A popular psychedelic compound that has been consumed by humans since ancient days has pointed researchers toward the brain’s ‘ego center,’ according to a new study. Researchers evaluated psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in mushrooms that grow around the world, and found how it reduces one’s sense of self, causing an effect that many users have reported as ego ‘death.’
Psilocybin is one of the most used and studied psychedelics; it has been implicated as a potential treatment for several conditions, including cluster headaches and depression. Research on the chemical stalled for decades in the US due to legal restrictions, but they have loosened in recent years, igniting a new body of evidence about the drug’s potential.
The latest research comes from Johns Hopkins University, where researchers looked into the effect of psilocybin on a part of the brain called the claustrum. Described as an ‘extremely thin sheet of neurons,’ this part of the brain’s function has remained unclear, though it has long been suspected as the seat of human consciousness.
Many of the receptors targeted by psychedelics like psilocybin are found in this part of the brain, prompting the new study to find out what kind of effect magic mushrooms have on the claustrum. The research involves scans of participants who were given either psilocybin or a placebo, revealing that the claustrum is less active in the presence of the psychedelic compound.
This may be the cause of the ‘ego death’ or otherwise reduced sense of self many psychedelics users have reported, triggering feelings of connection with one’s surroundings or the universe. The study involved 15 volunteers who experienced between 15- and 30-percent reduced activity in the claustrum after taking psilocybin, helping chip away at the mystery of how these substances produce their profound effects.