It’s well known that despite the countless advances in neuroscience and biological knowledge as a whole, scientists—alongside philosophers, spiritual leaders, AI developers, and many others—don’t really understand how or why consciousness manifests.

Where does our awareness come from? Why are we sentient beings, with the ability to imagine, introspect, and perceive an undeniable sense of self?

As it turns out, those are pretty loaded questions and nobody really knows for sure—in other words, we don’t yet understand why we understand. However, few would argue that consciousness, whatever it is, probably originates or “lives” in the brain, that organ which many researchers consider the “last frontier” of human biology.

What is meaning, how is it stored, where does it exist, what does it look like in the brain? We really don’t have a sense of how the brain works.

Dr. Thomas Insel, former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health

Even so, what little we do know about the brain is actually pretty amazing already, despite all of its many neuronal mysteries we’ve yet to uncover.

For example, a very unique study published in 2018 by researchers from Emory University in Atlanta involved the effects of tightly-targeted electrical current on a brain region called the cingulum, which is responsible for regulating social feelings, emotional state, anxiety, and depression, among other functions.

The subject—an epilepsy patient who had graciously agreed to participate in the experiment—immediately felt a “sense of bliss,” or at least something close to it. The subject experienced joy, happiness, and relaxation, all while being perfectly aware of her surroundings and quite able to carry on a conversation.

Emory University researchers recorded a video of the subject during the brain-electrode experiment, which you can watch here. Discover Magazine also published an excellent piece going into more detail about the experiment, which you can read here.

So while we might be unable to grasp the origins of consciousness, we can rather definitively say that the ability to manipulate emotion is certainly within reach.

One must then ask: what degree of control do we have over the biology of our own brains, assuming we don’t have access to state-of-the-art neurological equipment and (for some silly reason) we don’t particularly feel like hooking ourselves up to countless electrodes?

For some, psilocybin—that compound found in the psychoactive mushrooms we so enjoy discussing here on The Psilocybe Philosophy—may hold the key to unlocking neuroplasticity and changing the way we think and perceive the world for the better.

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is a complicated process, but fortunately one that’s easy to understand. In essence, the term describes the ability of nerve cells in the brain to adapt to new circumstances. This adaption takes place with the formation of new synapses, which can be thought of as little tendrils that form connections. For this reason, neuroplasticity is sometimes referred to as synaptic plasticity. Plasticity is a word that means something is capable of being molded or formed.

Just as a quick side note, one cannot help but notice the similarity between brain synapses and fungi mycelium:

Comparing fungi mycelium to brain synapses.
To the left, fungi mycelium. To the right, an artist’s representation of brain synapses.

Neuroplasticity is important for things like learning, memory, behavioral flexibility (i.e., the ability to modify your behavior after taking in new information—“don’t touch the stove top, because it’s hot and that hurts”), and the acquisition of new skills and abilities. The ability for the brain to form new synaptic connections is really what allows us to function and grow as human beings.

It is worrisome then to know that conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can actually halt neuroplasticity and cause a loss of synapses. Experiencing those disorders can be thought of as being caught in a “neurological rut” of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

How Does Psilocybin Affect Neuroplasticity?

It was once incorrectly assumed that psilocybin and other psychoactive substances decreased synaptic activity in parts of the brain. What actually happens is that psilocybin causes the synaptic connections—those little tendrils of communication we discussed in the previous section—to “rewire” themselves for a period of time.

The rewiring that takes place through psilocybin isn’t just a random jumble either:

The brain does not simply become a random system after psilocybin injection, but instead retains some organizational features, albeit different from the normal state.

Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks, Journal of the Royal Society

Interestingly, rather than “rewiring” the brain, psilocybin might be better considered as a means of “rebalancing” the synaptic connections in the brain, which is a promising prospect for those stoppages in neuroplasticity caused by depression or PTSD.

Neurotransmitters, like serotonin, travel through the synaptic pathways of the brain. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of love, happiness, well-being, and so on. Psilocybin both mimics serotonin and causes its release—and allows it to travel down new synaptic pathways.

This process can explain the feelings of interconnectedness associated with the psychoactive experience, but it also shows how psilocybin might be an effective treatment for mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Since the new synaptic pathways will remain for a time after the psilocybin dose is administered, a “rebalancing” effect can take place, allowing neuroplasticity to reemerge and form more positively-geared connections.

For instance, this study indicates that substances like psilocybin which impact serotonin receptors may even be an effective means of restructuring memories formed under the influence of fear, as might be the case with a PTSD patient.

There’s a long way to go, but laws are changing and more and more research is being conducted every year concerning the benefits of psilocybin.

Study the Origins of Psilocybin Yourself With Exotic Mushroom Spores

Are you an amateur microscopist or taxonomist interested in learning about the non-psychoactive, formative stages of psilocybin-containing fungi? Here at Quality Spores we carry a wide variety of viable, authentic psilocybin mushroom spores for your research needs. Enjoy!