Category Archives: Neurology

How Cannabis Affects Our Cognition and Psychology

Summary: Researchers investigate how cannabis can influence a number of cognitive and psychological processes.

Source: The Conversation

Cannabis has been used by humans for thousands of years and is one of the most popular drugs today. With effects such as feelings of joy and relaxation, it is also legal to prescribe or take in several countries.

But how does using the drug affect the mind? In three recent studies, published in The Journal of PsychopharmacologyNeuropsychopharmacology, and the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, we show that it can influence a number of cognitive and psychological processes.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that, in 2018, approximately 192 million people worldwide aged between 15 and 64 used cannabis recreationally. Young adults are particularly keen, with 35% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 using it, while only 10% of people over the age of 26 do.

This indicates that the main users are adolescents and young adults, whose brains are still in development. They may therefore be particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis use on the brain in the longer term.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. It acts on the brain’s “endocannabinoid system”, which are receptors which respond to the chemical components of cannabis. The cannabis receptors are densely populated in prefrontal and limbic areas in the brain, which are involved in reward and motivation. They regulate signalling of the brain chemicals dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate.

We know that dopamine is involved in motivation, reward and learning. GABA and glutamate play a part in cognitive processes, including learning and memory.

Cognitive effects

Cannabis use can affect cognition, especially in those with cannabis-use disorder. This is characterised by the persistent desire to use the drug and disruption to daily activities, such as work or education. It has been estimated that approximately 10% of cannabis users meet the diagnostic criteria for this disorder.

In our research, we tested the cognition of 39 people with the disorder (asked to be clean on the day of testing), and compared it with that of 20 people who never or rarely used cannabis.

We showed that participants with the condition had significantly worse performance on memory tests from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) compared to the controls, who had either never or very rarely used cannabis. It also negatively affected their “executive functions”, which are mental processes including flexible thinking.

This effect seemed to be linked to the age at which people started taking the drug – the younger they were, the more impaired their executive functioning was.

Cognitive impairments have been noted in mild cannabis users as well. Such users tend to make riskier decisions than others and have more problems with planning.

Although most studies have been conducted in males, there has been evidence of sex differences in the effects of cannabis use on cognition. We showed that, while male cannabis users had poorer memory for visually recognising things, female users had more problems with attention and executive functions.

These sex effects persisted when controlling for age; IQ; alcohol and nicotine use; mood and anxiety symptoms; emotional stability; and impulsive behaviour.

Reward, motivation and mental health

Cannabis use can also affect how we feel – thereby further influencing our thinking. For example, some previous research has suggested that reward and motivation – along with the brain circuits involved in these processes – can be disrupted when we use cannabis. This may affect our performance at school or work as it can make us feel less motivated to work hard, and less rewarded when we do well.

In our recent study, we used a brain imaging task, in which participants were placed in a scanner and viewed orange or blue squares. The orange squares would lead to a monetary reward, after a delay, if the participant made a response. This set up helped us investigate how the brain responds to rewards.

We focused particularly on the ventral striatum, which is a key region in the brain’s reward system. We found that the effects on the reward system in the brain were subtle, with no direct effects of cannabis in the ventral striatum.

However, the participants in our study were moderate cannabis users. The effects may be more pronounced in cannabis users with more severe and chronic use, as seen in cannabis use disorder.

There is also evidence that cannabis can lead to mental health problems. We have shown that it is related to higher “anhedonia” – an inability to feel pleasure – in adolescents. Interestingly, this effect was particularly pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Cannabis use during adolescence has also been reported as a risk factor for developing psychotic experiences as well as schizophrenia.

One study showed that cannabis use moderately increases the risk of psychotic symptoms in young people, but that it has a much stronger effect in those with a predisposition for psychosis (scoring highly on a symptom checklist of paranoid ideas and psychoticism).

This shows a drawing of a woman with cannabis leaves in her hair
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Image is in the public domain

Assessing 2,437 adolescents and young adults (14-24 years), the authors reported a six percentage points increased risk – from 15% to 21% – of psychotic symptoms in cannabis users without a predisposition for psychosis. But there was a 26-point increase in risk – from 25% to 51% – of psychotic symptoms in cannabis users with a predisposition for psychosis.

We don’t really know why cannabis is linked to psychotic episodes, but hypotheses suggests dopamine and glutamate may be important in the neurobiology of these conditions.

Another study of 780 teenagers suggested that the association between cannabis use and psychotic experiences was also linked to a brain region called the “uncus”. This lies within the parahippocampus (involved in memory) and olfactory bulb (involved in processing smells), and has a large amount of cannabinoid receptors. It has also previously been associated with schizophrenia and psychotic experiences.

Cognitive and psychological effects of cannabis use are ultimately likely to depend to some extent on dosage (frequency, duration and strength), sex, genetic vulnerabilities and age of onset. But we need to determine whether these effects are temporary or permanent. One article summarising many studies has suggested that with mild cannabis use, the effects may weaken after periods of abstinence.

