OPEN Foundation

L. Roseman

Serotonergic psychedelics LSD & psilocybin increase the fractal dimension of cortical brain activity in spatial and temporal domains

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin and LSD, represent unique tools for researchers investigating the neural origins of consciousness. Currently, the most compelling theories of how psychedelics exert their effects is by increasing the complexity of brain activity and moving the system towards a critical point between order and disorder, creating more dynamic and complex patterns of neural activity. While the concept of criticality is of central importance to this theory, few of the published studies on psychedelics investigate it directly, testing instead related measures such as algorithmic complexity or Shannon entropy. We propose using the fractal dimension of functional activity in the brain as a measure of complexity since findings from physics suggest that as a system organizes towards criticality, it tends to take on a fractal structure. We tested two different measures of fractal dimension, one spatial and one temporal, using fMRI data from volunteers under the influence of both LSD and psilocybin. The first was the fractal dimension of cortical functional connectivity networks and the second was the fractal dimension of BOLD time-series. In addition to the fractal measures, we used a well-established, non-fractal measure of signal complexity and show that they behave similarly. We were able to show that both psychedelic drugs significantly increased the fractal dimension of functional connectivity networks, and that LSD significantly increased the fractal dimension of BOLD signals, with psilocybin showing a non-significant trend in the same direction. With both LSD and psilocybin, we were able to localize changes in the fractal dimension of BOLD signals to brain areas assigned to the dorsal-attenion network. These results show that psychedelic drugs increase the fractal dimension of activity in the brain and we see this as an indicator that the changes in consciousness triggered by psychedelics are associated with evolution towards a critical zone.

Varley, T. F., Carhart-Harris, R., Roseman, L., Menon, D. K., & Stamatakis, E. A. (2020). Serotonergic psychedelics LSD & psilocybin increase the fractal dimension of cortical brain activity in spatial and temporal domains. NeuroImage220, 117049; 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117049
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Serotonergic psychedelics LSD & psilocybin increase the fractal dimension of cortical brain activity in spatial and temporal domains

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin and LSD, represent unique tools for researchers investigating the neural origins of consciousness. Currently, the most compelling theories of how psychedelics exert their effects is by increasing the complexity of brain activity and moving the system towards a critical point between order and disorder, creating more dynamic and complex patterns of neural activity. While the concept of criticality is of central importance to this theory, few of the published studies on psychedelics investigate it directly, testing instead related measures such as algorithmic complexity or Shannon entropy. We propose using the fractal dimension of functional activity in the brain as a measure of complexity since findings from physics suggest that as a system organizes towards criticality, it tends to take on a fractal structure. We tested two different measures of fractal dimension, one spatial and one temporal, using fMRI data from volunteers under the influence of both LSD and psilocybin. The first was the fractal dimension of cortical functional connectivity networks and the second was the fractal dimension of BOLD time-series. In addition to the fractal measures, we used a well-established, non-fractal measure of signal complexity and show that they behave similarly. We were able to show that both psychedelic drugs significantly increased the fractal dimension of functional connectivity networks, and that LSD significantly increased the fractal dimension of BOLD signals, with psilocybin showing a non-significant trend in the same direction. With both LSD and psilocybin, we were able to localize changes in the fractal dimension of BOLD signals to brain areas assigned to the dorsal-attenion network. These results show that psychedelic drugs increase the fractal dimension of activity in the brain and we see this as an indicator that the changes in consciousness triggered by psychedelics are associated with evolution towards a critical zone.

Varley, T. F., Carhart-Harris, R., Roseman, L., Menon, D. K., & Stamatakis, E. A. (2020). Serotonergic psychedelics LSD & psilocybin increase the fractal dimension of cortical brain activity in spatial and temporal domains. NeuroImage220, 117049; 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117049
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Therapeutic mechanisms of psilocybin: Changes in amygdala and prefrontal functional connectivity during emotional processing after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Psilocybin has shown promise as a treatment for depression but its therapeutic mechanisms are not properly understood. In contrast to the presumed actions of antidepressants, we recently found increased amygdala responsiveness to fearful faces one day after open-label treatment with psilocybin (25 mg) in 19 patients with treatment-resistant depression, which correlated with treatment efficacy.

