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Study Compares Human Brains During Meditation, Hypnosis, Under Psychedelics

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Researchers from the University of Zurich Psychiatric Hospital are comparing what happens to the human brain during meditation and hypnosis, as well as while under the effects of psychedelics.

Brain changes while under the influence of drugs or during states such as hypnosis and meditation have been an object of interest for researchers for quite a while now. Now that psychedelics have emerged as potential mental health treatments with much higher success rates and fewer side effects, researchers are even more interested in how drugs like psychedelics cause changes in the brain.

University of Zurich researchers were particularly interested in this as part of broader efforts by the institution to study the potential benefits of using psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to treat mental disorders. A growing body of research has revealed that several psychedelics can deliver long-term benefits against numerous mental health conditions, but scientists still don’t understand exactly how psychedelics deliver their benefits. By comparing brain scans taken when people were either hypnotized, meditating, or under the influence of psychedelics, the researchers hoped to gain a deeper insight into how psychedelics affect the brain.

Researcher Nathalie Rieser said that her team has researched altered states such as meditation and hypnosis several times in the past and was drawn to psychedelics because they seem to deliver their mental health benefits by inducing altered states in users. She adds that prior anecdotal reports had suggested similarities in the symptoms experienced while under the influence of psychedelics and during meditation and hypnosis.

Rieser and her team gathered and analyzed data that was collected during four different clinical trials on the effects of LSD, psilocybin, meditation and hypnosis on the brain. According to Rieser, this data was collected using a single MRI scanner at the University of Zuric’s Psychiatric Hospital.

The research team recorded brain activity data of people during the three altered states of consciousness and looked for differences in brain activity compared to baseline scans taken while the participants were in a normal state of consciousness.

The researchers found that although LSD, psilocybin, meditation and hypnosis “induce overlapping subjective effects,” the underlying changes they caused in the brain were “distinct.” Interestingly, while individuals may report feeling similar effects after taking psychedelics or during meditation or hypnosis, psychedelics and the two other states of consciousness cause “very different” changes in the brain. This indicates that meditation, hypnosis, and psychedelics may have different underlying mechanisms of delivering distinct effects to the brain.

The researchers will now advance to studying the mechanisms of action that allow hallucinogens to deliver their effects and how to incorporate these mechanisms into novel treatments for major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder.

As the body of information about how psychedelics work grows, many companies such as atai Life Sciences N.V. (NASDAQ: ATAI) are likely to bring onto the market many effective psychedelic treatments in the years to come.

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