The final frontier: mapping out the brain

NeoThe Mind

Whether you choose to traverse the mysteries of the mind through science or psychoactive substances, there’s no denying that the human brain is a wonderful, complex and, at times, frightening thing.

Why is mapping the brain so important?

This sentiment is shared not only amongst psychonauts, but also by many in the scientific community, who over the years have sought to unravel the mysteries of the mind by mapping out the brain into distinct regions. Developing such a map would help scientists garner a better understanding of the structure, function and connectivity of different parts of the brain, which potentially could have a major impact on the medical world and further our insight into how certain drugs interact with the human mind.

However, the accuracy of these maps has always been an issue of some debate. While modern magnetic resonance imaging methods are able to record blood flow in the brain during mental tasks, most maps have been constructed based on the results of a single type of measurement – a technique that can lead to incomplete and ambiguous conclusions.

A new piece of research promises to put an end to this dispute once and for all, with a team led by neuroscientist Matthew Glasser of Washington University Medical School recently releasing what some are dubbing ‘the ultimate brain map’.

The most detailed mapping of the human brain

The map was published on July 20 in the scientific journal Nature, and is the culmination of imaging data gathered from 210 healthy adults taking part in the Human Connectome Project. Comprised of 180 separate sections (97 of which have never before been identified) located on the outermost layer of the brain, it is the most detailed map of the human brain in existence.

How did the team manage to come up with such a precise map? Well, unlike previous studies, the researchers took a number of different metrics into account, including:

● Brain function
● Cortical thickness
● Topographic organisation of cells in brain tissue
● Myelin levels
● Connectivity between various regions of the brain

Combining these results into a single image was critical for the map’s accuracy.

“[Using multiple measurements] greatly increases confidence that they are producing the best in vivo estimates of cortical areas,” explained Thomas Yeo, a computational neuroscientist at the National University of Singapore.

For more details on the brain map, be sure to check out the following YouTube clip from Nature Video:

How will this brain map impact you?

While this map is – for now at least – the most accurate of its kind, it is important to note that it’s not a fully comprehensive depiction of the brain. In fact, as Robert Sovey, a scientist at Harvard’s Center for Biomedical Imaging explained, recording every neuron in the brain is nigh on impossible.

“No one thinks 180 is a perfect number, but it’s a powerful representation of where we are now,” stated Mr Savoy in reference to the number of sections in the brain map, as quoted by Wired.

So, it looks as though we’re still a long way off mapping out every twist and turn of the final frontier. Nevertheless, developing a stronger understanding of the mind and how different parts of the brain connect, communicate and influence each other may prove to have immense medical applications further down the line.

In addition, the detailed map may offer important clues that allow us to better comprehend how certain drugs affect the brain. For example, a study published in April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America used neuroimaging to show the effects of LSD on the brain. It’s possible that similar studies in the future, when used in conjunction when the new brain map, may provide us with greater insight into the ongoing enigma that is the human mind.

Terpenes – the perfume of cannabis

SempaiCannabis, Knowledge, Natural

I’m sure many of the more discerning pot smokers have noticed how the fragrant smells of cannabis hint at what the high might be like. Perhaps looking for promising fruity notes as well as that visual trichrome crystalline pop.

What you may not know is how those smells, which come from chemicals known as terpenes do actually effect the recreational and medical properties of your cannabis. Terpenes make the odorous and also psychoactive component of a wide variety of plants.

It’s a terpene that makes lavender relaxing, and a terpene that makes saffron tea a mood lifter. Terpenes drive aromatherapy. And unsurprisingly some of those fruity terpenes are found also in fruit. When combined with THC, many of these have a direct effect on the subjective high.

The terpenes in cannabis, like THC are made in the trichromes of the flowering female parts (buds). Terpenes are responsible for the complex aromas of various strains of cannabis. Simply put, they are what make cannabis have its particular intense and intoxicating smells.