AIMS:

Aiming to further unravel the therapeutic mechanisms of psilocybin, the present study extends this basic activation analysis. We hypothesised changed amygdala functional connectivity, more precisely decreased amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex functional connectivity, during face processing after treatment with psilocybin.

METHODS:

Psychophysiological interaction analyses were conducted on functional magnetic resonance imaging data from a classic face/emotion perception task, with the bilateral amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex time-series as physiological regressors. Average parameter estimates (beta weights) of significant clusters were correlated with clinical outcomes at one week.

RESULTS:

Results showed decreased ventromedial prefrontal cortex-right amygdala functional connectivity during face processing post- (versus pre-) treatment; this decrease was associated with levels of rumination at one week. This effect was driven by connectivity changes in response to fearful and neutral (but not happy) faces. Independent whole-brain analyses also revealed a post-treatment increase in functional connectivity between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex to occipital-parietal cortices during face processing.

CONCLUSION:

These results are consistent with the idea that psilocybin therapy revives emotional responsiveness on a neural and psychological level, which may be a key treatment mechanism for psychedelic therapy. Future larger placebo-controlled studies are needed to examine the replicability of the current findings.

Mertens, L. J., Wall, M. B., Roseman, L., Demetriou, L., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2020). Therapeutic mechanisms of psilocybin: Changes in amygdala and prefrontal functional connectivity during emotional processing after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 10.1177/0269881119895520
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Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Psychedelic therapy is gaining recognition and the nature of the psychedelic experience itself has been found to mediate subsequent long-term psychological changes. Much emphasis has been placed on the occurrence of mystical-type experiences in determining long-term responses to psychedelics yet here we demonstrate the importance of another component, namely: emotional breakthrough.
METHODS:
Three hundred and seventy-nine participants completed online surveys before and after a planned psychedelic experience. Items pertaining to emotional breakthrough were completed one day after the psychedelic experience, as were items comprising the already validated Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores were used to predict changes in well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) in a subsample of 75 participants with low well-being baseline scores (⩽45).
RESULTS:
Factor analyses revealed six emotional breakthrough items with high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha=0.932) and supported our prior hypothesis that emotional breakthrough is a distinct component of the psychedelic experience. Emotional breakthrough scores behaved dose-dependently, and were higher if the psychedelic was taken with therapeutic planning and intent. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores combined, significantly predicted subsequent changes in well-being (r=0.45, p=0.0005, n=75), with each scale contributing significant predictive value. Emotional breakthrough and Mystical Experience Questionnaire scores predicted increases in well-being and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores predicted less increases.
CONCLUSIONS:
Here we validate a six-item ‘Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Emotional breakthrough is an important and distinct component of the acute psychedelic experience that appears to be a key mediator of subsequent longer-term psychological changes. Implications for psychedelic therapy are discussed.
Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881119855974., https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269881119855974
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Dynamical exploration of the repertoire of brain networks at rest is modulated by psilocybin

Abstract

Growing evidence from the dynamical analysis of functional neuroimaging data suggests that brain function can be understood as the exploration of a repertoire of metastable connectivity patterns (‘functional brain networks’), which potentially underlie different mental processes. The present study characterizes how the brain’s dynamical exploration of resting-state networks is rapidly modulated by intravenous infusion of psilocybin, a tryptamine psychedelic found in “magic mushrooms”. We employed a data-driven approach to characterize recurrent functional connectivity patterns by focusing on the leading eigenvector of BOLD phase coherence at single-TR resolution. Recurrent BOLD phase-locking patterns (PL states) were assessed and statistically compared pre- and post-infusion of psilocybin in terms of their probability of occurrence and transition profiles. Results were validated using a placebo session. Recurrent BOLD PL states revealed high spatial overlap with canonical resting-state networks. Notably, a PL state forming a frontoparietal subsystem was strongly destabilized after psilocybin injection, with a concomitant increase in the probability of occurrence of another PL state characterized by global BOLD phase coherence. These findings provide evidence of network-specific neuromodulation by psilocybin and represent one of the first attempts at bridging molecular pharmacodynamics and whole-brain network dynamics.

