Nutt’s Psilocybin Research: Overcoming Folk Psychology

Of course I had heard the folk psychology of mind expansion before, I thought, as I took my first chew on what seemed to be a rather unappetising looking rotten straw. But that began during the flush of youth, before one could have foreseen the tragedy of cognition whittling away at cherished ideas. Now, as the research of Professor David Nutt begins to fully resonate through the spectrum of open minds, drug takers or not, he may turn out doing more for psychoactive substances than Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley and PG Tips combined.

We are now finding evidence of the depressant action of psilocybin on specific brain regions. There’s nothing quite like actual data and results to begin to prise open notoriously clamped-shut public opinion. What could possibly be more progressive than a live debate on the issue of the use of street drugs in medicinal treatment on channel 4? Jon Snow leading the way in scattergun fashion, SAS soldiers having bad trips, Christians abandoning all reference to the lord in deference to the psychoactive properties of MDMA. It’s as if the War on Drugs took a sabbatical and the Germans and the English joined together to  play football against the backdrop of inarticulate guns early one Christmas Eve. Or, at least, it was until the Daily Mail came out the following day.

The area of interest for this psilocybin (magic ingredient in ‘magic mushroom’) research is the limbic system, located within the cerebral cortex. Included within the limbic system is the hypothalamus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, each playing a separate role with (amongst other things) emotional responses and autonomic nervous functions. Desynchronization of the limbic system, specifically the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, as linked to new discoveries from David Nutt’s research, seems to suggest how the psychoactive properties of psilocybin allow for deluges of sensory information during trips.

One can almost hear the creak of the smirk appearing across Aldous Huxley’s crumbling jowls as we read on. An analogy to the freedom of information looms dangerously close to this idea; ‘constrict the regulator and the amount of possible information available increases exponentially’. As a treatment for depression psilocybin seems, on the surface at least, counterintuitive. Depression can be reduced to, amongst other things, a hyperactive medial prefrontal cortex. The results from Nutt’s work suggest that a reduction in activity within the limbic system, as caused by psilocybin, helps to alleviate the pessimistic outlook associated with depression. Within this observation the corollary of reduced blood flow to the hypothalamus gives rise to the narrative observation of a soothing of the symptoms of cluster headaches, originating, as they do, within the same system. However, this is yet to proven in clinical tests.

With all areas of emotional control the gaze of mental illness can never be far from due consideration.  As has been discovered in schizophrenics, the anterior cingulated cortex is reduced in size, due to either damage or abnormalities during brain development. Reflection on this issue should allow one to come to the conclusion that chronic depression of such regions could lead to problems with the doormen guarding the doors of perception. It is obviously acceptable, however, to let oneself go from time to time providing you make the journey back safely.

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