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Neurogenesis, psilocybin, and the power to change your mind.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a community of mushroom-lovers, psychedelic dabblers, or bio-hacking enthusiasts, you may have heard the term neurogenesis thrown around. You may have asked yourself, WTF is that? I definitely did the first time I heard it.

Basically speaking, neurogenesis = neuro (neurons) + genesis (creation). Wikipedia defines it as the creation and development of neurons. Neurogenesis is therefore the process by which new neurons are created in the brain.

Neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons, occurs throughout the human life span in the hippocampus, a structural node in the neural circuitry responsible for memory and learning. The process of neurogenesis involves proliferation of neural stem/progenitor cells and their differentiation into mature neurons, followed by integration into hippocampal circuitry.”[1]

But what does this mean for us, practically speaking? And what does it have to do with mushrooms?

 

Neural pathways, thought patterns, unconscious/conscious behaviours

 

Neurons and neural pathways in the brain are much more than simple cells. They are responsible for beliefs, values, thought patterns, and fears, and influence nearly every facet of our behaviour in our waking life. If a neural pathway, or thought process, informed by beliefs and fears is lived out regularly, this becomes an unconscious behavioural pattern.

As you likely know, embedded or unconscious thought processes can be positive or negative. They can be inherited, conditioned, and adopted without any conscious thought of where a certain belief comes from or why you react the way you do.

Especially if you are prone to depression, dark thoughts, and are consistently living in a perspective reality informed by fear. This may be no fault of your own, and could be informed by traumatic past experiences, or you may simple find yourself stuck in a rut. We are human, and it’s natural to go through ups and downs in how we feel and respond to the world.

Neural pathways can also be incredibly positive. If you wake up every day and your perception of reality is informed by joy, gratitude, and pleasure, chances are your experience of life is extremely fulfilling, happy, and connected.

The good thing about neural pathways, our thoughts and beliefs, is that they can be changed. While psychedelics (including psilocybin- the psychoactive component in ‘magic mushrooms’),  are one effective way to achieve neurogenesis, there are other natural ways to change our thinking patterns as well.

Neurogenesis and psychedelics: the science is in

 

Generally speaking, the topic of psychedelic experiences creating new neural pathways and connections in the brain has been discussed anecdotally for quite some time.

Michael Pollen describes this process in his 2018 book, How to Change Your Mind, using the analogy of skiing. He describes the way in which our everyday thoughts and behaviours are like ski tracks down the mountain, and the more often we enact the same thought process and behaviour, the more engrained the track. He described an experience with psilocybin as a fresh coat of snow, covering old neural pathways and allowing you to ski down the mountain using a new track.

What’s exciting is that this long time held hypothesis by psychedelic/plant medicine advocates is now being scientifically studied and proven.

“Drug-induced alterations in hippocampal neurogenesis have been shown to alleviate depression and to have beneficial effects on conditioned fear. In light of abundant preclinical data and the loosening of governmental restrictions on psychedelic drug research, these agents should be explored for their therapeutic potential in depression, posttraumatic stress disorders, and drug dependence.” [2]

A more recent study from Yale University, published in 2021, demonstrates the following:

One dose of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, increases dendritic spine density within 24 hours. The neurobiological changes lasted for a month following psilocybin exposure. Additionally, mice subjected to stress showed behavioral improvements and increased neurotransmitter activity after psilocybin exposure.”[3]

This research builds upon the growing conversation of psychedelic use as medicine, to ease the burden of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and addiction.

 

Psychedelics, healing, and set and setting

The long lasted effects of these psychedelic experiences far outweigh the short-term effects of pharmaceutical anti-depressants, which really taps into the unknown layer of spiritual power within these psychedelics.

They seem to bypass the mere alleviation of symptoms, and actually allow the user to dive into the experience or memory that caused the depression in the first place, while also allowing the user to connect to previously unknown levels of interconnection, empathy, and self-love. Many people who have experienced psychedelics for themselves report the experience has life changing effects, as well as a mystical-like spiritual experience among the most significant in their lives. There remains so much to be gleaned by these life-changing substances.

As always, set (mindset), setting (physical setting, sense of safety and security), and dose of psychedelic use remains a significant factor in the beneficial outcomes of an experience. In geo-political contexts where these substances are legal, and as they become more widely available for therapeutic use, more and more people are turning to ceremonial or guided psychedelic spaces, where an experienced practitioner guides them through the journey.

With larger numbers of people than ever before experiencing the devastating effects of depression, addiction, and living with trauma, it is no surprise these substances are gaining traction in the therapeutic/pharmaceutical landscape.

 

Fieldtrip: for the psychedelic curious

While we do not advise or condone the use of psychedelic substances in countries where it is illegal to do so, there has always been and will always be, an underground of the psychedelic curious. For people who can’t afford therapeutic sessions or who would rather ‘trip’ alone, there are endless free resources available to support those experiences in being as safe and effective as possible.

Fieldtrip[4] uses evidence-based, legal psychedelic therapies to help you heal depression and feel better. Fieldtrip has clinical locations in the USA, Canada, and the Netherlands, and currently offers ketamine-assisted psychedelic therapy.

Alongside their in person services, they also have a free app available to download. The app offers all the education and resources you need to support any self-led psychedelic experiences. The app includes videos, music, meditations, and the ability to record voice memos during your trip. Their focus is on harm reduction- offering a series of articles, research, and guided audio experiences to help you prepare, dive in, and integrate the learnings of your experience.

Regardless of whether or not you want to experiment with psychedelics, it’s an incredible app for education, and it’s full of great free meditations! Including a few with my absolute favourite- East Forest, a creative leader in the realm of psychedelic soundscapes.

If you want to learn more, there’s also a great East Forest podcast with FieldTrip founder, Ronan Levy. Link to the youtube recording here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwu28dZLcGM.

 

Neurogenesis: Changing your mind

While psychedelics are paving their way as a breakthrough treatment for depression and PTSD, they are definitely not the only way to change your thought patterns and heal your spirit. Many attribute similar life changing experiences to working with breathwork, certain modalities of meditation, yoga, spiritual practice and therapy.

We know we’re living in a world overwhelmed with darkness, it doesn’t all feel easy to keep your head above water and keep a positive outlook on life. The first steps, I believe, to changing your mind are…

  1. The awareness that you want to change your thought patterns: realising you are stuck in a rut, or a looping narrative in your mind of negative thoughts may create some space between you and the loop. Awareness is key. Start exploring the thought processes that feel prevalent for you, whether positive or negative.
  2. The desire to change: once you’ve cultivated that awareness, the desire to change and create a new way of thinking and being can be a huge motivator. Consider exploring the ways in which you’d like to change your thoughts patterns and behaviours.

I hope you’ve learned something new about the incredible capacity to change your mind, and some of the tools available to you do soJ

 

Mush love,

Rach

 

References:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwu28dZLcGM.

[1] Hippocampal Neurogenesis: Effects of Psychedelic Drugs (2016): https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-800212-4.00077-7

[2] Hippocampal Neurogenesis: Effects of Psychedelic Drugs (2016): https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-800212-4.00077-7

[3] https://neurosciencenews.com/depression-dendrites-psilocybin-18856/

[4] https://www.fieldtriphealth.com

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