Concept: Altered state of consciousness
What is the level of consciousness of the psychedelic state? Empirically, measures of neural signal diversity such as entropy and Lempel-Ziv (LZ) complexity score higher for wakeful rest than for states with lower conscious level like propofol-induced anesthesia. Here we compute these measures for spontaneous magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals from humans during altered states of consciousness induced by three psychedelic substances: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD. For all three, we find reliably higher spontaneous signal diversity, even when controlling for spectral changes. This increase is most pronounced for the single-channel LZ complexity measure, and hence for temporal, as opposed to spatial, signal diversity. We also uncover selective correlations between changes in signal diversity and phenomenological reports of the intensity of psychedelic experience. This is the first time that these measures have been applied to the psychedelic state and, crucially, that they have yielded values exceeding those of normal waking consciousness. These findings suggest that the sustained occurrence of psychedelic phenomenology constitutes an elevated level of consciousness - as measured by neural signal diversity.
The experiences induced by psychedelics share a wide variety of subjective features, related to the complex changes in perception and cognition induced by this class of drugs. A remarkable increase in introspection is at the core of these altered states of consciousness. Self-oriented mental activity has been consistently linked to the Default Mode Network (DMN), a set of brain regions more active during rest than during the execution of a goal-directed task. Here we used fMRI technique to inspect the DMN during the psychedelic state induced by Ayahuasca in ten experienced subjects. Ayahuasca is a potion traditionally used by Amazonian Amerindians composed by a mixture of compounds that increase monoaminergic transmission. In particular, we examined whether Ayahuasca changes the activity and connectivity of the DMN and the connection between the DMN and the task-positive network (TPN). Ayahuasca caused a significant decrease in activity through most parts of the DMN, including its most consistent hubs: the Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC)/Precuneus and the medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC). Functional connectivity within the PCC/Precuneus decreased after Ayahuasca intake. No significant change was observed in the DMN-TPN orthogonality. Altogether, our results support the notion that the altered state of consciousness induced by Ayahuasca, like those induced by psilocybin (another serotonergic psychedelic), meditation and sleep, is linked to the modulation of the activity and the connectivity of the DMN.
Acute adverse psychological reactions to classic hallucinogens (“bad trips” or “challenging experiences”), while usually benign with proper screening, preparation, and support in controlled settings, remain a safety concern in uncontrolled settings (such as illicit use contexts). Anecdotal and case reports suggest potential adverse acute symptoms including affective (panic, depressed mood), cognitive (confusion, feelings of losing sanity), and somatic (nausea, heart palpitation) symptoms. Responses to items from several hallucinogen-sensitive questionnaires (Hallucinogen Rating Scale, the States of Consciousness Questionnaire, and the Five-Dimensional Altered States of Consciousness questionnaire) in an Internet survey of challenging experiences with the classic hallucinogen psilocybin were used to construct and validate a Challenging Experience Questionnaire. The stand-alone Challenging Experience Questionnaire was then validated in a separate sample. Seven Challenging Experience Questionnaire factors (grief, fear, death, insanity, isolation, physical distress, and paranoia) provide a phenomenological profile of challenging aspects of experiences with psilocybin. Factor scores were associated with difficulty, meaningfulness, spiritual significance, and change in well-being attributed to the challenging experiences. The factor structure did not differ based on gender or prior struggle with anxiety or depression. The Challenging Experience Questionnaire provides a basis for future investigation of predictors and outcomes of challenging experiences with classic hallucinogens.
Extreme rituals (body-piercing, fire-walking, etc.) are anecdotally associated with altered states of consciousness-subjective alterations of ordinary mental functioning (Ward, 1984)-but empirical evidence of altered states using both direct and indirect measures during extreme rituals in naturalistic settings is limited. Participants in the “Dance of Souls”, a 3.5-hour event during which participants received temporary piercings with hooks or weights attached to the piercings and danced to music provided by drummers, responded to measures of two altered states of consciousness. Participants also completed measures of positive and negative affect, salivary cortisol (a hormone associated with stress), self-reported stress, sexual arousal, and intimacy. Both pierced participants (pierced dancers) and non-pierced participants (piercers, piercing assistants, observers, drummers, and event leaders) showed evidence of altered states aligned with transient hypofrontality (Dietrich, 2003; measured with a Stroop test) and flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; measured with the Flow State Scale). Both pierced and non-pierced participants also reported decreases in negative affect and psychological stress and increases in intimacy from before to after the ritual. Pierced and non-pierced participants showed different physiological reactions, however, with pierced participants showing increases in cortisol and non-pierced participants showing decreases from before to during the ritual. Overall, the ritual appeared to induce different physiological effects but similar psychological effects in focal ritual participants (i.e., pierced dancers) and in participants adopting other roles.
It has been proposed that the thalamocortical system is an important site of action of hallucinogenic drugs and an essential component of the neural correlates of consciousness. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD can be used to induce profoundly altered states of consciousness, and it is thus of interest to test the effects of these drugs on this system.
