Friday, December 21, 2012

Programming the Brain: Affirmations, Inductions, Psychedelics and Such


I have found such things as recorded affirmations to be useful from time to time.  I'm not a huge absolute believer in them, but at the right time and place, when you are in need of a boost or some positive input, I think they have their place.

I think there is another component to these things in that they are ultimately dependent on ego, and on words and belief, and a constructed self image, that type of stuff.  As you progress on the meditative path, there is less and less "there" to respond to the material.  But, again, I do feel they are useful up to a point for their positive input, and on a psychedelic journey, sometimes that kind of thing can make the difference between a mediocre trip, and say, a full blown skull blasting ecstatic mystical experience.  Here are some of my recommendations:

Getting the right mindset for a psychedelic trip:


One nice trip starter is Kelly Howell's Secret Universal Mind Meditation.  It's the kind of music I would recommend as you are coming up on a psychedelic: relaxed, ambient, "massage therapist" music along with a gentle guided meditation that points towards the spiritual, the nondual.  There might be a word or phrase that I might like to change here or there, but overall it's a really good pointer, and I find Kelly very soothing.

Note that the version linked to above is spoken in 1st person.  I have a slight preference for the version that came out a couple of years later that is in 2nd person, The Secret Universal Mind Meditation II.  I can't recall exactly, but one or both of these has additional music at the end.  For my purposes, I edited these down to just the guided meditation portion.  For my edited versions, volume I is 33 minutes, and volume II is 26 minutes.  Highly recommended.

Hypnosis:

 

Not surprisingly, I'm not a huge believer in the hypnotic stuff either.  I'm not quite so sure that all the hidden type stuff, embedded metaphor, NLP and such, would really test out that well in the real world.  But what we're looking for here is some good intentions and messages and an entertaining and/or relaxing soundtrack.

Another trip starter I have used is Paul Scheele's Euphoria.  That link points to some kind of multi-CD course with several authors, but when I picked this up the Paul Scheele part (CD 1 of the current course) was a stand alone.  I have heavily edited this to make it very specific for trip purposes (my version is 22 minutes).  It is a slightly crazy approach for a trip start perhaps because it has a bit of a cheesy quality (one time causing me to laugh out loud when it came on during a trip).  It's not like some super entertaining kind of thing, it's more about the induction (and double induction).  But there's some good stuff in there, and it certainly has good intentions.

These hypnotic tracks raise the entertainment factor:

Richard Bandler - The Ecstasy Machine.  This is a pretty old one.  I got this back in the day when it was a standalone, with a subliminal track as well.  The current package is known as The Ecstacy Twins, but what you're looking for here is the 45 minute Ecstasy Machine track, that's all you need or want IMO.  Bandler's growling, motivating voice creates an entertaining metaphor, imagining a set of controls for your conscious and unconscious experience, over Denver Clay's music.

Hypnotica - The Sphinx of Imagination.  This is a very entertaining hypnotic induction, with plenty of great sound effects and such, and the above mentioned Denver Clay helps out with the music.  This was first released in 2003, and was upgraded in 2012.  Hypnotica now seems to be primarily focused on helping young men become more self confident and attract and meet women, but I wouldn't hold it against him.  This thing legitimately kicks ass, if you're in the mood for that type of thing.  From the Hypnotica site, the pitch for Sphinx of Imagination.

Affirmations:

Straight up affirmations may be one of the more effective things, if you are open to it and really want to change your mindset.  I personally think it makes a difference if you can actually hear the message, but who knows.

Maybe the best I've heard would be the insanely high priced EmBRACES Belief Entrainment System.  It's just too expensive, in my opinion.  But it is good.  The modules and scripts seem well thought out.  They come with a very complete and frankly  bewildering variety of options.  Male voice, female voice, multiple voices, 1st person, 2nd person, 3 varieties of binaural beats, with and without music.  I believe pretty much every combination of those factors.  So yeah, you do get all that variety.  Did I mention it was expensive?

Another one is the ThinkRightNow affirmations.  I loathe their "direct mail" marketing styled website, but these are decent affirmations and are priced slightly better.

And The Results?

Considering that I've say, tripped (i.e gotten myself into a legitimately receptive state with plenty of access to the unconscious) while listening to a lot of this type of stuff, well, if these things really changed people significantly, we might well nigh imagine me to be some kind of billionaire superman by now.

Heh.  Not quite there.  But hey, you know, I'm doing pretty good.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Working Memory related to Wandering Mind

In the article, "A Wandering Mind Reveals Mental Processes and Priorities," researchers found that
"People with higher working memory capacity reported more mind wandering during these simple tasks."
This might imply that those with higher working memory capacity might have a more difficult time when learning to meditate.

Meditation alters response to Pain

By way of Big Ten Science, "Meditation Changes the Brain’s Pain Game."

In the experiment, expert meditators exposed to pain fared better than novices.
In the seconds directly before the pain was administered, the experts had less activity in the amygdala, an anxiety-related area of the brain. What’s more, they had faster neural habituation, the tendency for stimuli to become less intense from having gotten used to it. By opening themselves up to the experience, the expert meditators were able to change their relationship with the pain, rather than changing the experience itself.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Roland Griffiths TED Talk on Psilocybin

This is a 19 minute talk by Roland Griffiths at a TED Talk (11/5/09), about his 2006 research at Johns Hopkins demonstrating that psilocybin occasions mystical experiences.

From the closing remarks:
It seems to me that there is a great mystery embedded within human consciousness, a mystery that I think that we are all aware of at some fundamental even primitive level, having something to do with this quest to understand who we are, the essence of life, perhaps with this deep knowing that at some level we're all in this together.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

See How They Fly Like Lucy In the Sky

The Psychology Today article (refreshingly mainstream, yes?) "See How They Fly Like Lucy In the Sky" covers some old ground on the 2006 Johns Hopkins research on psilocybin and the follow up research that showed long term positive effects.

The last paragraph:

LSD is a much "dirtier drug" than psilocybin. Psilocybin acts specifically on serotonin receptors in the brain and perhaps also on glutamate receptors. LSD acts on all kinds of receptors in a much wilder fashion. Because of this difference, people exposed to psilocybin don’t lose a sense of being the agents of their illusions and hallucinations. They don’t enter a fully psychotic state with head voices and paranoia, as can be the case with LSD.  People exposed to psilocybin sometimes report a liberating loss of time and space and personal identity through space and time. “It’s usually not a loss of the physical body,” says MacLean, “it’s the loss of the sense of ‘I am Katherine, sitting at my desk in this year 2012 and I had a childhood and then I went to college and then I moved across the country a couple of times and in the future I would like to do these things.’ That whole narrative is lost. You are an observer experiencing something but you are not a human being who has a certain identity. You are pure agency capable of experiencing the true nature of the universe.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

LSD as a Gateway Drug to Buddhism

Rick Strassman, pioneer psychedelic researcher (DMT), speaks about his early experiences in this video from the upcoming documentary "The Medicine: Science & Psychedelics".

