Therapeutic Benefits of Psychedelics

Neuroimaging has revealed the neural basis of the intense imagery induced by the "spirit vine", a hallucinogenic brew long used by rain forest shamans to provoke mystical visions.

What's the Latest Development?

Ayahuasca—meaning 'spirit vine' in Quechua languages— is a hallucinogenic brew that has been used for centuries by rain forest shamans as a religious sacrament. The infusion facilitates mystical visions and revelations, and is said to have healing properties. There had been very few studies of how it affects brain function until recently a team of Brazilian researchers reported on one of the very first functional neuroimaging studies of the drug's effects.

What's the Big Idea?

The new study contributes to understanding of how this class of drugs affects brain function. It suggests that the visions induced by ayahuasca engage the brain's memory circuits, and that this may "feed" activity in the primary visual cortex, which in turn drives activity in the other visual areas. All of these effects are thought to be mediated by increased activation of serotonin receptors throughout the brain regions involved.

Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less