Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Psychedelics and Plasticity: Doors of Reception

The  fascinating thesis "Doors of Reception" provides an interesting view of psychedelic research.  I found the information about gene expression, plasticity, and attention to be particularly compelling.  A slight bit on the technical side, but readable. Some quotes:
Even more notably, they found that there were certain gene expressions that were induced by the hallucinogenic agonists but not by the non-hallucinogenic ones (Gonzalez-Maeso et al. 2003). These particular genes mainly belong to the family of early growth response (EGR) elements which are primarily known to be involved with neural growth and plasticity (Leah & Wilce 2002).
The hallucinogen-specific transcript for the protein Egr-2 showed particularly robust expression.
Gene expression of neural growth and plasticity helps explain the long term benefits that have been seen with psychedelics.
The level of Egr-2 expression was proportional to the magnitude of attentional demand.
Meditation has a great deal to do with attentional demand.
As neuroplasticity-based therapies emerge and begin their refinement, the two novel and central attributes they entail, that of qualitative activity-dependence and potentially permanent curative capability, parallel precisely the two key aspects of psychedelic therapy that have, over the past six decades, been a conceptual and ideological challenge for conventional medical science to address and antithetical to its economic landscape.

Skepticism about fMRI analysis

As reported in "Stanford psychologists uncover brain-imaging inaccuracies," apparently the smoothing techniques used to make sense of fMRI data may cause researchers to miss activity from smaller scale structures and thus possibly assign that activity to larger structures nearby.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Skepticism about Meditation Research

The article "Research on TM and Other Forms of Meditation Stinks" highlights some of the flaws in meditation research.  An important point to be made is the difficulty of precisely defining meditation itself.

Even more difficult would be capturing details of brief, spontaneous peak experiences.

My sense is that we are slowly getting better at this, with some of the older research being more of a stone knives and bearskins kind of thing.  Many people are aware that private research funded by a group with an agenda (such as Transcendental Meditation) may not constitute the highest expression of reasonable investigation.