While terpenes have been studied for medical effects, they are understudied in cannabis. We do know for sure that THC alone has less measurable and subjective effects than the whole plant chemical complex. I think subjectively if we compare experience with the science we have, we can have a good idea what they each do, and it is consistent and studied enough for pot smokers to consider it relatively settled.

So onto the goodies!

Chill 420

There’s a few terpenes that directly enhance THC, and provide additional relaxation. They directly influence the buzz.

Myrcene is one of the most common terpenes. It’s also present in ripe mangos, if you want a clue to what to smell for; it’s very concentrated near the skins. It’s a peculiar smell, hard to describe, but smell ripe mangos and you’ll know what I am talking about. This terpene is relaxing. It provides some analgesia and is the terpene that helps classic Indica strains create ‘couchlock’.

It’s very high in mango-y smelling strains, and in my opinion like limonene helps mitigate anxiety. However, Myrcene seems also seems to potentiate THC, making the effect stronger as well which can counter balance that a little. So it combines hard hitting, with a relaxed body buzz. Examples include White widow, Skunk #1 & Mango.

Limonene is another common terpene. It has a smell exactly like orange peels. Orange smelling strains are high in limonene. Typically, I find this to be the most anti-anxiety terpene, ideal for smokers prone to anxiety – look for the fruity smell. Limonene is mood boosting and calming, resulting in a very chill mood positive buzz – less psychedelic. Examples include Jack the Ripper, Lemon Skunk & Orange Roughy.

Linalool is another familiar smell. It’s that strange smell you get from lavender. Sort of woody and flowery like lavender. It is a powerful relaxant and will promote calming effects in cannabis. It may even reduce inflammation from smoking. The anti-anxiety effects again are ideal for lighter smokers – examples include Lavender & G-13.

Spicy and wakeful

Alpha Pinene & Beta Pinene promote wakefulness and memory retention. Piney smelling verities of cannabis are alert, active highs. These compounds slightly counter THCs effects. Ideal for blazing on a busy day. Jack Herer and Super Silver Haze are examples.

Some terpenes have no psychoactive effects like Acaryophyllene, although such compounds may also have medical effects (There are many medical effects for all terpenes, but it’s hard to know how applicable they are as a whole plant complex smoked). This terpene is peppery and woody, but is anti-inflammatory and analgesic – also found in clove. It also may be anti-depressant. In cannabis it’s found for example in Big Bang.

Now there are many more, but ones we know less and less about. And things like THC, CBN, CBD ratios make up another very significant part of the high. Higher THC makes for a more stimulating, psychedelic high (white or purple trichromes), and more CBD/CBN makes for a more physical relaxing medicinal high (orange or yellow trichromes).

But If you are to take home one thing make it this, the smell of a cannabis plant is almost like it’s fingerprint – the notes of smell in there tell you what kind of buzz you might expect. Get familiar with the smells, and you’ll know what you are dealing with better.



Top Five moments in psychedelic history: Part 2, Psychiatry

SempaiLSD, Natural, Psychedelics, Psychoactive Substances, Research

I got inspired by this series idea, so I’ll definitely be bringing a few more. This week I want to focus on psychiatric history of psychedelic experimentation. Not only because it’s very interesting as general reading, but also because it showcases some of the amazing potential of consciousness altering drugs.

Ancient Shamanism

Since ancient times, man has used psychedelics as a means to enter the spirit world. The primary task for such states was to diagnose and heal illnesses – typically taken to mean by modern folk as colds and the like – but anything manifesting as ‘mental illness’ would have been brought to the medicine man, or shaman.

In some culture’s naturally occurring altered states like this were taken as the birth of a new shaman. In one African village, such people were taken into the mountains to find a totem. A pretty vast contrast to our pills and mental wards. But we can see the link actually when we see that not only do many ancient herbal medicines actually work scientifically, but the use of psychedelics has since been shown to help with many varied things such as; fear of death in the terminally ill, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism/drug addiction, depression, and cluster headaches. Ancient wisdoms.

