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How are Psychedelics, the DMN and the Ego connected?

Most people who take psychedelics such as LSD, magic mushrooms, or others start feeling as if the barrier that separates them from the rest of the world has been broken. If you have taken it before, you may recall feeling as if you are connected with everything. Did you know that there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon?Scientists call it "ego dissolution”.

Because of this effect, scientists think that further studies into LSD and how it functions can reveal a lot about how the human brain functions. However, it was also noted that research into psychedelics should be conducted in highly controlled environments.

Ego dissolution may be a benefit for some, but some will find the experience to be a bit overwhelming. There have been reports of people who took psychedelics and experienced anxiety and panic. Let's take a deeper look into the science behind ego dissolution and related phenomena.

The Connection Between Psychedelics and the DMN

Did you know that the brain only makes up two percent of your body weight? What's interesting is that even if it's far much smaller than everything else, it consumes about 20% of the body's energy. Even when you are doing nothing, there'll be lots of things happening in the brain.

If you have looked into how the brain functions before, you probably came across information about the different regions of the brain. For the brain to function properly, these regions have to be connected. This is where the Default Mode Network (DMN) comes in. This is a highly connected network that links brain regions. The DMN kicks in when you are not focusing your attention on anything. This explains why it's called "default."

The DMN was discovered accidentally by a neurobiologist named Marcus Raichle. Many areas of the brain are connected by this network. However, some areas are more involved than others. The primary players in the DMN include the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPC), The Inferior Parietal Lobe (IPL), and The Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC).

Brain scans indicate that these areas light up quickly during daydreaming or when you are ruminating about the past or thinking about the future. Most of the functions of this network were discovered to be highly self-referential. It connects memory and self. While this mainly involves self-reflection, it also involves self-criticism as well.

This is why DMN is linked to several mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and OCD. Several studies are showing that patients who suffer from chronic pain display increased DMN activity when they ruminate about their pain. This is probably a result of increased functional connectivity, which leads to negatively skewed perception.

The Effect of Psychedelics on the DMN

LSD, Mescaline, DMT, and Psilocybin are some of the most popular psychedelics. These substances function by binding to serotonin receptors in the central nervous system. They mimic serotonin, a neurotransmitter that's associated with feelings of well-being.

Brain scans have shown that psychedelics cause an increase in DMN activity. They help establish new neurological connections. This is probably the action responsible for the majority of effects felt by people who take psychedelics.

Shutting down the DMN has also been shown to have beneficial mental health effects. This is especially true when trying to address conditions that involve rigid thinking patterns. Scientists discovered that the DMN is the part of the brain responsible for what is known as the ego.

Psychedelics, particularly in high doses, have been shown to promote ego distortion. In some instances, they have even led to total ego dissolution. Therefore, when it comes to DMN, psychedelics can reduce brain chatter or help increase connectivity, which helps come up with new solutions to the problems of the mind.

The consumption of psychedelics can bring about profound experiences. Most people who take them feel like they are one with everything. This feeling of having deeper connections to surroundings, people, and the universe can positively impact people even after the effects of psychedelics wear off.

Scientists think it's due to the resetting of the DMN, which creates antidepressant effects. In simpler terms, it enables the user to see that things can be different and can significantly improve their mental health outcomes.

More About the DMN and Ego Dissolution

A 2016 study by the Imperial College London used several neuroimaging methods to measure electrical activity and investigate the association between LSD and observed psychological responses. It was observed that LSD, in particular, is capable of dampening the function of the DMN. This decrease in activity is thought to be responsible for "ego dissolution" or "ego death."

Another psychedelic, Psilocybin, was investigated by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. It was also shown that it's capable of inducing ego death. Participants found these experiences to be deeply meaningful. Some experienced sustained changes in behavior and attitude even after LSD doses.

Generally, your ego is responsible for creating and harboring negative thoughts. When you are depressed or anxious, you tend to become self-absorbed. This leads to a situation where your thoughts are narrowly focused on yourself.

As such, you won't be able to step back and analyze the complete picture. You can think of your ego as a boundary that isolates you from the rest of the world. It disconnects you from nature and even yourself.

With ego dissolution, the boundaries that separate you from the rest of the world are destroyed. It's almost as if you zoom out and realize that things may not be as bad as you imagined. You won't be an individual isolated from everything else anymore.

Instead, you start seeing and feeling that you are interconnected with everything around you and that life is one giant web. It may not be logical, but this experience is described as an incredible feeling of love and reconnection.

The experience of ego death can be tremendously healing. Your consciousness can extend itself beyond the boundaries set by your individual experiences. It essentially becomes one with the rest of the world.

While under the effects of psychedelics, you start realizing that you are highly insignificant. That might sound defeating, but it can also be extremely freeing to realize that the whole world isn't focused on your present circumstances. You'll see that you are just one person existing for a small amount of time in the grand scheme of everything.

It's crucial to note that while these experiences can be freeing, they can also be terrifying in some instances. You can, therefore, think of the psychedelic experience as both fearful and enlightening. Researchers indicate that what you feel mostly depends on whether you are ready for the journey.

One of the most interesting things about ego dissolution is the temporary brain resetting brought about by the effects of psychedelics. This brings about lasting therapeutic effects that stick around even after the drug is out of the body. Such effects are described by many as the most meaningful experiences they have ever gone through. They are useful if you want to break free from negative thought patterning and become more psychologically flexible.

Mental Health Conditions Associated with Overactivity of the Default Mode Network

The evidence that psychedelics can modulate DMN is overwhelming. This means that these substances can play a role in mitigating the effects of mental health conditions that are associated with DMN. The network is overactive in mental health conditions like OCD, depression, and anxiety.

DMN hyperactivity has been seen to lead to experiences of "hypercriticality." You can think of these as negative thought loops that are automatic. People who experience this have highly negative thoughts about themselves.

Imagine that you are at work, and you tell a joke. But instead of being met with laughter, people keep quiet and go about their business. You can forget about it at the moment and even get back to work. However, when you go home at night, you start failing to sleep because you are worried about the bad joke you told. You start blaming yourself for being such a fool and regretting why you had to tell the joke in the first place. You'll even think that others haven't forgotten about it and will forever judge you for it. This is what DMN hyperactivity looks like, and it's what happens in individuals who suffer from anxiety, depression, and OCD.

For such people, ego dissolution will be highly beneficial. It can even transform their lives and lead to acceptance, peace, and a new perspective on life. Some scientists have found that psychedelics enhance information sharing between different brain sections. This reinforces the link between your self of self and the rest of the world.

Ready to Experience Ego Dissolution?

When you take psychedelics, you will feel like the barrier that separates you from everything else has been broken. As such, you will start feeling like you are connected with all things. If you want to learn more about the effects of psychedelics and how they work, you can be part of a research trial. The National Institutes of Health is always looking for clinical trials that accept volunteers. You should never try psychedelics unless you are in a controlled environment and under the supervision of experts.

Sascha Mayr

Sascha Mayr · 12/13/2022

Decorative Wave
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Reviewed by

Hope Martyn

Hope Martyn

Freelance Native Content Writer & Reviewer

Hi, I'm Hope, I'm a native English Speaker from England but based now in Portugal. I love all things Technological, Travel and Mental Well being. I also have a BA Hons Media Production degree.