But even if that’s the case, it is clearly worth considering the effects that prolonged cannabis use can have on our minds – particularly for young people whose brains are still developing.

Funding:

Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian receives funding from the Leverhulme Trust and the Lundbeck Foundation. Her research work is conducted within the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Mental Health and Neurodegeneration Themes and the NIHR MedTech and in vitro diagnostic Co-operative (MIC). She consults for Cambridge Cognition.

Christelle Langley is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Martine Skumlien receives funding from the Aker Foundation.

Tianye Jia receives funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Biden: ‘I Was Hospitalized A Long Time Ago. I Had A Couple Of Years Ago… Cranial Aneurysms’

Martin Walsh
February 10, 2022

OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.


Joe Biden on Thursday appeared with Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a vulnerable House Democrat, to discuss lowering prescription drug costs.

Biden spoke Spanberger’s work in office as he was trying to push his Build Back Better agenda, which has stalled in Congress.

“It’s great to be here with Abigail, congresswoman Spanberger. And in every chapter in her career, in every chapter, she’s always been about one thing: service. Service,” Biden said in remarks in Culpeper.

“Back in 2017, she saw her representative in Congress vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act; that was one of more than 100 Republican efforts,” he said. “But she knew that was the exact opposite of what central Virginia badly needed.”

But Biden’s most interesting comment came when he was speaking about his own previous medical issues.

WATCH:

Earlier this week, a group of Republican lawmakers called for Biden to take a cognitive test because they believe his “mental decline” has “become more apparent” and could be impeding his judgment.

Nearly 40 GOP congressional members want Biden to follow the precedent set by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, as recent polling increasingly shows more Americans are not certain of Biden’s mental fitness for the demanding job of president.

Led by former White House physician Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, 37 other Republican colleagues signed a letter to Biden on Tuesday in which they said they had “concern” about his “current cognitive state.”

“My colleagues and I are again asking President Biden to immediately undergo a formal cognitive screening exam, such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA),” Jackson said.

“As a former physician to three Presidents of the United States, I know what it takes mentally and physically to execute the duties of Commander-in-Chief and Head of State,” Jackson added. “Joe Biden has continually proven to me and to the world that something isn’t right. The American people deserve to have absolute confidence in their President’s cognitive ability.”

The Texas Republican said taking “the cognitive test will be an important first step” for Biden to reassure concerned Americans that he is fit for office or “in identifying and properly treating symptoms of impairment that are consistent with a variety of cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis.”

“This is not a partisan issue. When I discussed taking a cognitive test with President Trump, he was eager to assure the American people and to put the fake news media’s stories to bed,” Jackson wrote. “Why won’t President Biden do the same?

“We can only assume the worst if he doesn’t submit to the same standard that his own party demanded of the last Administration,” he noted further. “The precedent has been set.”

“While you underwent your annual physical exam on November 19, 2021, you either did not face a cognitive test or those results were withheld from the public,” the group of Republicans continued. They added that while the current White House physician cleared Biden physically, the GOP lawmakers wrote that they “are worried about your mental abilities.

How Regular Exercise Restructures The Brain

Authored by Ross Pomeroy via RealClear Science (emphasis ours),

Physical activity can do wonders for the body. Exercise can trim weight, chisel muscles, and strengthen the lower back, among many other benefits. Less overt, but no less consequential, physical activity can also buff up your brain. Science is increasingly revealing that the brains of those who regularly work out can look very different compared to the brains of people who don’t.

Changes can start to occur in adolescenceReviewing the scientific literature in 2018, researchers from the University of Southern California found that for teens aged 15-18, regular exercisers tended to have larger hippocampal volumes as well as larger rostral middle frontal volumes compared to healthy matched control teenagers. The hippocampus is most commonly associated with memory and spatial navigation, while the rostral middle frontal gyrus has been linked to emotion regulation and working memory. Studies suggest that these structural changes translate to improved cognitive performance and better academic outcomes.

Exercise’s brain augmenting qualities extend into adulthood, even though the brain tends to be less ‘plastic’ (easily changed) as we get older. Rutgers University scientists beautifully demonstrated this in a study published early last year:

The researchers recruited older African Americans, all previously sedentary, to complete twenty weeks of twice-weekly cardio-dance exercise classes held at local churches and senior centers. As compared to the control group comprised of community members of similar age and background who did not exercise, those in the program showed significant improvements in dynamic brain connectivity (or “neural flexibility”) in their hippocampus and surrounding medial temporal lobe, as measured using resting-state functional MRI.

In another study, published in August 2019, scientists looked at 45 sets of adult identical twins, who, within their pair, all differed greatly in physical activity levels. “More active co-twins showed larger gray matter volumes in striatal, prefrontal, and hippocampal regions, and smaller gray matter volumes in the anterior cingulate area than less active co-twins,” the researchers found.

The scientists also probed the twins’ cognitive abilities.

“More physical activity may expedite preconscious processing of visual stimuli and, in somatosensory domain, improve selective attentional processing by dampening the strength of unattended deviant somatosensory signals,” they added.