So in fact there are many things that psychedelic trance rituals performed in a shamanic manner, that could potentially heal, primarily those afflictions of the mind. And it comes as no surprise to me at least, that Shamanic drugs, are those exact same drugs that science has found with these potentials in a controlled setting – the same kind of nurturing, safe environment, that shamanic healers for Ayahuasca still use for modern seekers after all these years.

And like mindfulness and hypnotism we as modern people are just rediscovering the power that lies inside psychedelic drugs, and inside ourselves now. And these practices I believe should inform us.

“You don’t find light by avoiding the darkness.”
― S. Kelley Harrell

1950s & Alcoholism

Aldous Huxley actually took mescaline in a trial by Humphry Osmond, one of just a few enthusiastic psychiatric experimenters in the 1950s. Osmond actually invented the term psychedelic, to mean ‘mind manifesting’. Osmond studied medicine. He went on to work with Abram Hoffer on studies with LSD. They gave the drug to many patients but worked extensively with alcoholism. They gave the drug to over 2000 alcoholic patients, and found that 40-45% of those given the drug were improved or did not relapse. Which actually pales in comparison with modern trials.

Ronald Sandison over in the UK was doing similar experiments. He actually opened the world’s first dedicated LSD therapy clinic. It was essentially a series of comfortable rooms for therapy, relaxation and music.

Alcoholics Anonymous ended up supporting Osmond in Canada. In the 50’s and 60’s LSD was widely considered the next big thing in therapy. Two forms of therapy became popular. Psychedelic therapy, which as it sounds is therapy and psychedelics at the same time. Psycholytic therapy by contrast was slowly increasing small doses of drug, as an alongside therapy, with talk therapy occurring separately. Some 40,000 patients were treated in this period with LSD.

In the early sixties, the laws were changed, the whole thing was shut down, and LSD instead became popular on the street. End of era.

Underground MDMA & LSD

During the illegal years, scientists and therapists continued to study these substances out of the light of the public eye. And in the late 1970s MDMA came about – and it was not yet illegal (It was banned in 1985). The 70’s birthed a lot of underground researchers, but of course the whole thing is a little obscure being underground.

German psychiatrist Friederike Fischer and her partner Konrad ran experiments on psychedelics and they were eventually arrested. Those experiments were essentially shamanic group therapy groups using first MDMA, then later in the session, LSD or 2CB.  When the media got wind of this, they branded the couple as ‘evil’ and accused them of conducting ‘sex orgies’.

Numerous individual cases of MDMA therapy for bereavement and PTSD were reported. I can only assume if those are the visible ones, there was a lot more therapists exploring options for their treatment resistant patients.

Rick Doblin was interested in LSD and eventually MDMA, and frustrated with the limits on research founded MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies – an, as it turned out successful attempt to legitimize psychedelic research.

The 1990s cautious revival

When the 1990s saw renewed interest in these substances and their use in therapy, we knew a lot more about the biology. Can we thank MAPS for this revival? I think we can.

Neuroreceptors, brain scanning, chemistry had given us all a much deeper understanding of what these drugs actually did – although the now accepted mechanical explanation for the main well known psychedelics and how they work in the brain, was back then only a theory. As an aside, this is simply the notion that by turning up quiet parts of the brain, and turning down the typically louder parts, more connectivity is enabled, and parts of the brain that don’t normally talk do. Interestingly that notion is not wildly removed from Huxley’s ‘radio tuning’ analogy.

In the 90s, the number of drugs of interest expanded a lot, including psilocybin, ketamine and MDMA. And the scope of the target afflictions broadened a lot too; PTSD, depression, Parkinson’s – so much more than before. Of course the new drug research needed a cleaner image, so in public at least, researchers did not reveal any drug taking behaviour themselves. These trials were more robust, and thoroughly conclusive on the high effectiveness of these drugs for addiction, depression, PTSD and so much more.

