This is my brain on salvia

This is my brain on salvia

last thing I remember from basic reality that there was a researcher's voice counting down to zero. Cooped inside an fMRI machine in the basement of a research hospital in Baltimore, with a mask over my eyes and a countdown blaring through my earbuds, I felt as if I was an astronaut about to launch into orbit. But the place I was headed to was much stranger than space.

I've loaned my gray matter to researchers at Johns Hopkins University to conduct the first imaging study of what your brain does with salvinorin A, a powerful natural psychedelic produced by a plant called Divine wise. I was lying inside a machine that used huge magnets to look into my brain, and, as my experience with the study reported in 2019, I had just inhaled an unspecified dose of pure crystalline matter from a hose attached to a substance. Researchers described it as an “FDA-approved crack tube.” Over the course of an hour, I was given two doses – one placebo, one salvinorin – but I was not told which one to take beforehand. I haven't felt anything since the first dose, which means that this time, once the researcher reaches zero, I will start feeling the strong effects of the drug.

I knew what I was getting into. I had conducted a trial run the day before, reclining on a sofa in a laboratory that had been furnished to look like a tasteful living room. During that experience, I felt my body disintegrate as a stunning diamond pattern began to roll down the sides of my face toward a limitless horizon. Any sense of self has vanished and time has become a meaningless abstraction. I was pure existence in an encounter with the infinite.

My psychedelic experience in the fMRI machine was noticeably less than that of another scientist. On the second tour, I saw some colorful wheels and felt as if my body had merged with the machine. But I did not enter another dimension or dissolve into pure existence. This may have been because I received a lower dose. Or maybe it's because it's hard to surrender to the experience when you're inside a giant machine making a racket while your head is soaked in a powerful magnetic field.

But I wasn't here to touch the face of God. The goal was to allow researchers to monitor my brain and the brains of 11 other volunteers in the study on salvia. The team was led by Manoj Doss, a postdoctoral researcher in neuropharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, and worked under the supervision of veteran psychedelic scientist Roland Griffiths. A decade ago, Griffiths organized the first controlled study of the subjective effects of salvinorin A. To gain a better understanding of how the drug produces its incredibly powerful psychedelic effects and whether it may have any clinical significance for treating conditions such as depression or drug addiction. They needed to see what was happening on a neural level. So I got a good grade…in science.

Last week, the team published the results of the study in Scientific reports, detailing what they saw in our brains when we stumbled. The most notable effect seen in all 12 subjects was a significant decrease in default mode network synchrony. This network is a network of brain regions that is primarily associated with internal thoughts but also plays a role in memory and emotion. It is activated when we think about ourselves and others or orient ourselves in space and time. Different areas of the brain will show increased activity when we focus on a specific task outside ourselves, such as reading or playing a musical instrument, but the default mode network is what emerges again when we return our attention to ourselves.

    (tags for translation)Drug

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