Lord, L. D., Expert, P., Atasoy, S., Roseman, L., Rapuano, K., Lambiotte, R., … & Cabral, J. (2019). Dynamical exploration of the repertoire of brain networks at rest is modulated by psilocybin. NeuroImage199, 127-142., 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.05.060

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Predicting Responses to Psychedelics: A Prospective Study

Abstract

Responses to psychedelics are notoriously difficult to predict, yet significant work is currently underway to assess their therapeutic potential and the level of interest in psychedelics among the general public appears to be increasing. We aimed to collect prospective data in order to improve our ability to predict acute- and longer-term responses to psychedelics. Individuals who planned to take a psychedelic through their own initiative participated in an online survey (www.psychedelicsurvey.com). Traits and variables relating to set, setting and the acute psychedelic experience were measured at five different time points before and after the experience. Principle component and regression methods were used to analyse the data. Sample sizes for the five time points were N = 654, N = 535, N = 379, N = 315, and N = 212 respectively. Psychological well-being was increased 2 weeks after a psychedelic experience and remained at this level after 4 weeks. Higher ratings of a “mystical-type experience” had a positive effect on the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience, whereas the other acute psychedelic experience measures, i.e., “challenging experience” and “visual effects”, did not influence the change in well-being after the psychedelic experience. Having “clear intentions” for the experience was conducive to mystical-type experiences. Having a positive “set” as well as having the experience with intentions related to “recreation” were both found to decrease the likelihood of having a challenging experience. The baseline trait “absorption” and higher drug doses promoted all aspects of the acute experience, i.e., mystical-type and challenging experiences, as well as visual effects. When comparing the relative contribution of different types of variables in explaining the variance in the change in well-being, it seemed that baseline trait variables had the strongest effect on the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience. These results confirm the importance of extra-pharmacological factors in determining responses to a psychedelic. We view this study as an early step towards the development of empirical guidelines that can evolve and improve iteratively with the ultimate purpose of guiding crucial clinical decisions about whether, when, where and how to dose with a psychedelic, thus helping to mitigate risks while maximizing potential benefits in an evidence-based manner.

Haijen, E. C. H. M., Kaelen, M., Roseman, L., Timmermann, C., Russ, S., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2018). Predicting responses to psychedelics: a prospective study. Frontiers in pharmacology9, 897., 10.3389/fphar.2018.00897
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Psychedelics, Meditation, and Self-Consciousness

Abstract

In recent years, the scientific study of meditation and psychedelic drugs has seen remarkable developments. The increased focus on meditation in cognitive neuroscience has led to a cross-cultural classification of standard meditation styles validated by functional and structural neuroanatomical data. Meanwhile, the renaissance of psychedelic research has shed light on the neurophysiology of altered states of consciousness induced by classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin and LSD, whose effects are mainly mediated by agonism of serotonin receptors. Few attempts have been made at bridging these two domains of inquiry, despite intriguing evidence of overlap between the phenomenology and neurophysiology of meditation practice and psychedelic states. In particular, many contemplative traditions explicitly aim at dissolving the sense of self by eliciting altered states of consciousness through meditation, while classical psychedelics are known to produce significant disruptions of self-consciousness, a phenomenon known as drug-induced ego dissolution. In this article, we discuss available evidence regarding convergences and differences between phenomenological and neurophysiological data on meditation practice and psychedelic drug-induced states, with a particular emphasis on alterations of self-experience. While both meditation and psychedelics may disrupt self-consciousness and underlying neural processes, we emphasize that neither meditation nor psychedelic states can be conceived as simple, uniform categories. Moreover, we suggest that there are important phenomenological differences even between conscious states described as experiences of self-loss. As a result, we propose that self-consciousness may be best construed as a multidimensional construct, and that “self-loss,” far from being an unequivocal phenomenon, can take several forms. Indeed, various aspects of self-consciousness, including narrative aspects linked to autobiographical memory, self-related thoughts and mental time travel, and embodied aspects rooted in multisensory processes, may be differently affected by psychedelics and meditation practices. Finally, we consider long-term outcomes of experiences of self-loss induced by meditation and psychedelics on individual traits and prosocial behavior. We call for caution regarding the problematic conflation of temporary states of self-loss with “selflessness” as a behavioral or social trait, although there is preliminary evidence that correlations between short-term experiences of self-loss and long-term trait alterations may exist.

