First-of-its-kind study hints at how psilocybin works in the brain to dissolve ego

The psychedelic experience can be rough on a person’s ego. Those who experiment with magic mushrooms and LSD often describe a dissolution of the self, otherwise known as ego-death, ego-loss, or ego-disintegration.

For some, the experience is life-changing; for others, it’s downright terrifying. Yet despite anecdote after anecdote of good trips and bad trips, no one really knows what these drugs actually do to our perception of self.

The human brain’s cortex is where the roots of self awareness are thought to lie, and growing evidence has shown the neurotransmitter, glutamate, is elevated in this region when someone is tripping. 

But up until now we’ve only had observational evidence. Now, for the first time, researchers have looked directly into how taking psilocybin affects glutamate activity in the brain. And the evidence suggests that our tripping experience, whether good or bad, might be linked to glutamate.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment, neuroscientists carefully analysed what happens to glutamate levels and a person’s ego when taking psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to monitor the brains of 60 healthy volunteers, the team found significant changes in activity in both the cortex and the hippocampus in those taking

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