The brain alterations do appear beneficial, but current twin studies are too small, and the participants too young, to find whether exercise-induced changes can actually reduce the risk of cognitive disorders or improve outcomes such as education or income.

Researchers have also tried exercise interventions on much older adults, even those with Alzheimer’s disease, to see if physical activity could repair their stricken brains. In 2016, a team of scientists recruited 68 older individuals with probable Alzheimer’s disease to determine whether moving more could help with their symptoms. Some subjects aerobically exercised for 150 minutes per week while others underwent a less rigorous control regimen of stretching and toning for 26 weeks. Compared to the control group, the aerobic exercise group improved more on the Disability Assessment for Dementia at the study’s conclusion. Boosts to cardiorespiratory fitness were also linked to improvements in memory and reduced atrophy of the hippocampus.

Working out also augments the brains of otherwise healthy older adults. Getting thirty minutes of physical activity each day does seem to preserve brain volumes in adults over age 70 compared to sedentary individuals, according to a study published in August of last year. Moreover, higher cardiorespiratory fitness was linked to lower levels of brain atrophy in the research.

One way exercise can induce changes in the brain is by increasing levels of the protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the blood, which is linked to neurogenesis. More BDNF may mean more new neurons in the brain. Regular exercise also increases the growth of additional blood vessels in the brain and helps maintain current ones, leading to boosted blood flow for the oxygen-hungry organ. Lastly, physical activity seems to keep microglia in good working order. Microglia “constantly check the brain for potential threats from microbes or dying or damaged cells and clear any damage they find,” Áine Kelly, a Professor in Physiology at Trinity College Dublin wrote for The Conversation.

Regularly moving one’s body may be the closest thing there is to a health panacea, for both outside the skull and inside.

You Never Lose By Giving Love

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria213

You never lose by giving love, because offering it with sincerity, passion, and delicate affection dignifies you as a person. On the other hand, those who don’t know how to accept or take care of this immense gift are those who truly lose out. For this reason, you should never regret having loved and lost, because the worst thing is not knowing how to love.

Fortunately, neuroscience offers new and revealing information every day that explains why you act as you do concerning this thing called love. The first thing to remember is that your human brain isn’t prepared for loss. Hence, it overtakes you, immobilizes you, and traps you in suffering.

“Love has no cure, but it is the only medicine for all ills”

-Leonard Cohen-

You’re genetically programmed to connect with others and build emotional ties. These make you feel safe and help you build your life. In fact, this is how we’ve survived as a species, by connecting with others. Therefore, a loss, a separation, or even a simple misunderstanding can instantly trigger an alarm signal in your brain.

Another complex aspect concerning emotional relationships is the way in which you face these separations and losses. From a neurological point of view, stress hormones are instantly released, forming, in many cases, what we know as ‘the broken heart’. However, from an emotional and psychological point of view, you may experience another kind of reality.

In fact, you don’t only experience the pain related to losing your loved one. You also feel a loss of energy, of vital breath. It’s as if all the love you gave, all the hopes and affection you dedicated to that person are gone as well, leaving you feeling empty, barren, and withered.

How can you ever love again if the only things left inside you are bad memories? Well, as a matter of fact, you need to face these moments in a different way. Let’s take a closer look.

give love

Continue giving love or avoid loving again?

You’re comprised of a delicate and chaotic compendium of past stories, lived emotions, buried bitterness, and camouflaged fears. When you start a new relationship, you don’t put all your previous experiences in the recycling binYou don’t start from zero. Everything’s still there, and the way in which you’ve managed your past will dictate whether you live your emotional present with greater maturity and fullness.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. “

-Alfred Lord Tennyson-

A bitter betrayal or the simple fact that your partner’s love for you has died greatly changes the way you see things. In fact, giving love so intensely at one point, only to later find yourself feeling empty and trapped by your memories and lost dreams can completely alter the make-up of your personality.

For example, you might become distrustful. Alternatively, you might adopt the isolating attitude of thinking that, to avoid suffering, it’s better not to love at all. However, these are slow processes of self-destruction.

You must never regret having loved, of risking all or nothing for that one person. It’s these acts that dignify you, that make you a wonderful human being. Living is loving and giving love gives meaning to your life through all the things you do: your work, your hobbies, and your personal and emotional relationships.

If you renounce love or regret having loved, you also renounce the most beautiful part of yourself.

Healing lost love

Binghamton University (USA) and University College, London (UK) conducted a study that stated there are certain differences between men and women when it comes to coping with emotional breakdowns. In fact, their emotional responses are very different. For example, women feel the impact of separation much more. However, they tend to recover earlier than men.

On the other hand, men usually appear, on the surface, to be okay. They give the impression of being strong and tend to take refuge in their occupations and responsibilities. Nevertheless, they don’t always manage to overcome the break-up. Furthermore, they may take years to do so. The reason for this is that women usually possess better skills in managing their emotional world. In fact, they gain relief because they seek help and they face what happened from a forgiving perspective. This makes moving on easier.