Here in the nineties MDMA was studied for resistant PTSD sufferers, war veterans. The follows earlier research on bereavement and MDMA. An incredible 83% of those resistant PTSD sufferers no longer qualified as PTSD, after treatment with MDMA in trials. Honestly as someone with a background in psychology, this sort of result is kind of mind blowing.

We are talking here 70-80%+ effectiveness on many of the 1990s and present decade trials for afflictions that are often treatment resistant, and typically medicines are anywhere between 50 and 70% effective. Some cancer treatments considered valid work less than 5% of the time. What we have there is mental health treatment tools powerful enough to be called ‘cure weapons’.

Not a researcher but rather, a botanist and author – Terence McKenna, was also influential in the 1990s, and wrote about shamanism, the history of drug use, and rave culture. I read his book once ‘Food of the Gods’, it’s very interesting; worth a look.

“I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.[

2010 and beyond

Changes in laws in many countries have actually adapted now to enable psychedelic research, and also research into cannabis. The cautious rebirth of the 1990s, has ushered in a stricter, and also more productive era of psychedelic research. One can only hope that more countries follow suit here and even; let’s hope allow psychedelics for proven therapies and their indicated conditions.

In 2010 experimentation showed that magic mushrooms can lower fear of death and existential crisis in terminal cancer patients. In this decade, Ketamine has been shown to be profoundly effective (like 80%) for severe and seemingly intractable addictions.

In this decade magic mushrooms were shown to be very effective for depression. When anti-depressants are combined with therapy the level of success is considered very high, around 60-70%. And yet magic mushrooms for depression sit around the same level, actually higher around 70%. That is to say, a single dose session of magic mushrooms as more effective than months of anti-depressants and talk therapy!

And it is in these decade not only brain scans, but neuron path tracing techniques have proven the “dimming” theory of psychedelic action of drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms. We are literally in a psychedelic research boom, a new era of understanding. There was a time when organisations like ‘MAPS’ seemed to me, to be very ambitious. Now we are in a time when the idea that these drugs may actually move into therapy seems tangible, possible. Fingers crossed, let the human spirit be cured of it’s ills!

Top Five Moments in Psychedelic History – Part 1

SempaiKnowledge, LSD, Natural, Psychedelics, Psychoactive Substances, Spiritual, Trippy

lsd space man

I’m taking a break this week from my still ongoing plant high series, to have a little look at a few of the movers and shakers in the modern psychedelic movement. This will be a new series, looking at different time periods in drug history in various cultures.

“When you study natural science and the miracles of creation, if you don’t turn into a mystic you are not a natural scientist” – Hoffman

Accidental LSD

Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD for the first time in 1938, looking for something else. It wasn’t until 1943 when he accidentally consumed some, that he realized it was hallucinogenic. Hoffman was a proponent of the new and modern practice of micro-dosing, seeing LSD primarily as a low dose tonic that improves the mind, and mental health. He also became quite mystical, like many who explore these drugs. He is still held as the symbol of increased research and legal acceptance for psychedelic drugs as therapeutics and mind expansion tools.

accidental lsd acid stop tripping hofmann

“I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our world view.” – Hoffman

LSD and Modern Psychedelics

Until more recently, most drugs were still available, legal, and at least purchasable via mail order. The military have studied LSD extensively, mostly for mind control, stress testing and as a truth serum. It was in 1967 after the boom days of LSD general psychiatric experimentation and personal use, that it was banned, following public hysteria.

lsd modern psychedelics

LSD has been connected to the hippy movement, psychedelic rock, psychedelic trance, rave, the micro-dosing business community, psychology/psychiatry, new scientific research, our understanding of consciousness and much more besides. It has driven culture in a way that is new for modern people.

Indeed, it has created an interest in eastern cultures, altered states, mindfulness and meditation, changed our very scientific understanding of ourselves. Psychedelic drugs have in a very real and tangible sense produced a revolution of the mind in modern society. There is no question we’d be different if we hadn’t discovered them.