Perturbing a system and observing the consequences is a classic scientific strategy for understanding a phenomenon. Psychedelic drugs perturb consciousness in a marked and novel way and thus are powerful tools for studying its mechanisms. In the present analysis, we measured changes in resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) between a standard template of different independent components analysis (ICA)-derived resting state networks (RSNs) under the influence of two different psychoactive drugs, the stimulant/psychedelic hybrid, MDMA, and the classic psychedelic, psilocybin. Both were given in placebo-controlled designs and produced marked subjective effects, although reports of more profound changes in consciousness were given after psilocybin. Between-network RSFC was generally increased under psilocybin, implying that networks become less differentiated from each other in the psychedelic state. Decreased RSFC between visual and sensorimotor RSNs was also observed. MDMA had a notably less marked effect on between-network RSFC, implying that the extensive changes observed under psilocybin may be exclusive to classic psychedelic drugs and related to their especially profound effects on consciousness. The novel analytical approach applied here may be applied to other altered states of consciousness to improve our characterization of different conscious states and ultimately advance our understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying them.
The altered state of consciousness produced by general anesthetics is associated with a variety of changes in the brain’s electrical activity. Under hyperpolarizing influences such as anesthetic drugs, cortical neurons oscillate at ~1 Hz, which is measurable as slow waves in the electroencephalogram (EEG). We have administered propofol anesthesia to 16 subjects and found that, after they had lost behavioral responsiveness (response to standard sensory stimuli), each individual’s EEG slow-wave activity (SWA) rose to saturation and then remained constant despite increasing drug concentrations. We then simultaneously collected functional magnetic resonance imaging and EEG data in 12 of these subjects during propofol administration and sensory stimulation. During the transition to SWA saturation, the thalamocortical system became isolated from sensory stimuli, whereas internal thalamocortical exchange persisted. Rather, an alternative and more fundamental cortical network (which includes the precuneus) responded to all sensory stimulation. We conclude that SWA saturation is a potential individualized indicator of perception loss that could prove useful for monitoring depth of anesthesia and studying altered states of consciousness.
Empirical findings in the Cognitive Sciences on the relationship between feeling states and subjective time have led to the assumption that time perception entails emotional and interoceptive states. The perception of time would thereafter be embodied; the bodily self, the continuous input from the body is the functional anchor of phenomenal experience and the mental self. Subjective time emerges through the existence of the self across time as an enduring and embodied entity. This relation is prominently disclosed in studies on altered states of consciousness such as in meditative states, under the influence of hallucinogens as well as in many psychiatric and neurological conditions. An increased awareness of oneself coincides with an increased awareness of time. Conversely, a decreased awareness of the self is associated with diminished awareness of time. The body of empirical work within different conceptual frameworks on the intricate relationship between self and time is presented and discussed.
Abstract Frewen and Lanius (in press) recently articulated a “4-D model” as a framework for classifying symptoms of posttraumatic stress into those that potentially occur within normal waking consciousness (NWC) versus those that intrinsically represent dissociative experiences of trauma-related altered states of consciousness (TRASC). Four dimensions were specified: time-memory, thought, body, and emotion. The 4-D model further hypothesizes that, in traumatized persons, symptoms of TRASC, as compared with NWC forms of distress, will be: 1) observed less frequently; 2) less intercorrelated, especially as measured as moment-to-moment states; 3) observed more frequently in people with high dissociative symptomatology as measured independently; and 4) observed more often in people who have experienced repeated traumatization, particularly early developmental trauma. The aim of the present research was to begin to evaluate these four predictions of the 4-D model. Within a sample of 74 women with PTSD primarily due to histories of childhood trauma, as well as within a second sample of 504 undergraduates (384 female), the first two hypotheses of the 4-D model were supported. Additionally, within the PTSD sample, the third hypothesis was supported. However, inconsistent with the fourth hypothesis, severity of childhood trauma history was not strongly associated with TRASC. We conclude that the hypotheses articulated by the 4-D model were generally supported, although further research in different trauma-related disorders is needed and the role of childhood trauma history in the etiology of TRASC requires further research.
Our focus of attention naturally fluctuates between different sources of information even when we desire to focus on a single object. Focused attention (FA) meditation is associated with greater control over this process, yet the neuronal mechanisms underlying this ability are not entirely understood. Here, we hypothesize that the capacity of attention to transiently focus and swiftly change relates to the critical dynamics emerging when neuronal systems balance at a point of instability between order and disorder. In FA meditation, however, the ability to stay focused is trained, which may be associated with a more homogeneous brain state. To test this hypothesis, we applied analytical tools from criticality theory to EEG in meditation practitioners and meditation-naïve participants from two independent labs. We show that in practitioners-but not in controls-FA meditation strongly suppressed long-range temporal correlations (LRTC) of neuronal oscillations relative to eyes-closed rest with remarkable consistency across frequency bands and scalp locations. The ability to reduce LRTC during meditation increased after one year of additional training and was associated with the subjective experience of fully engaging one’s attentional resources, also known as absorption. Sustained practice also affected normal waking brain dynamics as reflected in increased LRTC during an eyes-closed rest state, indicating that brain dynamics are altered beyond the meditative state. Taken together, our findings suggest that the framework of critical brain dynamics is promising for understanding neuronal mechanisms of meditative states and, specifically, we have identified a clear electrophysiological correlate of the FA meditation state.