Abstract: Psychedelics afford a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of consciousness and its altered states, to develop techniques for enhancing consciousness, and to uncover new avenues of treatment and improved therapeutic techniques. In 2012, the Beckley Foundation/Imperial College Psychedelic Research Programme published the groundbreaking results from its series of studies into psilocybin using fMRI and MEG brain imaging technologies. Contrary to our expectation, we found that psilocybin decreases cerebral blood flow and brain activity, particularly in those regions that constitute the “default mode network,” the network of brain regions responsible for coordinating the flow of information through the brain and filtering out what is deemed superfluous. It is by decreasing the censoring activity of this network that psilocybin produces its characteristic effects: vivid sensory awareness, unconstrained cognition, and ego-dissolution. Our work has generated valuable insights into the transition from normal awareness to the altered awareness of the psychedelic state. It has also opened up new avenues of potential treatment for depression and other conditions. We are now working on a similar study using MDMA, and subject to approvals will shortly commence brain imaging research into LSD. Amanda will also describe Beckley’s (co-supported by Heffter) collaborative pilot study with Johns Hopkins University on the treatment of addiction with psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and its outstanding results. Other Beckley collaborations include research with King’s College, University College London, and the Sechenov Institute in St. Petersburg.
Amanda Feilding is the founder and director of The Beckley Foundation (beckleyfoundation.org), which she set up in 1998, following a lifelong interest in consciousness research. In order to carry out the research, she has built up collaborative partnerships with leading scientists around the world, with whom she works on a wide range of projects investigating the neurophysiology, pharmacology and subjective effects of psychoactive substances such as cannabis, psilocybin, MDMA, LSD and ‘legal highs’. Her research work elucidates the neuroscientific underpinnings of consciousness, investigates how psychoactive substances work and how consciousness may be enhanced, and explores new potential therapeutic applications.
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