"I went to a Zen temple in my early 20s, and, ever the scientist, every chance I got to speak to a monk one on one, I asked every one of them if they had tripped on psychedelics and how important their trips were in their decision to become a monk. And I’d say 99% of these junior monks in their 20s all got their start on LSD."
 Admittedly, this would have been in the early 70s, but still.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Meditation Reduces Colds

This study looked compared the effects of meditation (MBSR) or moderate exercise on the incidence of acute respiratory infection.  Both meditators and moderate exercisers had substantially fewer colds, but the meditators had the best results.


Since I began meditating daily about 2.5 years ago, I have not had a cold (knock on wood), which is a massive record for me.  Slight confound, I also began adding about 5000 IU of vitamin D to my already substantial vitamin intake around that time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meditation Produces Enduring Changes

8 weeks of MBSR and compassion meditation were shown to affect amygdala response outside of formal meditation, as reported in Science Daily.  In the paper "Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state" researchers report "this is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state."

Kind of surprised this hasn't been shown before.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Personal EEG Changes from Meditation

I rarely, if ever, do any EEG biofeedback any more, but I wanted to take a look at my frontal EEG (F3 & F4) and see what was up.  I had a 5 minute F3-F4 baseline from back in 2007 and decided to do a new 5 minute baseline and compare them.  Around 2009, almost 3 years ago, I began meditating daily, about an hour a day, amassing easily over 1000 hours of good practice.  During this time I attained stream-entry and vipassana-style access (but by no means mastery) to 8 jhanas.  For the current data, I was lightly in 4th jhana, I can't seem to help it.

For the graphs, blue is old (2007), red is recent (2012).

On the left (F3) the changes were increased activation (expected increase in amplitudes, particularly of high frequencies).  Alpha amplitude remained unchanged, while the amplitude of many other frequencies nearly doubled, a highly significant change.  The old 2007 data has an interesting spike around 39 hz that might simply be artifact.  The 2012 data shows an interesting low frequency bump in the delta range as well.
On the right (F4) amplitudes are largely unchanged.  Again, a likely artifact around 39 hz for the older data.
Coherence changed significantly, decreasing by an average of 50%.  I did not expect this.  There is a lot of talk about coherence in meditators, but I seem to have experienced the opposite, similar to this research.  I'd like to hear from a practitioner or something, but my guess would be that my original coherence levels might have been a little high.  Looking around at some papers, that would seem to be the case, particularly as I used to have some problems with depression.  I notice that the alpha and gamma coherence seems to have changed the least, while slow wave coherence is dramatically different, decreasing by 75%.

Revisions on Nitrous and Piracetam

Nitrous Oxide


Nitrous Oxide is a useful tool for psychedelic exploration.  I find that it opens the spiritual door, but doesn't quite reach into the areas of challenging emotional material like a major psychedelic.  So that can be nice.  However, I think ultimately you get more growth by becoming comfortable with that emotional material.  Anyway, I wanted to add that methionine may be a useful supplement for use with N2O.  That angle may be covered with a B12 supplement, but I figure you want to be as safe as you can.  Relevant articles have been updated.

 Also my post on Nitrous Oxide Brands now links to these.

Piracetam


Piracetam may be useful by itself for meditation, seemingly increasing alertness and present moment awareness.  And it seems to be useful in combination with psilocybin, increasing the effects (yes) while simultaneously keeping one a bit more present (maybe).  But I've been using all this stuff at pretty low doses mostly, and I notice that for myself, as I occasionally get up to 2-3 grams of mushrooms in combination with piracetam (note: perhaps the equivalent of 4-6-9 grams of mushrooms by themselves), it's just feeling like a bit much, a bit strained.  Which it probably is.  My point would be that with mushrooms alone, a high dose trip seems substantially more comfortable.  So for the low dose kind of stuff I do, maybe up to 1.0 gram of mushrooms, it's okay, but beyond that, if I wanted to go big, I think I'd lay off the piracetam for a while.

Relevant articles:

Griffiths: Psilocybin Mimics Effects of Meditation

A video excerpt from Roland Griffiths' presentation on his research into the complementary relationship of psilocybin and meditation at the 2012 SAND (Science and Nonduality) conference.  Full video is $195, I'd like to see it.  Info from the slides:

  • Psilocybin and meditation can be viewed as complementary techniques for exploration of the nature of self and mind
  • Recent neuroimaging studies show that meditation and psilocybin produce strikingly similar decreases in brain circuits responsible for self-referential processing
  • Griffiths mentions the "default mode" network research of Brewer (meditation) and Carhart-Harris (psilocybin)
  • If meditation represents the systematic "tried and true course" of discovery of the nature of mind and Self, psilocybin represents the "crash course"
Psilocybin is a pharmalogical tool that helps people:
  • recognize how it feels to embody the present moment
  • dispassionately observe and let go of pain, fear, discomfort
  • transform a conventional sense of self (i.e. ego) [you are not your mind]
  • recognize that mind is capable of revealing knowledge not readily accessible in everyday waking consciousness
  • gain an authoritative sense of the interconnectedness of all people and things (mystical experience)
I had come across the Brewer and Carhart-Harris research while doing this blog, and tied them together with a small piece of my own experience in the post Meditation and Psilocybin.  I think psilocybin is very helpful, and my experiences have been about 95% wonderful.  But as to that other 5%, it's like Buddha referred to sense pleasure - it's like licking honey off a razor blade.  Every now and then you might taste a bit of blade, and every now and then you might swallow the whole blade.  My recommendation: don't go overboard with the dosage, and view everything with equanimity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Contemplative Science Blog

Really nice little Contemplative Science blog on Scoop.it!  The format makes it easy to scan through a bunch of articles and ideas quickly.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Psychedelic Science Conference 2013

I'm not really up on conferences and so forth, but the Psychedelic Science Conference 2013 popped up in my standard search string, and it looks like a really great selection of topics.  Does my heart good to know that all this is going on, and the whole field seems to be taking off.  Lots of good research coming up.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cognitive-Based Compassion Training (CBCT)

Cognitive-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) seems to be a secularized version of Buddhist Loving-Kindness or Metta meditation, much in the way Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a secularized version of, um, more general Buddhist meditation.  Recent research indicates this type of training seems to enhance empathy.  fMRI studies confirmed a plausible neurological basis for changes in measures on a standard empathy test.

Another study compared these two types of meditation (well, not MBSR, but something similar) and the effect on the amygdala.  To be honest, not sure I completely understand the implications, but it's interesting :)


Friday, October 5, 2012

Motivation to Meditate

The newly launched Medivate site and the Medivate Blog seek to help you stayed motivated to meditate.  A recent blog post highlights a half dozen or so pieces of clinical research document positive health benefits.  And there's an app.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can LSD cure depression?

The pop article "Can LSD cure depression?" covers some of the recent and upcoming research using psychedelics.  Ecstasy (MDMA), for example, appears to be successful in helping people make significant progress with PTSD in just one or two sessions.  Psilocybin may help people overcome nicotine dependency.

