The Naked Scientists podcast recently interviewed David Nutt who is the head of Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research.
The interview focused on the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. Below are some of the key takeaways:
Nutt believes that psychedelic medicines create optimal conditions for cultivating new ideas, perceptions, and ways of thinking which have been particularly helpful in the treatment of mental health conditions, particularly depression.
He states that these substances put the brain in a "child-like" state: "The high level parts of your cortex, the thinking parts, the parts which integrate your hearing, your sight, your touch, etcetera - they get disrupted by psychedelics. Psychedelics, in a very simple way, put you back to what your brain was like when you were a child, when all kinds of connections were possible. The process of neural development is not a growing of the brain; it's a shrinking of the brain, getting rid of connections which you don't want. Over the decades from childhood, the brain becomes more and more constricted in what it does and more and more rigid, and psychedelics disrupt that and put you back transiently into that state of childhood wonder."
He goes on to explain that psychedelics seem to be particularly effective in reducing rumination and allowing for a more positive and constructive perspective to emerge.
In response to the role and impact of hallucinations, he adds " So visual hallucinations, they're really remarkable, because under psychedelics your visual cortex temporarily is unable to properly reconstruct the signals in the eye into images, and those simple hallucinations - we know from sophisticated electrophysiological experiments - those are the very early ways in which you reconstruct what you see. So under psychedelics, you actually see the primary workings of your visual cortex, which is actually, I think, extraordinarily interesting and something which you haven't experienced since you were a child."