However, regardless of gender, or the reason that caused the break-up, there’s one thing that should be taken into account. It’s the fact that no emotional failure should ever prevent you from being happy again. Therefore, you must say no to being a slave to the past and a prisoner of eternal suffering.

give love

Another aspect that you should remember is that loving isn’t synonymous with suffering. For this reason, you shouldn’t ever keep a relationship going that’s well past its sell-by-date. Removing yourself will save unnecessary heartbreak and your brave goodbye will close one door and another will open, the one where love will be conjugated with the word happiness.

Cybersickness: When Technology Overwhelms You

There’s no doubt that technology affects you. In fact, you’re able to create visual environments that are so immersive, they can drive your perceptual system crazy. This is cybersickness.

Have you ever felt a headache or eyestrain after spending a lot of time in front of a screen? If it happens to you frequently, it’s likely that you’re suffering from cybersickness. You may not have heard this word before, but it’s an increasingly common condition in society today. For that reason, it’s important to know how to recognize the symptoms.

Although it may seem like a mild problem there’s a high probability that it could become chronic. In this way, it ends up affecting your ability to function normally and can even cause accidents. For this reason, it’s a condition that shouldn’t be ignored.

Cybersickness

Dizziness makes you lose your balance and orientation. Other relatively common symptoms are nausea and a spinning sensation. Furthermore, there are different types of dizziness. In this case, we’re going to focus on motion sickness.

Motion sickness occurs when there’s a mismatch between your sensory information. For example, when you’re on a boat, your inner ear is able to feel the movement of waves. However, your eyes don’t detect any movement. It’s that incoherence that causes dizziness.

Cybersickness is a disorder associated with the use of technologies such as smartphones, computers, etc. The symptoms it generates are similar to those of common motion sickness. These include:

  • Visual fatigue
  • Headaches.
  • Sickness.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Difficulty in focusing.
  • Vertigo.
Tired woman with mobile

Causes

Anyone exposed to screens can experience these symptoms. However, in what way does technology make you dizzy?

When you’re using a device, you’re exposed to a large amount of visual information that’s constantly moving. For example, when you’re looking at a gallery of images you’re scrolling through. In fact, your eyes perceive movement, but you’re not moving. Therefore, your ear and your other senses send the signal to your brain that you’re still. Because of this inconsistency, cybersickness is generated.

Cybersickness and simulator sickness are generally assumed to be the same. However, a study in which eight experiments were conducted with different virtual systems indicated that the clinical profiles are different. It concluded that in cybersickness, disorientation predominates as a symptom, while with simulator sickness it’s oculomotor conditions (Stanney, Kennedy & Drexler, 1997).

Factors contributing to cybersickness

We don’t yet know for sure the factors that cause a person to suffer from cybersickness. In this respect, Weech, Varghese, and Barnett-Cowan (2018) published a study on the sensorimotor components involved in cybersickness. They concluded that certain variables, such as susceptibility to motion sickness, predict the risk of cybersickness.

However, there are other measures that need to be considered where there would be large individual differences. For this reason, the authors claim that it would be necessary to develop methods to evaluate individual variables. Thus, electronic and virtual reality devices should be adjusted to the needs of each user to prevent cybersickness.

As a matter of fact, VR headsets like the Oculus Rift include adjustments that can be calibrated as needed. Indeed, it’s important for technology companies to develop methods to alleviate cybersickness so that they can sell their products. However, more specific tools will be needed to improve the experience.

Associated risks

It’s common for people to tend to underestimate the dangers associated with the symptoms of cybersickness. This could be because, as a rule, symptoms only last a few minutes or hours. Nevertheless, there are serious cases where cybersickness persists for up to 24 hours. Consequently, it poses a health risk, as it impairs normal function.

For example, someone experiencing cybersickness could try to drive a vehicle and be involved in an accident. Also, handling dangerous utensils such as knives or other tools could lead to injury. Vertigo could also cause dangerous falls and bumps.

If you have any of the symptoms of cybersickness, it’s best to avoid any risky activity and seek help.

Dizzy man in front of a computer

What can be done?

The best strategy for dealing with virtual motion sickness is to use technology in a healthier way. For example, if you work from home, it’s important to take regular breaks so your eyes can relax. It’s not a good idea to wait until you feel bad to do this.

Finally, remember that remote work means many people now spend many more hours in front of a screen. Hence, cybersickness is becoming increasingly common.

Furthermore, virtual reality – and the technology that enables it – has made great strides in recent years. It means you can physically be in one place and mentally in another. This is a situation that’s conducive to inconsistencies in the information you receive from your senses.

Where Can You Legally Take Magic Mushrooms? List Of Regions And Countries


By Mayukh Saha

The chemical in magic mushrooms that gives it the “magic” is known as psilocybin. This compound or some form of it is found in approximately 180 species of mushroom. But these hallucinogenic fungi are not new substances. Rather, they are one of the oldest substances used and recorded in humanity’s history to increase levels of consciousness.