Psilocybin has been shown to reduce blood flow in certain areas of the brain.  Feilding says "it may also be significant that the volunteers who reported the most vivid and powerful experiences were also those who had the greatest reduction in blood flow."  Meditation has shown similar changes in blood flow, and as a sample of one, I'd say psilocybin seems to "reach" me much more easily after a few years of daily meditation.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Changes From Focused Attention

"Intensive Training Induces Longitudinal Changes in Meditation State-related EEG Oscillatory Activity" reports that an intensive 3 month practice of focused attention (i.e. sustained attention on a fixed object such as the breath) was associated with reduced beta and a lowering of the alpha frequency.

I would assume this is from re-crunching the Shamatha Project data, but maybe it is ongoing.

Depresssion correlated with Hyperconnectivity

In Scientific American's article, "Depression Linked with Hyperconnected Brain Areas" the author reports on 3 studies linking depression and rumination to hyper-connected limbic and cortical areas.

Meditation has plausibly been shown to help with depression, reversing left-right frontal asymmetry among other things, and maybe the reduced connectivity shown in the default mode network is also relevant.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Meditation and Psilocybin

So we have research from people like Judson Brewer showing decreases in activity and connectivity in the Default (Narrative) Mode Network as a result of meditation.

And research from people like Robin Carhart-Harris showing the similarity of these changes with the changes in the brain on psilocybin.

So we have plausible evidence, maybe not tons of it, that there are at least some similar things going on with respect to meditation and psychedelics.  Some kind of overlap.

And then you have someone like me, meditation-wise approaching 2nd path, with at least light access to jhanas up to usually 5 or 6, and finding that my mind seems increasingly sensitive to the effects of psilocybin.  Sensitive is almost a good word there.  On the one hand, I believe I would be relatively better prepared than the average person to deal with a high dose psychedelic (that may be more due to experiential learning), on the other hand my mind seems increasingly inclined to "take advantage" of the influence of even a very small dose, which seems to be due to the meditation training.

Recently I took a small amount of psilocybin mushrooms, 0.15 grams, and made a tea with 16 oz. of water.  The water was then poured into an ice tray made of spaces for 16 x 1 oz. cubes.  So each cube has just under 0.01 grams of mushrooms, and considering that the extraction into water was probably not 100%, we're probably realistically talking about something in the ballpark of 0.075 grams of mushrooms.  Not very much.  At around 0.5% psilocybin by weight, that puts the dose (if my math is correct) at around 0.375 mg of psilocybin, with common doses in research upwards of 15-30 mg.

But I'm getting a very significant effect now from that tiny amount, and I will experiment with even smaller doses.  Again, I attribute the effects to meditation.  Seems to me no question that the two things are pointing in the same direction.




Friday, August 10, 2012

Psilocybin and Cluster Headaches

I saw a television program on hallucinogens recently, I believe it may have been Drugs, Inc. on NatGeo.  Part of it covered a man who suffered from debilitating cluster headaches.  He was using psilocybin in the form of magic mushrooms that he grew himself as a remedy.  Seemed like a very conservative guy that didn't particularly want to take the mushrooms, and he seemed to approach the whole thing with a great sense of dread and anxiety.  He seemed to have to literally psych himself up and force himself to take the mushrooms.  But in order to keep the cluster headaches away, he needed to do it about once every 2 months.  I got the impression that without the relief that the mushrooms provided, he would probably killed himself.

But I felt so sorry for him and the way he was approaching the whole thing.  Resisting the experience, and starting trips off with dread and anxiety sounds just awful, like a recipe for a bad trip every time.  He could be having one of the best experiences that a human being can have, and he's turning it into one of the worst.

Maybe he could read a few of the psychedelic trip guides and have a better time.  There is so much to be learned and so much joy to be revealed.

Relevant information on psilocybin and cluster headaches can be found at ClusterBusters.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Photic Stimulation - Hacking the Sirius Lightframes

I'm a fan of photic stimulation while using psychedelics.  To my way of thinking, if properly done, photic stimulation provides an interesting canvas for the mind to construct it's own images over.  So called mind machines or light and sound machines provide flashing light at frequencies that are entertaining and can also entrain the brain to those frequencies.

I use the Sirius mind machine with blue light frames which are said to be more relaxing.  The Sirius is a low end machine, but it gets the job done.  There are a number of programmed sessions, I'm not sure I have explored them all on psychedelics, but one of the more interesting settings is the random setting (#23) which meanders through many frequencies.  I prefer that one for the "trippiest" visuals, but at the same time I find it slightly arousing as it often goes into some very fast frequencies - way up into high beta.  I often found myself using the slower frequency deep meditation setting (#11) instead, but it's not as visually interesting.

Most of the mind machines can play audiostrobe encoded files, which allow you to go outside the programmed sessions and play any number of commercially available sessions (generally combined with music), or design your own with software like NeuroProgrammer.  I've been experimenting for a while and seem to be settling on a simple design that focuses on the range of alpha and theta, roughly 4-12 Hz, ramping up and down from roughly 4 to 12.  I find less than 4 makes the visual field less continuous, and as I'm trying to keep things relaxing I keep the high end to 11 or 12.  I've been tweaking the rate at which the frequencies ramp up and down so that the overall visual field is stable and comfortable, yet slowly changing to maintain interest.  I play the short audiostrobe file on repeat into the Sirius using a cheap mp3 player (an old SanDisk Sansa Express that I attach with rubber bands to the Sirius).  I have music playing separately.

I had always found the LEDs to be a wee bit focused in a small area over the eye (as one might well expect).  I had read about the Ganzfeld effect (even experimenting with ping pong balls cut in half to get the effect), and the Laxman light and sound machine which diffuses the light over a broader area with amazing effects, and began experimenting with diffusing the light from the Sirius light frames.

I began to use material cut from a plastic milk carton, sanded down on both sides with fine sandpaper to increase the diffusion of light.  I found this improved the experience for me quite a bit, providing kind of a gentler experience and diffusing the light stimulation over a much wider area.  This does reduce the brightness a bit, and I ended up using some white paint around the LEDs to increase reflectivity and brightness.  After about 4 prototypes I settled on the following design, and am quite pleased with the results.


Pretty simple actually.  It attaches using the little tabs on either side, with the tiny screws that are part of the lightframes.  You can see the bright white areas where the eyes would be - that is the white paint around the LEDs.  This does not provide the Laxman type effects, but I like it quite a bit.





Recent Reading 2

A couple of older articles:

"This is Your Brain on Meditation" from Science Notes 2005 (UC Santa Cruz) covers a lot of territory including meditation's effect on gamma power, stress reduction, and happiness.

"Monkeys Meditate for Marshmallows" has a cute video of a monkey getting neurofeedback with a marshmallow reward.  "The result suggests that simians could help to objectively test neurofeedback and other brain-training treatments for epilepsy or ADHD: they would be free of the placebo effects that humans might experience."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Recent Reading

From The Morning News, "The Heretic," a profile of psychedelic pioneer and researcher James Fadiman.  From the article, "If certain of these molecules connect with our serotonin receptors like a key in a pin tumbler, and open a door to extraordinary vistas, why shouldn’t we peek?"  In the post Psychedelic Trip Guides I covered his great Psychedelic Explorer's Guide and free online Entheoguide.  And on his personal website it looks like there are a number of videos that may be worth checking out.