In the Kitchen

Alexander Shulgin was a pharmacologist. He worked with the DEA, granting him a schedule one license for his lab. He developed and sampled over 230 psychoactive chemicals. He is one of the recreational pioneers of MDMA, and developed numerous drugs that eventually ended up on the street, and particular in the dance music community, and later the legal synthetic industry.

Drugs like 2-CB,  5-Meo-DALT. Almost everything we see today in chemical drugs, is touched by Shulgin’s work, and shaped by his understanding, and experiments with his friends, exploring the psychedelic chemical landscape.

Alexander Shulgin LSD kitchen

Alexander Shulgin

In the parlance on the street, he was the worlds ultimate cook.

“How long will this last, this delicious feeling of being alive, of having penetrated the veil which hides beauty and the wonders of celestial vistas? It doesn’t matter, as there can be nothing but gratitude for even a glimpse of what exists for those who can become open to it.” -Shulgin

Exploring Consciousness

Timothy Leary was a psychologist and activist, advocating for psychedelic drugs to be used in therapeutic and controlled settings. He conducted several experiments on LSD and psilocybin. He was a part of the 1960s counter culture movement, and he developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal living. His writing style in his books are simultaneously intelligent and yet symbolic, contradictory and a trip of a sort in itself.

He is also credited with work with the profoundly psychedelic tryptamine DMT, in describing a sort of seemingly universal experience of those who take the drug, a vision of travelling through a tunnel or corridor of light patterns into a weird world populated by strange creatures, which has inspired more than a passing interest by the public in this drug.

how long does lsd last

“The PC is the LSD of the ’90s.” – Leary

Writer and Mystic

Aldous Huxley cannot be missed in such a quick tour of the big names. He is a writer, he wrote the predictive and culturally iconic ‘1984’. He also wrote the nearly as iconic ‘The Doors of Perception’, a psychedelic cultural go-to. His works are mystically coherent and socially profound.

 “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” – Huxley

He created for example, the following interesting model. The idea is simply this, that the brain, the body, the mind, is simply like a radio. A receiver, rather than a source of consciousness. The consciousness is more like a signal we tune into and narrow down. That beyond our little narrow band of reception lies a seething sea of conscious experience – and that is what we touch on briefly, under the influence of psychedelics, altered states or in madness.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” – Huxley

psychedelic mystics

Natures Highs: Part 3 – Opening the Third Eye

SempaiDrugs, Legal Highs, LSD, Psychedelics, Psychoactive Substances, Spiritual, Trippy

There are in fact loads of psychedelics in nature. Unfortunately, some of these plants are illegal to own, and some illegal to process.

So in this week’s addition about psychedelic plant drugs in New Zealand, I’ll be dividing the plants up into “Legal to own, but not process” and “Legal in general”. It’s important to note that some plants like San Pedro are common, legal to possess but processing them, such as making a tea from one, or extracting the Mescaline, as Mescaline is a Class A drug, is a felony – so please I advise you not to do this.

Remember also, that if you wish to explore the self, meditation, floatation and hypnosis are effective routes!

Fully Legit

The plants that are fully legal are often pretty mild in effect, but effective all the same.

On the less LSD like side, we have ‘Sun Opener’ which I have not personally tried, but it apparently produces a cannabis like psychedelia and colored vision. It’s well enough rated by others to be worthy of a mention, certainly not euphoric like cannabis, but relaxing and mind expanding. Kawa Kawa, a Maori medicinal commonly used is an odd one. Similar in some ways to nutmeg, but preferable – a strange stone and twilight subtle psychedelia, but overall more interesting and short lived than nutmeg. Not exactly recreational, but a possibly useful plant and some people enjoy the tea to relax.

