A recently published paper aims to fill the research gap concerning various altered states of consciousness –– from psychedelic use to meditation to hypnosis.
The paper, published last month in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, written by researchers at the University of Zurich, “directly compared two pharmacological methods: psilocybin and LSD and two non-pharmacological methods: hypnosis and meditation using resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging, and assessed the predictive value of the data using a machine learning approach.”
“Pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods of inducing altered states of consciousness (ASC) are becoming increasingly relevant in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. While comparisons between them are often drawn, to date no study has directly compared their neural correlates,” the researchers wrote.
They found that “(i) no network reaches significance in all four ASC methods; (ii) pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions of inducing ASC show distinct connectivity patterns that are predictive at the individual level; (iii) hypnosis and meditation show differences in functional connectivity when compared directly, and also drive distinct differences when jointly compared to the pharmacological ASC interventions; (iv) psilocybin and LSD show no differences in functional connectivity when directly compared to each other, but do show distinct behavioral-neural relationships.”
“Overall, these results extend our understanding of the mechanisms of action of ASC and highlight the importance of exploring how these effects can be leveraged in the treatment of psychiatric disorders,” the researchers wrote in their concluding remarks.
Nathalie Rieser, one of the researchers involved in the study, told Medical Xpress that the team “has plenty of experience studying altered states.”
“We have been investigating the effects of psychedelics on the brain in various studies, given that altered states of consciousness are becoming increasingly relevant in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Anecdotally, people often report similarities in experiences induced by hypnosis, meditation, or psychedelics. However, our neurobiological understanding of these states is only just evolving,” Rieser said.
Rieser told the outlet that the research group “did not know if the same neurobiological alterations give rise to the experience of all altered states or whether these states are different on a brain-level.”
Medical Xpress reported that, rather than “conducting a single experiment that collectively involved psychedelics, meditation and hypnosis, the researchers analyzed datasets conducted during four distinct experimental trials.”
“We combined four different datasets that were collected at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich using the same MRI-scanner. For the psychedelic studies, we included healthy participants who subsequently received psilocybin, LSD, or a placebo, whereas the meditation and hypnosis studies were conducted with participants who were experts in the respective field to make sure they can reach the state in an MR environment,” Rieser said.
She continued: “We analyzed the participants’ brain activity throughout the whole brain and investigated whether different brain areas work together in a distinct way compared to the baseline scan. Our findings showed that even though psilocybin, LSD, meditation and hypnosis induce overlapping subjective effects, the underlying brain changes are distinct.”
The paper is yet another entry in the expanding docket of psychedelic-related research. A recently published study explored how psychedelics activate the Default Mode Network, defined as “a system of connected brain areas that show increased activity when a person is not focused on what is happening around them.”
In May, another study suggested that microdosing psychedelics could be the key to unlocking your authentic self.
In their assessments of the study participants, the authors said that “on the microdosing day and the day thereafter, state authenticity was significantly higher,” and “the number of activities and the satisfaction with them were higher on the day when participants microdosed, while the following day only the number of activities was higher.”