As such, magic mushrooms have remained among the most common and popular psychedelic substances even today. They are quite popular in South America, Europe, and North America. But, as with all psychedelic substances, there are concerns over their usage and legality, and many places prohibit these special mushrooms.

But, that mindset is changing. Studies have recently claimed that mushrooms containing psilocybin can actually help the patients in some specific cases. In a 2017 study, they were found to have some effect when it came to treating mental health conditions. This was a big step forward for advocates who wanted to legalize psilocybin mushrooms.

As for the present situation, there are a handful of countries where it is completely legal to own and use magic mushrooms. Here is a list of them according to the major regions. However, be aware that the use of these substances in most cases is still dangerous. Moreover, in some cases, the law forbids the chemical “psilocybin” while not mentioning magic mushrooms themselves, which makes it very risky. As such, we will leave out the nations where magic mushrooms are not openly sold.

Oceania

Samoa: In this country, you can find magic mushrooms openly in nature. Additionally, the national law does not have any particular mention of its usage, so for now it is legal. However, the Samoan government is planning to bring in some enforcements about them in the near future.

Asia

Nepal: The country has no law whatsoever regarding magic mushrooms. Visitors are allowed to freely purchase and eat them as much as they want.

Europe

Austria: Here, you can own and grow them. But you cannot harvest and/or sell the fungi. As such, stores in Austria and online have “grow kits” for sale. Also, the law allows possessing mushrooms you find growing in nature.

Italy: Another country where the chemical is banned but owning, selling, and buying kits to grow them on your own is legal.

Poland: Similar to Italy, one is allowed to grow the fungal species should they wish to. But the substance is banned.

Spain:  The country allows possession and cultivation of the mushrooms but selling the chemical psilocybin is banned.

Central & South America

Brazil: As with several other countries, even though the chemicals are prohibited, the magic mushrooms are not. As such, you can find special websites that exist solely to sell these mushrooms.

The Caribbean

The Bahamas: The island nation allows possessing, selling, and using magic mushrooms completely, even if they had signed the 1971 UN Convention on drugs.

The British Virgin Islands: You can own and use the fungi here, but selling or buying it in any form is illegal.

Jamaica: The island nation has no particular laws regarding any psychedelic drug. As such, magic mushrooms are only one of the various psychedelic substances you can openly find and use there.

North America:

The USA: Oregon is the only state, so far, to allow the usage of magic mushrooms for medicinal purposes. But the law is still being processed, and the residents can only use it for therapy. Some other major cities have a softer outlook but even spores of these mushrooms are still mostly illegal.

Read: Oregon May Become First US State to Legalize ‘Magic Mushrooms’ 

Canada: Cannabis is legal in Canada, but magic mushrooms are not yet there. But you can buy and grow spores from easily available “grow kits”. You can harvest naturally occurring ones.

There are some other countries worldwide and regions in the US where some kind of a loophole exists that lets people enjoy magic mushrooms. For instance, in Mexico, tribes are allowed to use them, but not officially. Since it is still a matter of legality, we have stayed away from places and regions where there can be even a hint of trouble.

Finally, you should always check with your local authorities about how legal a drug is to ensure the law is never broken. Remember that you will be the only one responsible for your actions. As long as you are legal and careful, there should not be any problems in these places.

About the Author:

Hey! I am Mayukh. I help people and websites with content, videos, design, and social media management. I am an avid traveler and I started living as a digital nomad in Europe since 2019. I am currently working on www.noetbook.com – a creative media company. You can reach out to me anytime: justmayukh@gmail.com Love, Mayukh Read More stories by Mayukh Saha

Psychedelics Show Promise in Treating Mental Illness

Summary: A growing body of evidence suggests psychedelics including psilocybin and LSD show promise in providing lasting relief from symptoms for those suffering some mental health disorders. Researchers found DOI, a similar drug to LSD, reduced negative behavioral responses following fear triggers in mouse models of anxiety.

Source: Virginia Tech

One in five U.S. adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the National Alliance of Mental Health. But standard treatments can be slow to work and cause side effects.

To find better solutions, a Virginia Tech researcher has joined a renaissance of research on a long-banned class of drugs that could combat several forms of mental illness and, in mice, have achieved long-lasting results from just one dose.

Using a process his lab developed in 2015, Chang Lu, the Fred W. Bull Professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering, is helping his Virginia Commonwealth University collaborators study the epigenomic effects of psychedelics.

Their findings give insight into how psychedelic substances like psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, and similar drugs may relieve symptoms of addiction, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The drugs appear to work faster and last longer than current medications—all with fewer side effects.

The project hinged on Lu’s genomic analysis. His process allows researchers to use very small samples of tissue, down to hundreds to thousands of cells, and draw meaningful conclusions from them. Older processes require much larger sample sizes, so Lu’s approach enables the studies using just a small quantity of material from a specific region of a mouse brain.

And looking at the effects of psychedelics on brain tissues is especially important.