From the Kavli Foundation, "The Fantastic Plastic Brain" discusses the remarkable adaptivity of the human brain, even into old age.  "There are clear advantages to getting the brain wired up in the right fashion early in development, but still there are a number of Olympic medalists who didn’t begin their sport until they were well into their twenties. Maybe we learn a bit slower, but with persistent training and practice we can overcome this limitation or lack of advantage we didn’t get early on."

From Stillpoint Integral, an article on Ego Development framed within Ken Wilber's AQAL map of human development, by Susanne R. Cook-Greuter.  This maps development from self-centered and impulsive all the way up to unitive.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bobby Kennedy on LSD

A quote from the article, When Bobby Kennedy defended LSD.  Kennedy was a voice of reason in opposition to the sensationalist anti-drug conservatives.

“I think we have given too much emphasis and so much attention to the fact that it can be dangerous and that it can hurt an individual who uses it… that perhaps to some extent we have lost sight of the fact that it can be very, very helpful in our society if used properly.”

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness

Couple of interesting interviews with Jeffrey Martin, The Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness and The End of Self-Referencing on Buddhist Geeks.  Martin has tested and interviewed in depth many people who are experiencing persistent non-symbolic states.  His dissertation shows that such people are fairly ordinary in many ways, at least psychologically, and they do report high scores on scales of mystical experience.  While psychologically normal in many ways, they seem to be happy, and free of anxiety and depression.

A couple of youtube links featuring Jeffrey Martin:

Neurological and Psychological Correlates of Enlightenment
Hacking Your Enlightenment

fMRI Biofeedback for No Self

I was taking another look at Judson Brewer's research (showing that meditation changes the default mode network, decreasing it's activity).  A number of his subjects have reported on the "feedback" he was experimenting with for the condition of no-self or non-symbolic consciousness.  I came across the Go Blue project whose ultimate goal would be to create a low cost neurofeedback device to help everyday people experience this state.  I took another look after listening to the interview on Buddhist Geeks, Mapping The Mindful Brain.

This would appear to be feedback based on decreased activation of the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), which would be roughly the area of Pz on a 10-20 brain map.  I'm not sure that EEG feedback can reach this quite in the same way the fMRI can, and I've seen mixed results for studies correlating fMRI with EEG amplitudes in that area, some saying alpha is positively correlated, others negative.  Not sure there is a clear path there yet.

It does seem logically, that we want to quiet the brain in that area, and alpha-theta training at Pz would seem to be something along those lines.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Psychedelic Sacrament in early Tibetan Buddhism

Mike Crowley, following on the heels of Gordon Wasson's book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, lays out the case for various psychedelics, but mainly mushrooms, being the Amrita sacrament referred to in old Tibetan Buddhist texts, in a lengthy article Secret Rites of Buddhism.

Meditation and White Matter

In "Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation" researchers found significant changes in white matter with about 5 hours of meditation.  Increased axonal density, and increased myelin (fatty tissue around the axons) were found particularly in the anterior cingulate.

The meditation was a form of mindfulness called IBMT, or Integrative Body-Mind Training, and produced significant changes in comparison with a group that did sequential muscle relaxation.

Covered in more detail by Reality Sandwich, Fox Detroit, and ProHealth.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Return of Psychedelic Research

The Beckley Foundation reprints a Salon article, Flashback! Psychedelic Research Returns, that gives a nice overview of psychedelic research over the years, within the current context of successful research on cancer patients experiencing anxiety.  Historical references going back to William James, Huxley, Leary, Pahnke, and the recent resurgence in research starting with perhaps Strassman and up to Griffiths.


I'm going to sidetrack a bit and rehash what Zaitchik refers to as an "ideal" dose of psilocybin:

Even the dose employed is the result of trial and error: The Johns Hopkins team has identified the golden mean — between 20 and 30 milligrams, roughly equal to a good fistful of strong ‘shrooms — to maximize peak experience while minimizing transitory anxiety.

That's a dose somewhere between "strong" and "heroic," maybe 4-6 grams of dried mushrooms.  I would advise against grabbing a literal fistful.  Leo Zeff, the "Secret Chief" who administered probably a few thousand trips, recommended 3 grams, but doubled that for alcoholics.  Some would comment that even 3 grams might be a lot for a first timer.  On the one hand, I like the idea of a relatively high dose to fully break through - a lower dose may not do that.  A 2.3 gram dose got me to a mystical experience, but it took 6.2 grams for me to have a decisive experience of oneness, at least the first time.  But on the other hand, if you have an opportunity to work up to that dose, that may lead to some better outcomes overall.

After a lot of successful trips and meditation, 0.25 grams is all I personally need, although I don't see much in the way of visuals at that dose.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brain Can Rewire At Advanced Age

In a study on rats, Max Planck Florida Institute Study Shows: Persistent Sensory Experience Is Good For The Aging Brain

“This study overturns decades-old beliefs that most of the brain is hard-wired before a critical period that ends when one is a young adult”
 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The neural substrates of mindfulness: An fMRI investigation

The neural substrates of mindfulness: An fMRI investigation

from the paper:
“Mindfulness” is a capacity for heightened present-moment awareness that we all possess to a greater or lesser extent. Enhancing this capacity through training has been shown to alleviate stress and promote physical and mental well-being.

As a consequence, interest in mindfulness is growing and so is the need to better understand it. This study employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the brain regions involved in state mindfulness and to shed light on its mechanisms of action. Significant signal decreases were observed during mindfulness meditation in midline cortical structures associated with interoception.  These findings lend support to the theory that mindfulness achieves its positive outcomes through a process of disidentification.

By refraining from subjective appraisal, as evident here in the form of decreased activity in associated brain regions, mindfulness may indeed afford a less subjective experience of each passing moment, consistent with practitioner reports and the outcomes associated with mindfulness practices described by Eastern philosophers as bare attention. Based on the findings of this study, state mindfulness is proposed to be a unique form of higher-order information processing in which subjective assessment of transient events is silenced in favor of maintaining objectivity and gaining insight into the nature of emotion.

Meditation Medicine

Meditation Medicine: A Survey of Psychotropic Drug use in the Development of Western Buddhism is a really nice article covering the intersection of psychedelics and spirituality, and mentioning a lot of big names in Buddhism along the way.

some excerpts:
... many teachers, such as Lama Ole Nydahl and Lama Surya Das, have published gripping accounts of how their initial encounters with these substances helped open their minds to the true potential of Buddhist practice.

In learning to hold my mind empty, I became aware that other levels of reality would more readily manifest. It was only in absolute stillness . . . that many subtle but extremely valuable nuances of reality appeared . . . I found this effect to be greatly amplified while under the influence . . .  This in turn intensified my daily practice.

Nitrous Oxide Brands

There seems to be a limited number of manufacturing facilities worldwide for nitrous oxide, at least for cartridges available publicly.