On the more LSD like side, there is Calamus, or Sweet Flag. It’s used in herbal medicine for a variety of ailments, and was used by the American Indians as a hiking or travelling herb – chewed in low doses it produces a sort of cheerful, floaty, uplifted space. I used this one many times, and at this dose, it does create an enjoyable lifting of mood. In higher doses still it creates a deeper psychedelic state – deeply introspective, dreamy with brighter colors, and some melting and breathing visuals.  This might sound weird, but it is somehow dreamy like a rainy day, trance-like.

And Galangal is another interesting stop. It’s a root and spice used in cooking; it’s supposed to be pretty zesty. Brewed as a tea in sufficient doses it produces mild LSD like effects, visuals, and associated introspective mild space. But only a little bit, it’s mild. And the spice is very full on, so that’s also worth considering if you want to try it.

Great to Collect

Basically almost any plant is legal to cultivate – in New Zealand, even the famous Opium Poppy can be legally grown, as can the almost as famous Peyote – if you have a membership with the cactus society. But that doesn’t mean you can bleed your poppy pods, or manufacture mescaline. A lot of these plants have interesting cultural significance so I think worth collecting for that reason alone. And these next ones have strikingly beautiful flowers.

A common plant that grows wild all around New Zealand – Morning Glory, and it’s less common, stronger cousin, Hawaiian Baby Wood rose. The seeds of these plants contain the psychoactive d-lysergic acid amide; related to LSD. This is actually a very interesting set of plant relatives. Morning Glory was used in Aztec culture as a sacred ritual plant. The ticitl would use morning glory to determine the cause of illnesses, for healing and it was also used as a local anesthetic. Its effects are very reminiscent of a, less visual, more mental LSD.

“It makes one besotted; it deranges one, troubles one, maddens one, makes one possessed. He who eats it, who drinks it, sees many things which greatly terrify him. He is really frightened [by the] poisonous serpent which he sees for that reason.” – The Florentine Codex

The Remedy

Next up is a relative of the aforementioned Peyote – San Pedro. Also know as “El Remedio”: The Remedy amongst Andean healers. It’s a common as garden ornamental, and it has a long history of use as a healing plant by Andean cultures, and with at least one American Indian tribe. This cactus, like Peyote, contains Mescaline. It creates a long lasting psychedelic experience that is breathy, mentally calm compared to LSD, and yet powerfully psychedelic, emotionally changing and profoundly visual.

It’s longer lasting than LSD, with a main effect of 8 or so hours, but a tail off effect of mild effects that lasts just as long. Of course eating cactus or cactus tea is not only illegal but it makes one nauseous and tastes like cucumber juice and dishwasher detergent! The traditional users of this plant regarded the ingestion as a test of purity and fortitude.

“First, a dreamy state… then great visions, a clearing of all the faculties… and then detachment, a type of visual force inclusive of the sixth sense, the telepathic state of transmitting oneself across time and matter, like a removal of thoughts to a distant dimension”.

Reality Wobbles

Last one is an odd one. Salvia divinorum. You probably won’t find this at your local plant store. It’s unique effects at the kappa opioid site create some of the strangest psychedelic effects I have ever experienced. The Mazatec Indians used this plant traditionally for healing, and medicine and it is often believed that perhaps the Aztecs also did. It’s not uncommon for the Mazatec to wash the chewed leaves down with tequila:

“It lights up the mouth like a rainbow, it’s like a pastel sunrise breaking in the east.”

An experience this drug can result in strange experiences such as; completely forgetting you ingested a drug immediately after you have done so, feeling like the world is tilting, or that you are being drawn somewhere without being able to resist like a magnet. You may experience being an actual table leg for thirty minutes (I’m serious), or travel to other places in your mind with eyes closed. It’s honestly quite an overwhelming and strange experience, almost like travelling fully to another dimension. It may not be illegal to consume (so far as I am aware), but the obscurities of the psychoactive substances act, however, like suggest it is illegal to trade/sell in extracted or processed form.

It’s like cat paws, soft cat paws pressing, or like a bunch of bird tongues lapping the mind. Or like tiny fingers, the way ivy fingers reach out to climb a wall”