Researchers can do human clinical trials with the substances, taking blood and urine samples and observing behaviors, Lu said. “But the thing is, the behavioral data will tell you the result, but it doesn’t tell you why it works in a certain way,” he said.

But looking at molecular changes in animal models, such as the brains of mice, allows scientists to peer into what Lu calls the black box of neuroscience to understand the biological processes at work. While the brains of mice are very different from human brains, Lu said there are enough similarities to make valid comparisons between the two.

VCU pharmacologist Javier González-Maeso has made a career of studying psychedelics, which had been banned after recreational use of the drugs was popularized in the 1960s. But in recent years, regulators have begun allowing research on the drugs to proceed.

In work by other researchers, primarily on psilocybin, a substance found in more than 200 species of fungi, González-Maeso said psychedelics have shown promise in alleviating major depression and anxiety disorders. “They induce profound effects in perception,” he said. “But I was interested in how these drugs actually induce behavioral effects in mice.”

To explore the genomic basis of those effects, he teamed up with Lu.

This shows a psychedelic brain
The drugs appear to work faster and last longer than current medications—all with fewer side effects. Image is in the public domain

In the joint Virginia Tech—VCU study, González-Maeso’s team used 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine, or DOI, a drug similar to LSD, administering it to mice that had been trained to fear certain triggers. Lu’s lab then analyzed brain samples for changes in the epigenome and the gene expression. They discovered that the epigenomic variations were generally more long-lasting than the changes in gene expression, thus more likely to link with the long-term effects of a psychedelic.

After one dose of DOI, the mice that had reacted to fear triggers no longer responded to them with anxious behaviors. Their brains also showed effects, even after the substance was no longer detectable in the tissues, Lu said. The findings were published in the October issue of Cell Reports.

It’s a hopeful development for those who suffer from mental illness and the people who love them. In fact, it wasn’t just the science that drew Lu to the project.

For him, it’s also personal.

“My older brother has had schizophrenia for the last 30 years, basically. So I’ve always been intrigued by mental health,” Lu said. “And then once I found that our approach can be applied to look at processes like that—that’s why I decided to do research in the field of brain neuroscience.”

González-Maeso said research on psychedelics is still in its early stages, and there’s much work to be done before treatments derived from them could be widely available.

Abstract

Prolonged epigenomic and synaptic plasticity alterations following single exposure to a psychedelic in mice

Highlights

  • Exposure to the psychedelic drug DOI results in enduring molecular adaptations
  • Post-acute DOI unveils phenotypes akin to antidepressant adaptations
  • Concurrent occurrence of synaptic plasticity mediated via 5-HT2AR

Summary

Clinical evidence suggests that rapid and sustained antidepressant action can be attained with a single exposure to psychedelics. However, the biological substrates and key mediators of psychedelics’ enduring action remain unknown.

Here, we show that a single administration of the psychedelic DOI produces fast-acting effects on frontal cortex dendritic spine structure and acceleration of fear extinction via the 5-HT2A receptor.

Additionally, a single dose of DOI leads to changes in chromatin organization, particularly at enhancer regions of genes involved in synaptic assembly that stretch for days after the psychedelic exposure. These DOI-induced alterations in the neuronal epigenome overlap with genetic loci associated with schizophrenia, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Together, these data support that epigenomic-driven changes in synaptic plasticity sustain psychedelics’ long-lasting antidepressant action but also warn about potential substrate overlap with genetic risks for certain psychiatric conditions.

SOURCE: https://neurosciencenews.com/psychedelics-doi-lsd-anxiety-19682/

Sleep Cycles: Understanding Your Brain Can Help You Sleep Better

Exploring your Mind
August 27th, 2020

REM cycles, non-REM cycles, delta waves, theta waves, K-complexes… The sleep cycles are as fascinating as they are important to human life. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake, one must stay awake all day”. In addition, when you finally manage to fall asleep, your mind gives you what already belongs to you: your dreams.

However, as you probably well know, in the last few decades, we’ve become an almost sleepless society. Nearly 40% of the population has sleep disorders and 90% have trouble getting restorative sleep at least once a year. Our lifestyle, stress, and certain habits, such as the intense use of technology, affect our sleep hygiene.

As a result, it’s very interesting to understand what happens in the brain while we sleep. After all, during those hours, the brain’s only purpose is to facilitate deep sleep. In the end, nighttime is when the body carries out the tasks that are essential for your well-being. To maintain good physical and psychological health, you need to get good sleep to solidify memories, eliminate toxins, and eliminate irrelevant data and information.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the world of sleep cycles.

A woman sleeping at night.

The five stages: sleep cycles for a good night’s sleep

Each sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes. Consequently, you go through about five or six cycles every night. As you might know, waking up in the middle of one of those cycles without reaching REM sleep means you’ll wake up tired, confused, and lethargic.

Ideally, you should stay asleep for the entirety of the five phases. At a minimum, your body needs to stay asleep long enough for the cycle to repeat four times. Sleeping less than five hours doesn’t give the brain enough time to do all of the necessary processes and “restart” itself.

