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Microdosing magic truffles makes you more creative, new study finds
Is microdosing magic truffles a way to unlock your creative potential? That's long been anecdotal, but the evidence is coming.
- A recent study showed that microdosing magic truffles can significantly increase one's creative thinking.
- Published in Psychopharmacology, the study joins a growing body of research showing the potential benefits of low-dose psychedelics.
- While this research comes with limitations, it could open up many avenues to improve anxiety and work conditions in society.
What is microdosing anyway?
A Dutch smart shop displaying Psilocybe, the genus of magic mushrooms and magic truffles.
(Photo from Wikimedia)
Psychologists James Fadiman and Sophia Korb have compiled more than 1,500 reports detailing individual experiences with microdosing. Based on their research, they define microdosing as when a user takes a small amount of a psychotropic drug, such as LSD, peyote, or magic truffles. A typical microdose lands between one-tenth and one-twentieth of a recreational hit.
As with any drug, effective dosages vary based on the individual's metabolism and tolerance. The microdoser's aim is to take just enough of the substance to heighten mental activity and create a feeling of calm energy, but not enough to hallucinate. If the door's wood grain morphs into a visage of a Gene Wilder-looking mango giving them the double guns, they've overshot the micro mark and adjust the dose.
Most microdosers follow a regiment of one day on, two days off. Others only imbibe when they feel it would be useful for a particular project.
Micro dose, major boost
The study, led by PhD student Luisa Prochazkova under the supervision of Dr. Bernhard Hommel, took place at an event organized by the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands. Thirty-eight volunteers were asked to perform three tests: a picture concept task, an alternative uses task, and a progressive matrices task.
The picture concept task required participants to find a common association among several objects, while ruling out inappropriate ones. The alternative uses task asked the participants to conceive of as many uses for a common household object as possible within a time limit. Taken together, these two tests measured the participants' convergent and divergent thinking skills, both signs of creativity and elastic thinking.
The progressive matrices task tested the participants' fluid intelligence, which is a person's ability to solve problems with reason and logical thinking.
After the first round of tests, participants were given 0.37 grams of dried magic truffles and repeated another set of tests. The results were significant.
"[O]ur results suggest that consuming a microdose of truffles allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem, thus providing preliminary support for the assumption that microdosing improves divergent thinking," Prochazkova said in a statement. "Moreover, we also observed an improvement in convergent thinking, that is, increased performance on a task that requires the convergence on one single correct or best solution."
The study showed no significant difference on fluid intelligence.
More mind-bending studies
If your brain reaches this level of creativity, you may have overshot the microdosing mark.
Other tests have shown microdosing psilocybin mushrooms can have other efficacious results.
A study published in The Lancet had participants take psilocybin capsules to combat depression alongside supportive therapy. The participants, who had proven to be treatment resistant beforehand, reported improvement in their symptoms. The researchers expressed hope that psilocybin's chemical structure, which is unique from traditional antidepressants, will open up new avenues for treatment.
A similar study from the University of Zurich found that psilocybin inhibits the brain's limbic system, an area associated with controlling emotions and instinctual urges. By slowing down the amygdala specifically, the drug repressed negative emotions in patients and improved their moods.
Yet another study from Johns Hopkins University suggested that magic truffles could weaken nicotine addiction and help smokers quit.
Tying these studies together is one published in PNAS. It looked at patients high on psilocybin while they were in an fMRI machine. The scans revealed that the compound not only inhibits the limbic system but also the prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex, areas associated with personality expression, filtering stimuli intake, and intrinsic control.
This proved counter to what many assume is responsible for the magic in the mushrooms—rather than ramping up the brain's activity to 11, psilocybin throttles activity down to a crawl. The disconnection between these specific areas of the brain could explain why psilocybin not only lessens depression but, which taken at a high enough dose, also leads to hallucinations and feelings of oneness with the world.
"The results seem to imply that a lot of brain activity is actually dedicated to keeping the world very stable and ordinary and familiar and unsurprising," Robin Carhart-Harris, the study's lead author, told Time. "It shuts off this ruminating area and allows the mind to work more freely."
Limitations to studying the expanding mind
Microdoses of a magic truffle.
Image: Big Think.
But don't rush out to ask your 16-year-old cousin for his dealer's number. Not just yet.
The Psychopharmacology study lacked several strict experimental controls, making it a preliminary study and far from the final word. It had a small sample size (only 38 participants), provided no control group, did not look for a placebo effect, and neither researchers nor participants were blinded to the use of psilocybin. It is also possible that participants improved simply because they had taken the test beforehand.
The other studies mentioned also lacked these controls, especially with regard to small sample size and not looking at long-term effects.
Of course, the authors of the Psychopharmacology study are upfront about these limitations and recommend future studies have "lab-based randomized double-blind placebo-controlled experimental designs" that take the subjective experience into account.
While these studies suggest magic truffles deliver on their mind-expanding promises, at the moment that remains a suggestion at best. Further and much more rigorous research must be performed before we can say magic truffles can definitively increase creativity and relax our inner critics. Should that day never come, there's always the Overmind to look forward to.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>
Why Depression Isn't Just a Chemical Imbalance<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbc027c9358dad4a6d9e2704fc9ddb04"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GAC9ODvSxh0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Many years ago, my best friend tried to quit smoking. He asked for help. While I'm no addiction expert, I offered what I knew from my fitness toolkit: breathing exercises and cardiovascular training, methods for strengthening his body and mind that could, I hoped, inspire him to take better care of himself in general. He replied, "No, I meant something like a pill."</p><p>A few years later, he quit for good. After failing the cold turkey method a number of times, it finally stuck. Maybe it was watching his children grow up—the reason my parents quit when I was young. This method is not easy, however. It challenges you; it forces you to confront your demons; it drastically affects your brain chemistry. Yet, in the long run, it sometimes works. </p><p>Sometimes pills work, too. But often they do not. The journalist Robert Whitaker, author of "Anatomy of an Epidemic," discussed the clinical trial process <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/antidepressants-dangers" target="_self">during our recent conversation</a>. While the FDA process appears thorough from the outside, pharmaceutical companies only need to prove that a drug works better than placebo, not that it works for the most amount of people. He continues, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Let's say you have a drug that provides a relief of symptoms in 20 percent of people. In placebo, it's 10 percent. How many people in that study do not benefit from the drug? Nine out of 10. How many people are exposed to the adverse effects of the drug? 100 percent."</p><p>Even though some pharmacological interventions show little efficacy, and even though Xanax, an addictive and destructive benzodiazepine that only showed <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846112/" target="_blank">short-term (four weeks) efficacy</a> in clinical trials, is being prescribed for many months and years, doctors continue to use the language of clinical neuroscience to describe mental health issues. If chemistry is the problem, people will turn to chemistry for the solution. </p><p>Perhaps we should, as psychiatrist Dean Schuyler <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">writes</a> in a 1974 book, recognize that most depressive episodes "will run their course and terminate with virtually complete recovery without specific intervention." The problem is that idea isn't profitable. As long as the gatekeepers continue to use the language of chemical imbalances to describe what for many is just an episodic case of the "blahs," we'll continue creating more problems than we solve.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."