Study: Psilocybin Enhances Meditation

For those seeking enlightenment through meditation, psilocybin might do the trick.

According to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports, psilocybin can boost insightfulness during meditation.

The study explored, for the first time, “a dataset of functional magnetic resonance images collected during focused attention and open monitoring meditation before and after a five-day psilocybin-assisted meditation retreat using a recently established approach, based on the Mapper algorithm from topological data analysis,” the researchers wrote in the abstract.

“After generating subject-specific maps for two groups (psilocybin vs. placebo, 18 subjects/group) of experienced meditators, organizational principles were uncovered using graph topological tools, including the optimal transport (OT) distance, a geometrically rich measure of similarity between brain activity patterns,” the researchers wrote. “This revealed characteristics of the topology (i.e. shape) in space (i.e. abstract space of voxels) and time dimension of whole-brain activity patterns during different styles of meditation and psilocybin-induced alterations.”

Perhaps most striking of all, the researchers “found that (psilocybin-induced) positive derealization, which fosters insightfulness specifically when accompanied by enhanced open-monitoring meditation, was linked to the OT distance between open-monitoring and resting state.”

They said that the “findings suggest that enhanced meta-awareness through meditation practice in experienced meditators combined with potential psilocybin-induced positive alterations in perception mediate insightfulness.” 

“Together, these findings provide a novel perspective on meditation and psychedelics that may reveal potential novel brain markers for positive synergistic effects between mindfulness practices and psilocybin,” they wrote.

The research was based on findings involved with 36 “experienced meditators,” who “completed two fMRI brain imaging sessions one day before and after a 5-day psilocybin-assisted meditation retreat following a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study design.”

“Placebo or psilocybin (315 body weight; absolute dose, 21.82±3.7 mg) was administered on the fourth day of the retreat, and the 11D-ASC questionnaire for ratings of altered states of consciousness (see Methods ) was administered 360 minutes after drug intake as a retrospective measure of subjective effects. Each scan session (one day before and one day after retreat) consisted of 21 min of resting-state, focused attention, and open monitoring sequences (fixed order), with each meditation lasting 7 min. For each subject both scan sessions were concatenated (with transition times excluded) and Mapper shape graphs were generated and analyzed,” the researchers explained.

They concluded that “compared with meditation alone, psilocybin alters the perception of the external world, presumably by increasing informational richness, which is reflected by increased OT distances between OM and RS postretreat.” 

Berit Singer, one of the study’s lead authors, explained the inspiration behind the researcher.

“I was interested in the technical part of the topic, because I am fascinated by how pure mathematics, especially topology, can be applied to extract important information from latent structures in data that is not apparent to other methods,” Singer told the outlet PsyPost. “Psychedelic neuroscience and mediation is particularly interesting to me, because I can see that there is a lot of research needed to better understand the mechanisms of these substances and techniques, and because I wish that this will help to use them in a beneficial way for individuals and society.”

““It surprised me that the subject-specific Mapper graphs were at first sight very different and did not seem to share many similarities, but when described and simplified using suitable graph measures (the optimal transport distance and centrality) their common structure was revealed and turned out to be quite stable across both groups,” Singer continued. “In other words, their common features were not obvious to spot by eye from looking at the subject-specific Mapper graphs, but only after calculating their topological features.”

Singer and the rest of the research team noted in the study that “meditation and psychedelics have attracted increasing scientific interest in recent years.” 

“While research on the neurophysiology of meditation and psychedelics has grown rapidly, these topics have been studied mainly from the perspective of functional connectivity, resting-state networks, and signal variability, including measures of entropy and criticality. This article targets an alternative approach in which a novel topological data analysis (TDA) method is applied to the neurophysiological study of the synergistic effects of meditation and psychedelics,” they said.

“Meditation can be understood as a form of mental training with various aims, including improving cognitive and emotional self-regulation13, changing attitudes toward the self and others, including their underlying duality, and cultivating positive emotional states. Different types of meditation can be distinguished. Within the attentional family of meditation, two well-researched attentional practices are focused-attention (FA) practices and open-monitoring (OM) practices. FA involves narrowing of the attentional scope. OM, in contrast, involves releasing attentional control and bringing awareness to moment-to-moment experiential content. Psychedelics are a broad class of consciousness-modulating substances that induce altered states of perception, cognition, emotion, and the sense of self. Classical serotonergic psychedelics include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, mescaline, and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT).”

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