What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity refers to how the brain changes over time as a result to external stimuli. This includes neuronal death, neurogenesis (new neurons), creating new neuronal pathways and creating new synaptic connections.
Why is it beneficial to increase neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is associated with learning, new experiences, and memory formation. The more efficiently the brain is able to create new neurons and new synaptic connections, the better we are able to perform these tasks. It can also benefit those with neurological disorders.
How do magic mushrooms improve your brain's neuroplasticity?
Magic mushrooms are thought to increase your brain's neuroplasticity via the 5HT1A serotonin receptor. In rodent studies, it has increased the rate of neurogenesis in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
The human brain has the incredible ability to adapt and develop even throughout adulthood. Experience — both joyful and traumatic — can cause the brain to recognise and create new synaptic connections, a quality known as neuroplasticity. And when we talk about neuroplasticity, we aren’t talking about an abstract psychological concept, but a tangible, measurable and observable brain change.
Ongoing research into psychedelics like psilocybin magic mushrooms continue to reveal what Terrence McKenna was talking about in Food of The Gods. Basically, psychedelics can change the way your brain works. And not in the negative way we were always taught to believe they would, but in a positive way that encourages continuing brain development.
To put it scientifically, there is continually emerging evidence that magic mushrooms improve your brian’s neuroplasticity.
In this article, we’re going to dive deeper into the term “neuroplasticity” and what it means, and look into some of the research behind psilocybin and its role in promoting neuroplasticity. Let’s jump straight in!
What is neuroplasticity?
Sometimes referred to as “brain plasticity” or “neural plasticity”, neuroplasticity is a term that describes the brain’s unique ability to create new synaptic connections and neural pathways. It also includes the brain’s ability to perform cortical remapping, a process that’s kind of like brain reorganization.
Neuroplasticity isn’t just a result of taking psilocybin or other substances. Morphological alterations in the brain and changes in neuronal morphology can occur because of life experience, aging, stress, neurotransmitters, and other environmental stimuli. Neuroplasticity occurs as a result of learning a new skill or forming a new memory or as a result of damage to the brain.
Until recently, scientists didn’t believe that adults could make new neurons. Essentially, if they died because of trauma or stress or disease, they were gone forever. But in the late 90s, researchers challenged the “no new neuron” dogma with research that showed neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus.
As you might have imagined, chronically stressful situations, whether physical, psychological, or social can impact the rate of neurogenesis. For example, chronic social stress reduces the rate of neurogenesis, but it also depends on the duration and severity of that stress. What our research in neuroplasticity shows is that this “damage” is reversible and isn’t really damage at all.
There are a number of neurogenic factors which are too long and too complex to get into. But scientists think that psilocybin might also be one of these neurogenic factors — which is extremely exciting when we consider the number of diseases for which neuroplasticity is a factor: traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease to name a few.
The take-home message is: neuroplasticity describes the way the brain changes anatomically as a response to stimulus. This also makes neuroplasticity a great tool for reversing brain damage and managing neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders.
How do psilocybin and magic mushrooms improve neuroplasticity?
Like we mentioned, psilocybin has been a neurogenic factor for humans for a long time, but has been grossly understudied over the years. At this stage in magic mushroom research, it primarily encompasses psychological afflictions such as addiction, depression, and anxiety.
Neuroplasticity is thought to play a role in all of these conditions, but psilocybin is rarely talked about in the context of neurological diseases and neuroplasticity. It’s not clear to what degree magic mushrooms will be applied in the context of neurological diseases, but according to some anecdotal evidence, people have had success treating traumatic brain injuries with psychedelics.
Let’s check out some of the research behind magic mushrooms and neuroplasticity.
In one study conducted on rodents at the John Hopkins University showed that psilocybin at low doses was able to increase the number of newborn neurons in the hippocampus. The study was conducted around fear conditioning, and mice on the low dose were able to extinguish fear conditioning faster than the placebo and high dose group. It's generally thought that this is mediated by the 5HT1A serotonin receptor.
In another study, researchers showed that psilocybin was able rapidly increase expression of genes that relate to neuroplasticity in the rodent brain. It was especially prevalent in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that largely governs executive function and memory.
It’s still unclear how much these studies will translate over into human brains as there are fundamental differences between rodents and humans! However, in either case, the research itself begs for more, showing the potential for psilocybin to activate positive neuroplasticity results.
What does this mean for the everyday mushroom user?
It’s hard to compare the magic mushroom experience with the jargon of neuroscience. Although some people genuinely emerge from a mushroom experience saying something like “I feel like I have a new brain” or “My brain rewired itself”. These aren’t uncommon feelings or statements to make after a magic mushroom journey. It is sometimes described as a feeling of fog lifting from the brain or the ability to “see clearer”.
It’s not yet scientifically proven how these findings might manifest as clinical outcomes. It’s too early to say. It might mean that people are able to use psilocybin to reverse brain damage or it might mean a lesser chance of relapse as an addict. But what about for the regular, soul-searching mushroom user?
Well, this is all speculation, but if there are neuroplastic changes occurring after a magic mushroom trip, it might be why some of us feel inclined to learn new skills or become more creative after the experience. Neuroplasticity is the outcome of learning and new experiences, and the profound psychedelic experience often lends itself to greater creativity, expression, and idea formation.
Many people also express the ability to “see things differently” after a magic mushroom journey. This sounds like another way of describing neuroplastic changes. For example, magic mushrooms can sometimes help us resolve a problem that seemed unresolvable before, whether it’s a math, romantic, or social problem. Could this be the result of creating new neuronal pathways or having greater synaptic connection?
It’s really hard to say what neuroplasticity means in terms of measurable effects for someone who doesn’t have much to measure. But even stress and coping are thought to be affected by functional and dysfunctional neuroplasticity. It’s just really unclear to which degree psilocybin elicits these changes and how a regular person might notice them.
The current research into magic mushrooms and neuroplasticity opens up doors for understanding how to undo different forms of brain damage. It also opens the door up for the potential of magic mushroom treatment in neurological disorders and not just psychological and psychiatric ones.
Do you think psilocybin has the ability to help us make new brain cells? What does your experience teach you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!