Millière, R., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Roseman, L., Trautwein, F. M., & Berkovich-Ohana, A. (2018). Psychedelics, meditation, and self-consciousness. Frontiers in psychology9.,  10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01475
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DMT Models the Near-Death Experience

Abstract

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are complex subjective experiences, which have been previously associated with the psychedelic experience and more specifically with the experience induced by the potent serotonergic, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Potential similarities between both subjective states have been noted previously, including the subjective feeling of transcending one’s body and entering an alternative realm, perceiving and communicating with sentient ‘entities’ and themes related to death and dying. In this within-subjects placebo-controled study we aimed to test the similarities between the DMT state and NDEs, by administering DMT and placebo to 13 healthy participants, who then completed a validated and widely used measure of NDEs. Results revealed significant increases in phenomenological features associated with the NDE, following DMT administration compared to placebo. Also, we found significant relationships between the NDE scores and DMT-induced ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, as well as a significant association between NDE scores and baseline trait ‘absorption’ and delusional ideation measured at baseline. Furthermore, we found a significant overlap in nearly all of the NDE phenomenological features when comparing DMT-induced NDEs with a matched group of ‘actual’ NDE experiencers. These results reveal a striking similarity between these states that warrants further investigation.
Timmermann, C., Roseman, L., Williams, L., Erritzoe, D., Martial, C., Cassol, H., … & Carhart-Harris, R. (2018). DMT models the near-death experience. Frontiers in psychology9, 1424., 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01424
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Effects of psilocybin therapy on personality structure

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:
To explore whether psilocybin with psychological support modulates personality parameters in patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression (TRD).
METHOD:
Twenty patients with moderate or severe, unipolar, TRD received oral psilocybin (10 and 25 mg, one week apart) in a supportive setting. Personality was assessed at baseline and at 3-month follow-up using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), the subjective psilocybin experience with Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) scale, and depressive symptoms with QIDS-SR16.
RESULTS:
Neuroticism scores significantly decreased while Extraversion increased following psilocybin therapy. These changes were in the direction of the normative NEO-PI-R data and were both predicted, in an exploratory analysis, by the degree of insightfulness experienced during the psilocybin session. Openness scores also significantly increased following psilocybin, whereas Conscientiousness showed trend-level increases, and Agreeableness did not change.
CONCLUSION:
Our observation of changes in personality measures after psilocybin therapy was mostly consistent with reports of personality change in relation to conventional antidepressant treatment, although the pronounced increases in Extraversion and Openness might constitute an effect more specific to psychedelic therapy. This needs further exploration in future controlled studies, as do the brain mechanisms of postpsychedelic personality change.
Erritzoe, D., Roseman, L., Nour, M. M., MacLean, K., Kaelen, M., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart‐Harris, R. L. (2018). Effects of psilocybin therapy on personality structure. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 10.1111/acps.12904
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Psychedelics and the essential importance of context

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs are making waves as modern trials support their therapeutic potential and various media continue to pique public interest. In this opinion piece, we draw attention to a long-recognised component of the psychedelic treatment model, namely ‘set’ and ‘setting’ – subsumed here under the umbrella term ‘context’. We highlight: (a) the pharmacological mechanisms of classic psychedelics (5-HT2A receptor agonism and associated plasticity) that we believe render their effects exceptionally sensitive to context, (b) a study design for testing assumptions regarding positive interactions between psychedelics and context, and (c) new findings from our group regarding contextual determinants of the quality of a psychedelic experience and how acute experience predicts subsequent long-term mental health outcomes. We hope that this article can: (a) inform on good practice in psychedelic research, (b) provide a roadmap for optimising treatment models, and (c) help tackle unhelpful stigma still surrounding these compounds, while developing an evidence base for long-held assumptions about the critical importance of context in relation to psychedelic use that can help minimise harms and maximise potential benefits.
Carhart-Harris, R. L., Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Erritzoe, D., Branchi, I., & Kaelen, M. (2018). Psychedelics and the essential importance of context. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881118754710.
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