There are at least a couple of sources in Europe, and one in Taiwan, for the manufacture of nitrous oxide gas.  I don't have any experience with the Chinese source, I must confess I have a slight prejudice against Chinese products, having seen some Chinese manufactured health supplements testing out with substantial impurities.  Might be a different case with the gas, though.  Info would be appreciated.  Some of the Chinese brands include BestWhip, Mr. Creamy, and EasyWhippets.

The brands that I would recommend are the ones where the gas is manufactured in Belgium and then put into cartridges in Vienna, and there are some basic EU standards for purity.  To be honest, I think the purity is for the gas manufacture itself, as opposed to the gas you can get out of a cartridge.  As near as I can figure, there is no difference between the various brands produced by those factories.  Rather, the differences seem to be cosmetic changes for brand marketing.

My favorite here would be Ultra-PureWhip.

ISI is said to be good, but they charge more (I believe there is more brand awareness), and yet come from the exact same factories.  SFG and Sexxy Whip come from this source as well, but the cartridges are shiny chrome and I find them slightly harder to keep track of in use.  I also find larger boxes (50 count) more difficult to deal with than the usual 24 per box.  EZ Whip I haven't tried.

The brands that I don't recommend come from Hungarian/German gas manufacture with cartridge manufacture in Hungary.  Typically, this would be the regular PureWhip brand, for example, as well as some cheaper generic unlabelled product.  Apparently there is some kind of oil that is I guess part of the cartridge manufacture, and once in a while you get some really oily cartridges from this source.  Pretty nasty.

The distributor I deal with should be pretty easy to guess from a bit of web searching.  I didn't really want to link to them considering the off-label use I recommend.  Once you've ordered with them they should offer you some price discounts.

Also check out:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More Quick Looks at Research

Three Insights about Compassion, Meditation, and the Brain from the recent International Symposium for Contemplative Studies:
1. We can train our brains to be more compassionate
2. Scientists are starting to measure consciousness—sort of.
3. Meditation can make you feel more connected to others.

A blog post about The Emotional Life of Your Brain, a book by Dr. Richard Davidson that is based on research around the following six emotional styles:
Resilience: slow or quick to recover from adversity
Outlook: short or long sustainment of positive emotion
Social Intuition: oblivious or sensitive to social signals
Self-Awareness: oblivious or sensitive to bodily feelings
Sensitivity to Context: unskilled or skilled at regulating emotional responses to situations
Attention: unfocused or focused

Why great ideas can come from zoning out captures the idea that a little time spent on a non-demanding task can afford some creativity.  I wonder how mindfulness would have compared?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Recent Research - Second Looks

Judson Brewer's work is recapped in "The Healing Art of Meditation".

Brewer and his team found two notable trends in the results of the study. First, experienced meditators showed deactivation of the part of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN), a region involved in self-referential processing, including daydreaming. All three forms of meditation showed similar results. This discovery is interesting because one of the goals of meditation is to remain focused, and deactivation of the DMN seems to show that meditation is functionally doing just that in the brain. As meditators self-reported significantly less mind-wandering, these results support the hypothesis that deactivation of the DMN is related to a reduction in mind-wandering.

Gary Weber's site covers a bit of recent research in "Persistent Meditative States - How?"  On why the pleasurable states of meditation do not seem to habituate, he writes:

The big question is why the great pleasures of "thought-free" meditation, presumably operating by the same dopamine/opiod neurochemistry system, persist, and do not saturate and operate in the same way to produce less pleasure with more craving.  Patricia's paper, and Buddhism, develops the idea that our repetitive thought patterns can be viewed as a form of addiction.  If we dramatically reduce the internal narrative, the dopamine down-regulation/reduction apparently does not occur.  Instead of an endlessly repetitive stream of thoughts, the brain is engaged in a dance of open awareness with its continually changing show, and all of its concomitant neurotransmitter-induced pleasure.

And another video of Robin Carhart-Harris talking about his research.  I had not realized that his research with psilocybin was based around the idea that there may be a neurobiological basis for some of Freud's theories.  He was particularly influenced by Grof's book, Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research.

LSD, for example, promoted REM during sleep, and dreams, as theorized by Freud, were the key to the unconscious.  With psilocybin, decreased blood flow was seen in the primary motor cortex, thalamus, brainstem, and subgenual cingulate.  The latter was mentioned as being active in repression.  Increased blood flow was seen in areas of visual association, which is similar to REM.

Although there was a decrease in the blood flow to the thalamus, there aren't a lot of 5-HT2A receptors there, so that implies that there are indirect or feedback effects at work.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

"The Substance" - Documentary Film about LSD

testingA new documentary:

spiritualTHE SUBSTANCE – A journey through time in broad cinematic arcs, with archival material from private sources that have not been released before, newly processed international archives and principal witnesses of the historical events – and obviously Albert Hofmann, the main character who has his say time and again, interviewed shortly before his death.

Synopsis:
albert hofmannBy coincidence rather then by design the swiss chemist Albert Hofmann makes a sensational discovery in the spring of 1943. He realizes that he is dealing with a powerful molecule that will have an impact not only on the scientific world. THE SUBSTANCE - is an investigation into our troubled relation with LSD. Told from its beginnings until today.

SWISS FILM PRIZE "QUARTZ 2012" NOMINATIONS: BEST DOCUMENTARY

I'd like to see it.

There are a couple of ~10 minute clips from subjects in the Roland Griffiths - Johns Hopkins psilocybin cancer study:

Participant 1

Participant 2

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Psychedelics and Jhanas

Reasonable people agree that psychedelics make it easier to have mystical experiences, but there does seem to be a fairly hard party line in the Buddhist communities against the use of such substances.  I think these communities mean well, some people can have bad experiences, some people can get addicted, and you can certainly get results with lots of meditation, but for me I'd have to say psychedelics have been very helpful on my spiritual journey.  It is prudent to say that these substances can be tricky, but to be honest, I don't think I'd be walking around occasionally experiencing the world as one if I hadn't experimented with these substances.

These are my observations on the general ease of popping into jhanas and/or directly experiencing that "the universe is one" on various substances:

Alcohol.  Useful perhaps for taking the edge off, i.e. relaxing, particularly if you've got something on your mind, but I don't see much spiritual utility beyond that.  Small doses are recommended, and I'd say higher doses are most definitely contraindicated.

Cannabis.  Mildly useful.  I would say cannabis cracks the spiritual door open, but it's just a crack.  Hard to fit through, but possible on rare occasions.  There might be more to say about certain strains that are more psychedelic, but I don't really like those personally, I'd just as soon take a real psychedelic.  Doses can be taken as high as is comfortable, maybe as long as you are avoiding stupor, but I guess that is code for moderate.

Nitrous Oxide.  Fairly useful.  This opens the spiritual door wide enough so that you can easily turn sideways and make your way through.  Can be habit forming.  I'd recommend moderate amounts, every other breath.  I think there is a stronger pull towards daydreams and fantasies with this drug that should be remedied with mindfulness.  For me, primarily useful in combination with other substances as opposed to by itself.

Psychedelics.  Very useful.  Relatively small amounts can open the spiritual door wider than with Nitrous Oxide.  Moderate amounts remove the door completely, larger amounts remove the walls, ceiling and floor as well.  Can bring up apparently challenging emotional material.

