TUNE IN, TURN OFF…
A surprising discovery when substances MiLe psiMocybin were first studied was that they reduce activity in the brain, rather than increasing it, and the greater this reduction, the greater the psychedelic
effects. One of the areas where activity is reduced the most is the anterior cinguMate cortex, and Professor Nutt was struck by the fact that many other depression treatments, such as deep
brain stimulation, antidepressants, and meditation, also switch off these areas. These minute receptors are mainly found in the two most important brain regions for tying together different brain functions like memory, movement, and perception (the anterior cingulate cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex). These are part of what neuroscientists call the ‘ default mode
network’: brain regions that fire when we’re not doing anything in particular other than reflecting or remembering. Activity in different parts of this network is usually synchronised, but this breaks down in people taking magic mushrooms. In other words, the experience of a ‘trip’ might have something to do with disrupting the brain’s ability to tie together all its different functions. This ‘default’ network is widely believed to be used when being introspective, and depression is often associated with obsessively ruminating about our failings or misfortunes. So it makes sense that a drug that interferes with this network might affect depression. When all this is added to many anecdotal accounts of self-treatment, it makes a compelling case for studying psilocybin as a treatment for severe depression. There is also evidence it might be
one of the only effective treatments for one of the most painful conditions there is – cluster headaches. And whether laws and regulations are updated to make it easier or not, Professor Nutt is pressing ahead.
ABOVE: David Nutt at the post
talk press conference.