OPEN Foundation

M. Scheidegger

Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects


Both psychedelics and meditation exert profound modulatory effects on consciousness, perception and cognition, but their combined, possibly synergistic effects on neurobiology are unknown. Accordingly, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 38 participants following a single administration of the psychedelic psilocybin (315 μg/kg p.o.) during a 5-day mindfulness retreat. Brain dynamics were quantified directly pre- and post-intervention by functional magnetic resonance imaging during the resting state and two meditation forms. The analysis of functional connectivity identified psilocybin-related and mental state–dependent alterations in self-referential processing regions of the default mode network (DMN). Notably, decoupling of medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, which is thought to mediate sense of self, was associated with the subjective ego dissolution effect during the psilocybin-assisted mindfulness session. The extent of ego dissolution and brain connectivity predicted positive changes in psycho-social functioning of participants 4 months later. Psilocybin, combined with meditation, facilitated neurodynamic modulations in self-referential networks, subserving the process of meditation by acting along the anterior–posterior DMN connection. The study highlights the link between altered self-experience and subsequent behavioral changes. Understanding how interventions facilitate transformative experiences may open novel therapeutic perspectives. Insights into the biology of discrete mental states foster our understanding of non-ordinary forms of human self-consciousness and their concomitant brain substrate.

Smigielski, L., Scheidegger, M., Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2019). Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects. NeuroImage196, 207-215.,
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Positive psychology in the investigation of psychedelics and entactogens: A critical review


We reviewed the concepts and empirical findings in studies with psychedelics and entactogens related to positive psychology – the study of healthy human functioning, well-being and eudaemonia. It is an unresolved question how beneficial effects of psychedelics and entactogens are related to the potential risks of these substances – particularly in non-clinical settings.
We searched in PubMed, PsychINFO and the Cochrane Library for controlled clinical and epidemiological studies which applied concepts from positive psychology. We included N = 77 eligible studies with 9876 participants published before November 1st, 2017: (1) quantitative studies (N = 54), (2) preliminary or exploratory studies and reviews not including meta-analyses (N = 17), and (3) studies evidencing primarily negative results (N = 6).
Positive psychology concepts have been applied for measuring effects of clinical trials, recreational and ceremonial use of psychedelics and entactogens. Psychedelics and entactogens were shown to produce acute and long-term effects on mood, well-being, prosocial behaviours, empathy, cognitive flexibility, creativity, personality factors like openness, value orientations, nature-relatedness, spirituality, self-transcendence and mindfulness-related capabilities.
There is preliminary evidence for beneficial effects of psychedelics and entactogens on measures of positive psychology in clinical and healthy populations, however their sustainability remains largely unresolved. The reported results must be considered preliminary due to methodological restrictions. Since longitudinal data on both positive and adverse effects of psychedelics are lacking, more rigorous and standardized measures from positive psychology should be applied in less biased populations with prospective longitudinal designs to carefully assess the benefit-risk-ratio.
Jungaberle, H., Thal, S., Zeuch, A., Rougemont-Bücking, A., von Heyden, M., Aicher, H., & Scheidegger, M. (2018). Positive psychology in the investigation of psychedelics and entactogens: A critical review. Neuropharmacology. 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.06.034
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Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers


The amygdala is a key structure in serotonergic emotion-processing circuits. In healthy volunteers, acute administration of the serotonin 1A/2A/2C receptor agonist psilocybin reduces neural responses to negative stimuli and induces mood changes toward positive states. However, it is little-known whether psilocybin reduces amygdala reactivity to negative stimuli and whether any change in amygdala reactivity is related to mood change.

This study assessed the effects of acute administration of the hallucinogen psilocybin (.16 mg/kg) versus placebo on amygdala reactivity to negative stimuli in 25 healthy volunteers using blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging. Mood changes were assessed using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and the state portion of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. A double-blind, randomized, cross-over design was used with volunteers counterbalanced to receive psilocybin and placebo in two separate sessions at least 14 days apart.

Amygdala reactivity to negative and neutral stimuli was lower after psilocybin administration than after placebo administration. The psilocybin-induced attenuation of right amygdala reactivity in response to negative stimuli was related to the psilocybin-induced increase in positive mood state.

These results demonstrate that acute treatment with psilocybin decreased amygdala reactivity during emotion processing and that this was associated with an increase of positive mood in healthy volunteers. These findings may be relevant to the normalization of amygdala hyperactivity and negative mood states in patients with major depression.

Kraehenmann, R., Preller, K. H., Scheidegger, M., Pokorny, T., Bosch, O. G., Seifritz, E., & Vollenwieder, F. X. (2014). Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry.
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