deficits observed in Down syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases," suggests Stevens Rehen, researcher from IDOR and ICB-UFRJ. As we already know that psychedelics can promote new neuron growth and networks and that harmine promotes the growth of new brain cells, whilst also inhibiting the over active DYRKIA associated with Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s, ayahuasca could be just what the doctor ordered to help people with neurodegenerative diseases literally regrow and rewire their damaged brains.

    A new trend that is emerging and growing in popularity with psychedelics, particularly among the genius Silicon Valley crowd, is micro-dosing which was first promoted by Dr. James Fadiman in his excellent book, The Psychedelic Explorers Guide that I reviewed for New Dawn issue 164. Micro-dosing is exactly as it sounds, taking small (non-psychedelic) amounts of these substances, to boost creativity, cognitive function and elevate mood. Whilst numerous studies have demonstrated a link between psychedelic use and increased creativity, artistic expression, problem solving and overall cognitive function, whether these substances could have the same effects in sub-perceptual or non-psychedelic dosages had never been tested, until now. Researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands have released the first official study into micro-dosing in October of this year and their findings support the mounting anecdotal evidence that even in tiny amounts, psychedelics can have profound impacts upon the ways in which we think. “Our results suggest that consuming a micro-dose of truffles (magic mushrooms) allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem, thus providing preliminary support for the assumption that micro-dosing improves divergent thinking," lead author Luisa Prochazkova explained. "Moreover, we also observed an improvement in convergent thinking, that is, increased performance on a task that requires the convergence on one single correct or best solution." The authors of the study called this “changes in fluid intelligence” and noted that the participants created solutions that were more original and flexible than they had before micro-dosing. More studies are currently underway into the effects of micro-dosing with other psychedelic compounds, which will in all likelihood produce similar results.

    Whilst the use of psychedelics has long been advocated for improving intelligence and creativity by such mental luminaries as Dr. Francis Crick who discovered the double helix nature of DNA, Apple computers founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whether psychedelics actually changed what we think was largely speculation. A new study released earlier this year has given us an intriguing insight into the potential changes in just what we think through the use of psychedelic plants and compounds. “Our findings tentatively raise the possibility that given in this way, psilocybin may produce sustained changes in outlook and political perspective, here in the direction of increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarianism,” researchers Taylor Lyons and Robin Carhart-Harris wrote in the study. “Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting… [But now I see] there’s no separation or distinction, you are it,” one participant said in the follow-up exam. “This pilot study suggests that psilocybin with psychological support might produce lasting changes in attitudes and beliefs. Although it would be premature to infer causality from this small study, the possibility of drug-induced changes in belief systems seems sufficiently intriguing and timely to deserve further investigation,” the study concluded. Could these feelings of increased nature relatedness and anti-authoritarianism explain the peace and love hippy counter culture revolution of the late 1960’s and why these plants and substances were subsequently banned by the ever increasingly authoritarian, nanny state governments of the world? I will leave that for the reader to decide.

    Perhaps the most important of all the changes in what we think, our beliefs and our attitudes that psychedelics produce is in removing the fear of death and the experience of the mystical. In a recent study by the Johns Hopkins Medical School, 51 terminally ill patients were given magic mushrooms and a remarkable 80% of them said that it had helped them to feel more optimistic and less scared of death. Matthew W. Johnson who was involved in the study offered that the experience produced by the mushrooms "appear indistinct, oftentimes from religious experiences." Research conducted by Griffiths et al. showed that the mystical experiences participants had under the influence of psilocybin were “among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives” and that they were very long lasting. Charles Grob, UCLA professor of psychiatry and pediatrics who also conducted a study that gave psilocybin to late-stage cancer patients has said that "the reports I got back from the subjects, from their partners, from their families were very positive, that the experience was of great value, and it helped them regain a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning to their life. The quality of their lives notably improved."

    As the famed mystic and inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s greatest work, The Doors of Perception, William Blake once wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” ~*


    How Do Hallucinogens Work?

    How Do Psychedelics Work? A Look Inside the Hallucinating Brain

    The Doors of Perception. By Aldous Huxley

    The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. By Tom Wolfe

    LSD's impact on the brain revealed in groundbreaking images

    Psychedelic drugs induce 'heightened state of consciousness', brain scans show

    Psychedelic drugs push the brain to a state never seen before

    Magic mushrooms can 'reset' depressed brain

    Could psychedelics transform mental health?

    Psychedelic drug ayahuasca improves hard-to-treat depression

    Psychedelic ayahuasca works against severe depression, study finds

    Psychedelic Drugs: LSD Changes Brain, Could Be Used for Depression, Addiction Treatment

    Ketamine nasal spray rapidly relieves depression and suicidal thoughts, finds trial

    Remarkable secrets of ketamine's antidepressant effect unlocked by scientists

    Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity

    Psychedelic drugs promote neural plasticity in rats and flies

    LSD and magic mushrooms could heal damaged brain cells in people suffering from depression, study shows

    Does ibogaine treatment for depression help?

    Psychedelics and MDMA are helping cure PTSD, addiction, depression and anxiety

    Classical hallucinogens as antidepressants? A review of pharmacodynamics and putative clinical roles

    Sacred Plant Healing: Shamanic Plant Medicine and the New Science

    A brief history of psychedelic psychiatry

    Substance present in ayahuasca brew stimulates generation of human neural cells

    The Psychedelic Explorers Guide. By James Fadiman, Ph.D.

    Microdosing Magic Mushrooms Could Spark Creativity And Boost Cognitive Skills, Claims New Study

    Study Says Psychedelic Mushrooms Make People More Resistant To Authority

    Dying humans are taking mushrooms to study our fear of the unknown

    'My fear of dying was gone': Former cancer patient says psychedelic drugs helped him cope with end of life anxiety

    What Is So Important About The Mystical Experience?

    The most convincing argument for legalizing LSD, shrooms, and other psychedelics