During psilocybin use, the area of the brain believed responsible for setting attention and switching tasks is turned down, research finds.
The study compares brain scans of people who’ve taken psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical found in certain mushrooms, and people who’ve taken a placebo.
The scans after psilocybin use showed that the claustrum was less active.
“OUR FINDINGS MOVE US ONE STEP CLOSER TO UNDERSTANDING MECHANISMS UNDERLYING HOW PSILOCYBIN WORKS IN THE BRAIN.”
Perhaps no region of the brain is more fittingly named than the claustrum, taken from the Latin word for “hidden or shut away.” The claustrum is an extremely thin sheet of neurons deep within the cortex, yet it reaches out to every other region of the brain.
Its true purpose remains hidden as well, with researchers speculating about many functions. For example, Francis Crick of DNA-discovery fame believed that the claustrum is the seat of consciousness, responsible for awareness and sense of self.
What is known is that this region contains a large number of receptors targeted by psychedelic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin.
The new research examines what happens in the claustrum when people are on psychedelics. The researchers say the finding that the claustrum was less active in people who’d taken psilocybin ties in with what people report as typical effects of psychedelic drugs, including feelings of being connected to everything and reduced senses of self or ego.
“Our findings move us one step closer to understanding mechanisms underlying how psilocybin works in the brain,” says Frederick Barrett, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the school’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.
“This will hopefully enable us to better understand why it’s an effective therapy for certain psychiatric disorders, which might help us tailor therapies to help people more.”
Because of its deep-rooted location in the brain, the claustrum has been difficult to access and study. Last year, Barrett and his colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, developed a method to detect brain activity in the claustrum using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).