Summary: A new study in Neuroscience of Consciousness adds weight to previous findings about the potential benefits psychedelics could have for treating mental health disorders.

Source: University of Adelaide.

The altered state of consciousness and temporary lack of ego that results from using psychedelic drugs could help some mental health patients recover from their symptoms, according to academics at the University of Adelaide.

Researchers in the University’s Department of Philosophy have been studying the body of evidence around the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms, and the impact they have on people’s sense of “self”.

In a new article published online today in Aeon, authors Professor Philip Gerrans and recent PhD graduate Dr Chris Letheby say there is growing evidence to suggest that psychedelic experiences can be truly “transformative” — including helping some people with anxiety, depression, or addiction.

“We know quite a lot about the neurochemistry of psychedelic drugs and how they work on the brain. What’s poorly understood is the more complex relationship between the brain, our sense of self, and how we perceive the world,” says Professor Gerrans, who has been researching self-representation in psychiatric disorders.

In a recent paper published in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness, Professor Gerrans and Dr Letheby explain how users of psychedelic drugs often report that their sense of being a self or ‘I’ — distinct from the rest of the world – has diminished or completely “dissolved”.

“This ‘ego dissolution’ results in a moment of expanded awareness, a feeling in which the mind is put more directly and intensely in touch with the world,” Professor Gerrans says.

“Through this experience it may be possible to re-engineer the mechanisms of self, which in turn could change people’s outlook or world view. The profound sense of connection produced by this experience has the potential to be beneficial for people suffering from anxiety, depression, and some forms of addiction,” he says.

Dr Letheby says one of the reasons why psychiatric disorders are so hard to shake is that it’s almost impossible for sufferers to view things differently.

“People who go through psychedelic experiences no longer take it for granted that the way they’ve been viewing things is the only way,” Dr Letheby says.

“Psychedelics can assist in enlightening people about the processes behind their subjectivity. Ego dissolution offers vivid experiential proof not only that can things be different, but that there is an opportunity to seek change.”

The researchers do not advocate unsupervised recreational use of psychedelic drugs.

“These drugs were originally researched and used as treatments for various psychiatric conditions in the mid-20th century, with psychiatrists in the 1950s claiming success in treating alcoholism and other mental health conditions.

“It may be time for these drugs to make a psychiatric comeback, under controlled circumstances. More research would be needed to establish just how important they could be as part of an overall treatment program,” Professor Gerrans says.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Philip Gerrans – University of Adelaide
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience” by Chris Letheby and Philip Gerrans in Neuroscience of Consciosness. Published online June 30 2017 doi:10.1093/nc/nix016

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article

University of Adelaide “‘Ego Dissolving’ Psychedelic Drugs Could Assist With Mental Health.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 8 August 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/psychedelics-mental-health-7266/>.

University of Adelaide (2017, August 8). ‘Ego Dissolving’ Psychedelic Drugs Could Assist With Mental Health. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved August 8, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/psychedelics-mental-health-7266/

University of Adelaide “‘Ego Dissolving’ Psychedelic Drugs Could Assist With Mental Health.” http://neurosciencenews.com/psychedelics-mental-health-7266/ (accessed August 8, 2017).


Abstract

Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience

Users of psychedelic drugs often report that their sense of being a self or ‘I’ distinct from the rest of the world has diminished or altogether dissolved. Neuroscientific study of such ‘ego dissolution’ experiences offers a window onto the nature of self-awareness. We argue that ego dissolution is best explained by an account that explains self-awareness as resulting from the integrated functioning of hierarchical predictive models which posit the existence of a stable and unchanging entity to which representations are bound. Combining recent work on the ‘integrative self’ and the phenomenon of self-binding with predictive processing principles yields an explanation of ego dissolution according to which self-representation is a useful Cartesian fiction: an ultimately false representation of a simple and enduring substance to which attributes are bound which serves to integrate and unify cognitive processing across levels and domains. The self-model is not a mere narrative posit, as some have suggested; it has a more robust and ubiquitous cognitive function than that. But this does not mean, as others have claimed, that the self-model has the right attributes to qualify as a self. It performs some of the right kinds of functions, but it is not the right kind of entity. Ego dissolution experiences reveal that the self-model plays an important binding function in cognitive processing, but the self does not exist.

“Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience” by Chris Letheby and Philip Gerrans in Neuroscience of Consciosness. Published online June 30 2017 doi:10.1093/nc/nix016

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