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.