Let’s take a detailed look at each sleep cycle.

Stage 1: light sleep

This first stage is when you’re already feeling relaxed and comfortable in bed. It lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. Stage 1 is the tenuous threshold between wakefulness and sleep. If you do an electroencephalogram (EEG) on someone in the light sleep stage, their brain will display theta waves (3, 5-7, 5 Hz).

Stage 2: light sleep, heart rate begins to slow

Here, your breathing starts to slow down, your heart rate drops, and your brain waves slow down. The only difference between stage 2 and stage 1 is that, in stage 2, the K-waves or sleep spindles (sudden increases in brain wave frequencies) increase. These frequencies tend to go between 12 and 14 Hz, which is very slow. The purpose of these sleep spindles is to keep you from waking up.

Likewise, it’s very common during this stage to experience something that you’re probably very familiar with. We’re talking about dreaming that you’re falling. Scientists believe that you get this feeling as a result of your low heart rates.

The brain needs to make sure that everything is okay and that everything is under control. Therefore, it sends a sudden stimulus that your mind interprets in the same way it would if you were falling.

Stage 3: transition

You might say that this is the halfway point of your sleep cycle. This is a short stage; it only lasts five minutes. During that time, the theta waves, slow waves, get shorter and become delta waves, which are more intense. People who sleepwalk often do it during this point in the sleep cycle.

An image representing brain waves.

Stage 4: deep Sleep

You’ve come to the deepest stage of sleep, which lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. When your brain is in this stage, it’s very difficult to wake up. The delta waves have taken over completely at this point, and your sleep is truly restorative, in every sense of the word.

If you wake up during this stage, you’ll feel groggy, disoriented, and foggy. People with insomnia experience this very often. In general, they don’t reach the fourth stage.

The REM cycle: the dream and nightmare stage

This is the most important and most interesting sleep cycle. Most people are aware that dreams and nightmares happen during the REM cycle. In addition, during this stage, the theta waves take over again. Consequently, on an EEG, you’ll see the same brain activity that’s present when you’re awake. That’s due to the fact that the brain is extremely active during this sleep stage.

The REM cycle is also known as paradoxical sleep. It makes up about 25% of your sleep cycle. The prior stages, called non-REM cycles, or slow sleep cycles, make up the rest. Thus, the entire structure of nighttime rest (in normal conditions) is carried out in a process that lasts about 90 minutes.

We emphasize “normal conditions” because if you take medication to treat a sleep disorder, it can slightly alter this cycle. Chemical substances can change the flow of stages and brain waves.

Ideally, you should be able to get good sleep without the use of pharmaceuticals. Instead, try some natural strategies first, such as managing stress, being mindful of your schedule, and watching what you eat. Limiting your exposure to the blue light from screens is also important. Even simple things such as the temperature in your room can affect your sleep.

Sleeping well means living well. Understanding the sleep cycles and setting yourself up for a night of deep, restorative sleep will help you feel better every day.

The Human Soul, According to Science

Exploring your Mind
September 2nd, 2020

The human soul has been a mystery for a long time, and there are many hypotheses about it. In fact, the various academic disciplines continuously try to answer it. Today’s article will discuss what the scientific community has to say about it.

You’re about to take a tour of the scientific paradigm, tradition, and current challenges. In addition, you’ll learn about Robert Lanza’s fascinating theory of biocentrism.

Your path will go beyond the spiritual. As you know, most religions mention the existence of a soul. What’s the position of science in this regard? How does it currently deal with this paradigm? Continue reading to find out.

Is there such a thing as a human soul?

The idea of ​​the existence of a human soul is related to beliefs about life after death. This idea of ​​a soul is linked to the conviction of eternal life. In addition, many people also believe that the soul is a guide by which a person thinks and feels and that it operates independently from the body.

Certainly, the conception of the soul will vary depending on the context, religion, and discipline that addresses it. It’s been mainly religious throughout history as these institutions allegedly deal with the spiritual dimension. They’ve taken it upon themselves to explain its existence.

Religions argue about the idea of ​​a soul, independently of its connection to the spiritual, by inferring that evidence of its existence is among the mysteries associated with birth, death, different states of consciousness, memory, and imagination. Thus, they suggest that the soul is like a kind of vital force, an impulse.

The scientific paradigm regarding the human soul

According to philosopher and science historian Thomas Kuhn, a scientific paradigm is the set of universally recognized achievements of this type. Paradigms are subject to criticism, in addition to generating models of problems and solutions in the scientific community.

The current scientific paradigm doesn’t usually recognize the spiritual dimension. Rather, it points out that there’s no need for a soul. In fact, it tends to explain life through equations about the activity of carbon and the activity of proteins, etc.

On one hand, religion gives the answer to the existence of the soul from a spiritual point of view. It associates it with the transcendent and incorporeal. On the other, science associates it with the material, if it conceives it at all. In other words, the latter understands it as the mind. Also, it reduces it to the concept of cognition and consciousness, at least from a poetic standpoint.