Piracetam.  This seems helpful, but I have no direct feel for its isolated effects in regard to jhanas.  Since it boosts psychedelic potency while increasing what we might call powers of awareness, it's very plausible.

My experience is fairly basic with the jhanas through the 4th, and only recently the 5th. Some very light familiarity with them while sober, and maybe we should consider these vipassana jhanas if you want to be technical.  But particularly with psychedelics, which make these experiences really stand out, I experience 2nd jhana and 4th jhana very regularly, generally several times in a session, and on rare occasion the 5th.  Since I am experiencing those, I am almost certainly experiencing the 1st and 3rd as well, but I'm not quite as familiar with those.  I need to do some remedial work there.  The 2nd jhana material is quite showy, this is the one associated with the so-called Arising and Passing nana, the classic "big experience" people talk about with joy, bliss, love and light.  This is often simultaneous to a decisive experience of oneness, but I find the oneness tends to come just about anytime, even sometimes while sober.

Staying present helps in terms of the experiences I am pointing to.  I pointed to the need to be especially wary of daydreaming while on nitrous oxide.  I literally "vote" on whether I should stay mindful or not, particularly while on these substances.  I don't keep an actual numerical tally, but each time I return to the present I evaluate where my mind has been.  If I was in a "good" fantasy, that's a vote against being present.  If I was in a negative, neutral, or meaningless stream of thought, that's a vote for being present.  The results, both in terms of voting as well as popping into mystical states point towards being present, so I try to abide.

I also wanted to point to the usefulness of these substances in terms of picking apart consciousness, studying it, seeing all the parts of which it is composed.  There are a lot of insights to be had that might be a lot more difficult to stumble across if all you have to play with is ordinary sober consciousness.  In this sense the spiritually opening drugs make for a kind of sandbox or practice field in which some of the normal hard constraints have been removed, and one can play, poke around, and experiment.


Meditation and EEG

My current thoughts on meditation and EEG.  To be honest I've moved away from EEG more towards pure meditation.  I'd like to think there may be something there with EEG feedback for meditation, but I'm not sure I've come across anything I would categorically recommend.  There are multiple approaches, and at least from my perspective, many difficulties. 

A typical alpha feedback approach is okay, I suppose, but personally it tends to make me a little drifty, i.e. a lot of the time I was doing that type of feedback I was in trance or daydreaming.  I know there are some arguments for feedback without being fully aware, but after getting seriously into meditation, I don't really like the idea of it too much.  If you have someone that is naturally more prone to anxiety, really needs some calming down, maybe doing a lot of alpha or alpha-theta, and even drifting off a bit might make some sense.  After all, Jim Hardt and Les Fehmi get their results with alpha.  But I find it often makes it somewhat more difficult to stay mindful.  Who knows, maybe that's a good thing, having to work harder to be more mindful, like exercising a muscle or something.  But I'm thinking maybe not.

As far as the stuff I've tried, the only thing I can think of that I would consider taking another look at is a design I came up with that rewards left frontal gamma, and right parietal alpha, like this:

  • F3 Gamma (37-43) up
  • P4 Alpha (8-11) up
  • P4 Beta (15-25) down

So you're rewarding Gamma around one of the sites that Davidson's research suggests, and you're in line with basic symmetries, i.e. you're rewarding fast wave on the left frontal and then slow wave on the right parietal, so maybe that's something to look at.  Rewarding the left frontal Gamma seems to help keep me more present.  But like I say, these days I'd just as soon meditate.

The trick with the Gamma is that it is really easy for movement/artifact to give false readings there, but there are some things you can do.  Requiring that a short moving average (500ms) of Gamma increases, as opposed to the raw amplitude, seems to help quite a bit.

For meditation, whatever the approach, the goal is to be continuously aware of the here and now.  My favorite for that would be Mahasi style vipassana.  A good intro might be the Practical Meditation Instructions ("Mahasi Lecture") mp3 found on a Vipassana Hawaii webpage.  It's just some old Mahasi stuff read aloud, but I'd recommend it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Psychedelics and Brain Imaging

Psychedelics and Brain Imaging is an interesting video of a recent talk by Dr Robin Carhart-Harris who recently published a paper on "Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin."

Basically, psilocybin decreases activity and connectivity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) that has to do with internal activities, daydreaming, and the narrative sense of self.  This would be in contrast to the Task Positive Network that involves focused attention.

The decrease in connectivity and competition among networks ("profound decoupling") that was seen with psilocybin is similar to that seen in deep meditation as well as early schizophrenia or pre-psychosis.  These are all states that reflect a disturbance in ego boundaries.

Mindfulness does similar things in terms of the DMN, and interestingly, so do a number of treatments for depression that reduce medial prefrontal cortex activity, including SSRIs, ketamine, cognitive behavior therapy and psychotherapy, and sleep deprivation.  He described upcoming research to investigate the use of psilocybin for depression.

The connectivity in the DMN was described as being something along the lines of "constraints," and there are relationships between increased connectivity and neuroticism on the one hand, and conversely decreased connectivity with agreeableness and extroversion.  High connectivity predicts rumination and depression.

From the Q&A there was a comment about the constraints, if you will, and the filters that were proposed by early consciousness explorers such as Blake:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
Also the observation that the reduced connectivity seen with psilocybin or meditation might have something in common with the undeveloped brain of a child, or perhaps like our distant evolutionary ancestors.

A few minutes were devoted to a study on MDMA which noted a distinct positive shift, with bad memories having less activation and good memories having increased activation.

... I hate watching these things on my computer, and as Vimeo currently doesn't make it easy to download video, I found a freeware app that did the trick at Freemake.com.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The site R Psychologist (focused on the R programming language for statistics) has a nice collection of commentaries and pointers to mindfulness research.  Seems like a pretty smart guy, and he gets extra points in my book for having a Karl Pilkington quote at the bottom of the page.

Psychedelics in the Media

Thanks to Roger Sterling's recent LSD trip on Mad Men, Huffington Post did a video montage of TV show drug trips.


Meditation increases the depth of information processing and improves the allocation of attention in space

The article "Meditation increases the depth of information processing and improves the allocation of attention in space" examines the ability of meditators to rapidly change their attention from large scale to fine detail.

The task is probably best described from the text:

Attentional resources are limited and constrain the capacity to process information. In particular, there is a limit to how quickly attention can be allocated and reallocated to a different object or parts of the same object. This limitation becomes particularly evident when considering that the visual world is intrinsically organized in a hierarchical manner. For instance, a forest has trees, and a tree in turn is composed of leaves. This example reflects the ubiquitous embedded relation between global and local parts present in the world. When attending to the global shape of an object, such as a tree, there is less attention available to attend to the fine grained detail, such as the leaves, and redirecting attention between levels – from the global shape to the local details or vice versa - is known to be inherently slow. In psychophysical tests subjects are typically much faster in detecting the global pattern than the local detail; this phenomenon known as the “global precedence effect”.

