Brain Scans of Shamans Show Ability to Alter Consciousness Naturally
A new study is the first to investigate what occurs in an alternate state of consciousness by looking inside the brain of a shaman.
Shamanism is considered to be the most ancient form of healing and spiritual practice. While science has been studying the healing benefits of the psychoactive plants used by shamans to enter into an altered state of consciousness, there have been very few studies to look at the neurological nature of the state itself. A groundbreaking new study investigated the shamanic state of consciousness accessed without the use of psychedelics.
Carlos Tanner is a longtime student of traditional shamanism and the director of the Ayahuasca Foundation. an educational and ceremonial center in Peru. “Shamanism refers to an alternate dimension, a dimension where spirits reside, where communication is possible, where greater insights can be acquired and brought back to the waking-day life,” Tanner said. “So a shaman would be someone who can enter into a different dimension and then pull that back.”
The process by which shamans access this state is rooted in the rich tradition of what Tanner calls, a ‘science of consciousness enhancement.’
“Oftentimes, there is the term ‘ceremony’ to describe the intentional entrance into this shamanic state. So there would be a preparation where there might be rituals to essentially prepare, certain clothing might be worn, and the use of certain tools, oftentimes a musical instrument, might be used,” Tanner said.
“All of those are a beautiful science of consciousness enhancement that, I think, has been developed through the continual use of a psychotropic substance, although to a point where, in many cases, the psychotropic substance is no longer needed to enter that state because the consciousness enhancement that was provided by the psychotropic substance can be accomplished without it.”
Richard Harris Ph.D. is a researcher at the University of Michigan who conducted the recent study on the shamanic state of consciousness. Dr. Harris and his team were interested in investigating this state in its purest form, unaffected neurologically by the use of any exogenous substances. To facilitate the entrance into the altered state without the use of psychedelics, the practitioners all listened to a recording of shamanic drumming.
“So, we did a study with 24 shamanic practitioners and 24 normal, control individuals and we collected EEG data (electroencephalogram data), you know brain activity data, while each participant had their eyes closed while they were listening to classical music which was the control condition, and then while they were listening to shamanic drumming music which was the more experimental condition,” Dr. Harris said. “So, what we’re doing with the shamanic drumming, we’re using the person’s own physiology to engender the state.”
In addition, researchers compared the brain scans of the shamanic practitioners in this study, to scans of participants on psychedelics in other studies.
“We found key differences between entering the shamanic state of consciousness and altered states engendered by things like psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA,” Dr. Harris said. “It’s important to know that, even though phenomenologically there are some differences in the experience, like out-of-body, spiritual, blissful states—some of those experiences are the same—but the underlying neurobiology is different.”
Specifically, the researchers found increases in gamma brainwave activity in shamanic practitioners not on psychedelics, without the typical decrease in alpha brainwave activity seen in those on psychedelics. Just what are the implications of these findings?
“That’s kind of what it’s showing is, that shamanic state of consciousness, you can get there without taking a drug. I think that’s important for the average person and that might give them more insight into how they tick,” Dr. Harris said.
Study Shows Microdosing Psilocybin Boosts Mood, Mental Health
A new study provides the most compelling evidence to date on the impressive mental health benefits of microdosing psilocybin.
While there has been an ever-increasing number of studies showing the efficacy of treatment of mental health disorders with psychedelics, there has been relatively little research on the practice of microdosing.
Microdosing, or repeatedly taking small, barely perceptible amounts of psychedelics, has been exponentially increasing in popularity, with a wide range of people reporting a multitude of improvements to their psychological wellbeing.
The latest scientific study to look at the effects of microdosing was conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, as well as other leaders in the fields of psychology and mycology. The study followed 953 people who used small, repeated doses of psilocybin for about 30 days, as well as a control group who did not microdose.
While the exact dosages of psylocibin that participants self-administered varied somewhat, they were all low enough to not impact daily functioning.
Over a one-month period, participants took these psylocibin microdoses three to five times per week and were asked to complete a number of assessments through a smartphone app that tracked their mental health symptoms, mood, and measures of cognition. The findings definitively showed that the microdosing participants demonstrated greater improvements in mood and mental health than those in the non-microdosing control group.