An enlightened person.

Challenging current scientific theories

Neuroscience has made great strides in explaining the functioning of the human nervous system and trying to explain the reason for subjective experiences. However, it’s still a mystery. Thus, the problem of whether the soul exists or not is related to the understanding of the nature of the self.

Currently, different theories have begun to challenge the scientific paradigm. The physicochemical, above all. Biocentrism is an example of this. It’s about emphasizing tough questions about human nature. For example, it asks if there’s such a thing as a soul or if there’s something beyond time.

This new perspective of being, of the cosmos and of reality, believes that life goes beyond mere atoms and particles. It would explain things such as quantum entanglement and the uncertainty principle. In fact, some authors point out that quantum weirdness occurs in the world on a human scale. At least according to Gerlich and his team, which co-authored the article “Quantum interference of large organic molecules”.

Robert Lanza, an American scientist, first suggested the theory of biocentrism. In this theory, he considers that life and biology are essential to being, reality, and the cosmos. In fact, he affirms that consciousness creates the universe and not the other way around. Thus, he didn’t ignore the physicochemical approach to the explanation of the affairs of being. Instead, he gives more importance to the biological one.

Conclusion

Therefore, space and time are mind tools directly connected to existence for other planes of scientific knowledge. This challenge takes humans away from classical intuition and suggests that a part of the mind or soul is immortal and exists outside these categories.

In short, certain parts of science do recognize the soul, either because they associate it with poetic vision or because they reduce it to cognition. Others continue with the traditional perspective of denying it, while some current theories begin to think about its existence. This is due to new discoveries that account for the nature of being associated with time and space.

OPINION: MIT Scientists Extremely Skeptical of Elon Musk’s Creepy “Neuroscience Theater” Neuralink Chip

EDITORS NOTE: As always, this opinion does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the Underground Newswire, but it is important to know what others are thinking and saying.

Cassie B.
September 01, 2020

When Elon Musk presented his creepy Neuralink brain implant in a streamed product update on YouTube on Friday, he said he believed that billions of people will be clamoring for it – but real scientists have expressed serious skepticism.

The stated goal of Neuralink is to “implant wireless brain-computer interfaces that include thousands of electrodes in the most complex human organ to help cure neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and spinal cord injuries and ultimately fuse humankind with artificial intelligence.”

Other issues it claims to address include seizures, extreme pain, addiction, insomnia, strokes and brain damage.

Musk presented a pig named Gertrude who he claims has had a Neuralink computer chip in her brain for the last two months. Musk said the coin-sized chip was like “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires” and would connect to a person’s phone over Bluetooth to be charged wirelessly overnight.

In a critique published in MIT Technology Review, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were quick to point out the absurdity of the entire spectacle, calling it “neuroscience theater.” They said that promises like being able to see radar with superhuman vision, playing symphonies in your head, and healing deafness, blindness, mental illness and paralysis are going to be difficult to keep.

The article says that none of the advances mentioned are even close to becoming a reality, and some are extremely unlikely to happen. They also called Musk out for his noncommittal language and lack of firm timelines. They even shrugged off the pig demonstration, saying that it was decades-old technology that some researchers have been using for years.

They also showed that Musk isn’t quite as innovative as he might think, pointing out that researchers have been putting probes in paralyzed people’s brains since the 1990s to show how signals can allow them to move robotic arms or cursors on counters.

In addition, the MIT researchers took issue with the fact that Neuralink and Musk haven’t committed to any of the potential medical applications they touted. They did not disclose any plans to carry out clinical trials, which many believed would be the next logical step. They added that it’s not clear just how serious they are about treating diseases. That’s unfortunate because the presentation has already given some people who are desperate to find solutions to their ailments a degree of false hope.

Robots will perform surgery to implant the chips in people’s brains

Neuralink is working on a robot that will carry out the entire surgical installation process, which entails opening up a person’s scalp, removing a part of their skull, inserting the computer chip and thread electrodes, and then closing the incision. It will somehow be able to dodge blood vessels to prevent bleeding, they claim.

The criticism from the experts at MIT comes not long after the medical industry news website Stat exposed serious turmoil within Neuralink. In the piece, five former employees described a “chaotic internal culture” and an environment akin to a “pressure cooker.”

They recounted how a strong push to move the technology forward led to failures in animal experiments, with one former worker saying that the company moved from rodent experiments into those with primates quicker than one would expect in medical science.

Even if Neuralink is ultimately able to help alleviate some of the health concerns they claim they can address, getting people on board will be another big hurdle. Who would be willing to have a robot drill a hole into their head to remove part of their skull and place a chip inside their brain?

Besides the risk of infection and the potential need for follow-up surgeries to adjust the positioning of the electrodes or install newer versions of the chips, the long-term effects are very much unknown and could be catastrophic. Needless to say, there’s also the potential for hackers to cause serious harm. And when the person behind all this is someone as erratic and untrustworthy as Elon Musk, it’s hard to imagine anyone in their right mind will be signing up.