From the discussion:

Meditators did not only exhibit a strongly reduced global precedence effect, they were also overall much faster than controls, with an average advantage of more than 100 ms. This effect cannot be explained by a speed-accuracy trade-off in the meditator population, as accuracy was overall very high and comparable between groups. Altogether, these results suggest increased speed of processing along with improvements in the distribution of attentional resources in the meditator population.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Micro-meditation: Can you find Zen in 30 seconds or less?

From the pop article, "Micro-meditation: Can you find Zen in 30 seconds or less?" there is some speculation about very short periods of meditation sprinkled in throughout the day.

Maria Gonzalez, pictured at the top of the page, recommends pairing this practice with daily meditations of 10 minutes or more.

The idea of brief moments of resting in awareness, repeated many times, reminded me of the Dzogchen-ish practice of Candice O'Denver, whose website is Balanced View.  I suspect this type of approach is good for reaching busy, successful people.

I wonder, though, if many people will arrive at a formal practice periods of 10 minutes or more per day with this type of approach.  I think it is unfortunately more typical that someone who begins a formal daily sitting practice then ends up becoming more familiar with the mind and awareness and naturally finds themselves more interested in having more of these moments a day.  I'm not sure how well this works in the opposite direction, but in my small sample, I think of my Candice O'Denver friends as considerably less mindful on average than my formal meditator friends.  But I could be wrong.  Just to be clear, the goal is continuous mindfulness.

I mean, I know a lot of people who have read Eckhart Tolle, but how many of them practice even these little micro-meditations?  Most want to read about it, but few do anything about it.  It's a nice idea, though.  I hope it catches on.



Friday, April 20, 2012

Meditation and LSD

Nice little youtube video I came across on Meditation and LSD.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Returning From Oblivion

Research finds that after anesthesia, the first brain structures to re-activate are the more primitive deep brain areas, rather than the more "modern" frontal lobe areas hypothesized by the researchers.

Based on my own real-world experience in this area, I would have to say, "well, duh." 

But interesting nonetheless.  Found by way of "Primitive consciousness emerges first as you awaken from anesthesia."  There's a video on that page about a conference, Towards a Science of Consciousness that also sounds very interesting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Psilocybin and Meditation

I linked to this research a while back (Psilocybin: Help with Depression, Decreased Connectivity) but I thought I'd post another look at it from the Happiness Beyond Thought blog posting "magic mushrooms work like meditation? the latest science."  A bit more of a discussion than my brief intro.

Nitrous Oxide Harm Reduction

With Demi Moore in the news for going to rehab for Nitrous Oxide, or whippets, we begin to see a bit of a horror story spin, emphasizing a couple of deaths out of 12 million users.  I certainly don't want to overly discount any danger, but I think it is irresponsible to use scare tactics while providing zero information about harm reduction, given that people are going to use it.

  1. Take B12 beforehand, no exceptions, sublingual preferred
  2. Take methionine, this may be as important as B12
  3. Take B6 and folic acid as well
  4. Take neuroprotectant substances such as curcumin, carnosine, various polyphenols, and cannabis.
  5. Always breathe in more air than nitrous oxide.  Don't use a tank or any method that could lead to asphyxiation.
  6. Limit it your use of it.  Frankly, in a balanced life, I'm not sure recreational drugs of any kind are justifiable for everyday use.

Friday, March 9, 2012

LSD found successful in treating alcoholics

By way of Kurzweil's Accelerating Intelligence newsletter, a meta-analysis of old LSD studies shows that a "a single dose of LSD had a positive treatment effect that lasted at least six months."  Actual paper here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mindfulness useful in Bipolar Disorder

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy improves frontal control in bipolar disorder: a pilot EEG study.  From the conclusion, "these data are the first that show, MBCT in BD improved attentional readiness, and attenuated activation of non-relevant information processing during attentional processes."

More on Openness and Psilocybin

Psilocybin and Personality Change -- What Do Increases in Openness Tell Us About Potential Mechanisms of Action and Therapeutic Applications? seems to be a further exploration of the study Mystical Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin Lead to Increases in the Personality Domain of Openness.

Complex Visual Feedback for EEG Biofeedback

Meditation Wall video EEG biofeedback installation based on software developed by the Global Mind Project.  Reminds me of Bill Scott's BrainPaint software that translates neurofeedback into fractal imagery.  Here's the pitch for BrainPaint.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Psychedelic Trip Guides

A comprehensive listing of Psychedelic Trip Guides, intended to improve one's chances for a positive, spiritual/therapeutic experience and reduce harm by understanding proper set and setting.

My personal simple recommendation would be to lie down and trip with your eyes closed ("lay down and stay down"), and let everything be as it is.  And although it is not commonly mentioned in these guides, having a regular meditation practice prior to tripping can be really helpful.

Lying down and tripping with your eyes closed while listening to appropriate music can be very powerful.  It greatly helps to internalize the experience and makes visuals more apparent.  I first came across this recommendation by way of Stan Grof's book LSD Psychotherapy.  While many will trip exclusively in other contexts, I would strongly suggest you try this some time, or particularly if it is your first time.

Listing of Trip Guides:
Regarding the use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy:
Particularly in the context of tripping at events:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Psychedelic Healing

From the Drug Policy Alliance, a nice video of a panel discussion at the 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, "Psychedelic Healing: Can Psychedelics Reinvent Medicine... and Society."

This Week in Psychedelics

Interesting website, Reality Sandwich ("evolving consciousness, bite by bite"), quite a bit of woo-woo stuff, but maybe worth a look.  My standard google search picked up the "This Week in Psychedelics" column.

Monday, January 30, 2012

EEG of Jhanas II

From Samatha.org, four meditators were monitored with EEG while practicing rupa jhanas (i.e. the first 4 jhanas) and arupa or formless jhanas (the next 4 - or more - jhanas) as well as the practice of  energy or "psychic power."


The results strike me as being all over the map, but as they put it, this is very provisional and they need a bigger sample.  Many of the scans appear to differ from Leigh Brasington's brain on jhana, the research that motivated me to start this blog.  EEG was limited to 30 Hz, thus missing some of the important gamma effects.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Psilocybin: Help with Depression, Decreased Connectivity

An article in the Guardian, "Magic mushrooms may help with depression, say leading scientists" turned me on to two pieces of research.

One, "Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin," shows some evidence that "the subjective effects of psychedelic drugs are caused by decreased activity and connectivity in the brain's key connector hubs, enabling a state of unconstrained cognition."  This might add somewhat to the general thrust of a post several days ago, "Reduced Coherence in Meditation."  So both meditation and psilocybin might share this characteristic of decreased connectivity.

The second study, "Implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study with psilocybin," provides "evidence that psilocybin enhances autobiographical recollection, implying that it may be useful in psychotherapy either as a tool to facilitate the recall of salient memories or to reverse negative cognitive biases."

EDIT: Time Magazine gives a few more tidbits from the first piece of research above, i.e. "Two regions that showed the greatest decline in activity were the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More On Meditating in an fMRI Machine

By way of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's Tergar website, Cortland Dahl recounts his experience meditating with pain inside an fMRI machine.  The findings demonstrate the old Buddhist story of the second arrow:

"When an untaught worldling is touched by a painful (bodily) feeling, he worries and grieves, he laments, beats his breast, weeps and is distraught. He thus experiences two kinds of feelings, a bodily and a mental feeling. It is as if a man were pierced by a dart and, following the first piercing, he is hit by a second dart. So that person will experience feelings caused by two darts."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Call To Further Open Up Research on Psychedelic Drugs

Former U.K. government drugs adviser Prof. David Nutt of Imperial College London has said that “overwhelming” regulations should be relaxed to enable researchers to experiment on mind-altering drugs.

Nutt calls for legalizing magic mushrooms.  Certainly Portugal's drug policy with 10+ years of legalization for personal amounts of pretty much every recreational drug has been an overall success, although I don't run into many people who are even aware of that particular situation.  Maybe we need a Portugal awareness movement.

My view is that at minimum we need to consider Stan Grof's idea of having legally approved centers where anyone who can pass certain basic physical and psychological tests could have access to a psychedelic experience in a safe environment.  In my view, it's just too important an experience to ignore, with too many positive implications for society.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reduced Coherence in Meditation

In the abstract "Reduced functional connectivity between cortical sources in five meditation traditions detected with lagged coherence using EEG tomography," researchers found decreased coherence during meditation, which is interesting to me because historically so many studies seem to have shown the opposite, i.e. high coherence in meditation.

They get into some interesting speculation here:
"The globally reduced functional interdependence between brain regions in meditation suggests that interaction between the self process functions is minimized, and that constraints on the self process by other processes are minimized, thereby leading to the subjective experience of non-involvement, detachment and letting go, as well as of all-oneness and dissolution of ego borders during meditation."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Piracetam - Psychedelic Catalyst - II

Reporting on a second experiment with piracetam and psilocybin.

Last time around I waited until I was coming down a bit, and the results were great.  This time I decided to go ahead and dose the piracetam (1/2 gram) at the same time as the mushrooms (1 gram), also adding one softgel capsule of Cognitex, a product that is a grab bag of "cognitive support" type nutrients including a number of choline enhancing nutrients as well as vinpocetine, a smart drug in its own right.

Spectacular enhancement of the psychedelic effects.  I would be tempted to say that the effects were magnified by a factor of, I don't know, maybe 2-6 times (probably a doubling, similar to other MAOis).  One of the most "sparkly" clean clear upbeat trips I've had, with strong visual effects.

I would normally hesitate to even refer to a 1 gram (technically 0.91 grams) dose as a "trip," but with the piracetam this amount becomes a big deal, a very big deal.  I suspect the choline and vinpocetine of the Cognitex may have added to the enhancement of the piracetam (much later, I am doubting this).  James South wrote a research-heavy article about piracetam where he suggests that other nootropics or even caffeine potentiate piracetam's effects, although I suspect that while logical, this statement is somewhat speculative.  Probably more important is that this time I took the piracetam before the body began to process the psilocybin, so there was more substance to enhance.

Really nice.  Only thing out of the ordinary is that I did notice I sweated a bit, something I believe I've experienced on high dose trips in the past.  (I have not experienced this on subsequent trips.)

Yeah.  That's pretty amazing.

So I'd have to classify this experience like a high dose trip.  It is slightly different, but a really nice flavor.  But there is some intensity, a kind of excruciating pleasure associated with an experience like this, and I find that nitrous oxide is the perfect salve to sooth any tension that comes up.
 
EDIT:  I should also add the standard disclaimer about MAOi effects (for piracetam this was observed in the striatum of rats) - be careful with this combo, start low.  I have a friend who is interested in this combo who is on SSRI's, and I would be very cautious about that particular mix, even though SSRI's tend to mute the effect of psychedelics.  Probably have her try a small amount of piracetam with the SSRI alone while sober, see how that goes, I've seen one report of problems with that combo.  If that went well, perhaps try a small amount, maybe 50mg, with psilocybin.  It's fast acting, so it's very easy to add more, but like salt in a stew, you can't take it out once you put it in.

Also please see Revisions on Nitrous Oxide and Piracetam for more info on piracetam.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Piracetam - Another Important Psychedelic Catalyst



Piracetam is one of the first smart drugs to come into popular use, with generally favorable but mild effects on cognition, memory, etc.

I had experimented with it in terms of everyday use and had found it to be somewhat less than impressive, although with about a pound of it on hand I recently found it to be slightly useful in small doses (~500 mg)  on "hangover" days or prior to meditation.

It occurred to me that it might be something interesting to throw into my usual mix (moderate cannabis, low dose psilocybin, nitrous oxide), and a web search indicated it might potentiate the effects of psychedelics.  It seems to have some MAO effects, i.e.
"Piracetam activated striatal and hypothalamic total MAO, hypothalamic MAO A and MAO B but exerted a pronounced inhibitory effect on MAO A and MAO B activity in the striatum."
I should mention that MAO inhibitors are something one should approach very cautiously, particularly when combining with psychedelics.  Some combinations could be life threatening, and everyone's metabolism is a little bit different.

At any rate, I had embarked on one of my usual adventures (the specific mix described in more detail here), which had gone reasonably well, and at some point I had recognized I was past the peak.  As I felt good and still wanted "more," I decided to try one 500 mg capsule of piracetam.  (Note:  I make these capsules myself, typically piracetam comes in 800 mg capsules).

The effects came on quickly, within 15-30 minutes.  It was as if the psychedelic effect knob had been turned up, with the most noticeable effect being increased visual effects.  It also increased alertness and sharpness somewhat and seemed to help keep me more present.

As it turns out, I had one of those very, very special experiences, and it turned out to be a great night for listening to music as well.  I had long been acquainted with a few shows from the Grateful Dead's spring tour of 1977, notably three shows I had from May.  But for this experience I was listening for the first time to 06-09-77, an audience recording from Winterland.  Great crowd energy on this show.  I hit a massive peak during the second set's "Not Fade Away," - blubbering, tears running down my face, sobbing with ecstatic joy, and then minutes later they hit me with "Terrapin."  Unbelievable.  Great show, I would love a soundboard of that (and on further investigation, it turns out this show is part of an official release, yay.  And on even further investigation, I'd recommend the audience recording over the soundboard.)

I found that the piracetam experience seemed to fade over a period of maybe 45 minutes to an hour, and then found it useful to re-dose with another 500 mg.  (After a number of additional experiences I'm not so sure that the re-dosing is necessary.  And that fits with the half life of piracetam being 4-5 hours.)

I then ended up listening to Miles Davis' complete Bitches Brew Sessions, just amazing, and then on the comedown I listened to Mazzy Star's seminal "So Tonight That I Might See."  For me, the music hit it pretty much dead solid perfect for the entire evening.

So, I'm very excited about adding piracetam into the mix.  Better visuals, a little more sharpness, and overall getting the experience into some very interesting psychedelic territory without the intensity of a pure psychedelic trip.

EDIT:
A similar perspective, "Do nootropics help further transcendence?"

And please see Revisions on Nitrous Oxide and Piracetam for more thoughts on piracetam.