Even Grandma Is Going Medicinal

Even Grandma Is Going Medicinal

It seems everyone is trying medical marijuana.

My grandparents met in the early 1980s while they were hiking in the Catskill Mountains. My grandpa was a doctor and my grandma was a nurse. They fell in love and got married.

Now years later, my grandma, 72, suffers from spinal stenosis and chronic pain. She survived octal cancer. She has taken a variety of pain medication to help ease her pain but has found one thing to work best at night.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they live, marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes. Marijuana has been proven to help ease certain side effects associated with over 20 illnesses.

So, my grandma qualified for a medical card and decided to try it out. A nearby dispensary provides her with brownies that she eats at night to help with her pain and aid in sleeping better.

Because it is not as hard on your body and more organic than some of the leading drugs on the market, more and more people are testing it out. Now, it is legal in more than half of the states in the U.S.

It seems as if everyone is doing it, even Grandma.

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Are Magic Mushrooms The Key To Understanding The Brain?

An Academic Perspective

Mushrooms that, when ingested, induce “mind-manifesting” effects are categorized as psychedelic. They are colloquially referred to as “Magic Mushrooms." The main psychoactive component of these fungi is psilocybin. Here, the term psychedelic is describing the compound’s ability to manifest underlying aspects of the mind; it’s etymology deriving from the Greek words psychē and dclôsē, meaning “mind” or “soul” and “to manifest,” respectively. Western countries first became aware of the “magic mushroom” in the first half of the 20th century when a western traveler came across one in Central America. Psychedelics became popular with the generation of Americans who were disillusioned with government, as the Vietnam War broadcasted on television and had forced conscription. The government targeted anti-war protesters, often identified as hippies through the illegalization of psychedelic drugs. As with many illegal substances, the “magic mushroom” continues to be abused for recreational purposes. Non-western nations, specifically those indigenous to the Americas, have an ancient history with psilocybin, which was often used in sacred ceremonies, as well as for healing purposes. Whilst it is often implied that western medicine is more legitimate, that narrative is founded in cultural biases held by the people who invaded and settled on this land. Nevertheless, this paper focuses on current western research into psilocybin, as interest in the therapeutic aspects of psychedelics have had a resurgence in these countries. It induces a similar state to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Unlike experiments performed during REM, however, those performed under psychedelic influence can be mechanistically and scientifically controlled. Inspired by the mysteries of the brain, this article explores the possibility that psilocybin may be the catalyst for marrying analysis of the brain on the cellular level and on the metacognitive, conscious one. It is the first part in a series of academic articles on the topic.

Because psilocybin is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin), it produces psychedelic effects by binding to 5-HT2A receptors. One study suggested that 5-HT2A receptors may live in the plasma membrane of pyramidal cells that project onto interneurons, possibly contributing to the decrease in neural activity associated with higher level thought. A study done in people found a statistically significant increase in the likelihood of layer 5 pyramidal neurons firing after consumption of magic mushrooms. Nevertheless, the former study disagrees on how, proposing that excitation of 5-HT2A receptors has an inverse relationship with that of pyramidal cells. It is notable that 5-HT2A receptors are most densely expressed on pyramidal neurons, specifically in the neural regions associated with cognition and perception, as opposed to ones associated with more basic functions, such as the motor cortex. Whilst the underlying mechanisms of psychedelic effects at the receptor level aren’t clear, the impact on neurobiological mechanisms, believed to be involved in higher-level thinking, have more of a consensus across studies.

One study used arterial spin labeling fMRI and blood-oxygen level-dependent fMRI imaging techniques to look at the changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) as it correlates to the specific regions of interest in the brain over time, as well as to the subjective intensity of the effects of the psilocybin administered. Associating CBF with neural activity, they found that decreases in CBF were localized to the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and the thalamus.

All of the aforementioned function as important connector hubs in the brain, associated with high level cognitive functions. Specifically, the PCC is a vital component of the default mode network (DMN), a system of highly correlate brain regions critical for cognition and the perception of self; the ACC is involved in executive function, connecting the emotion-linked limbic system and cognition-linked prefrontal cortex; the mPFC functions in higher order memory and decision-making processes; and the thalamus relays sensory signals to the cerebral cortex and regulates consciousness. The statistically significant correlation between these decreases and perceived potency of psilocybin, as well as the significantly decreased positive coupling of the PCC and the mPFC suggest that classic psychedelics may function by fracturing brain networks to alter a person’s state of waking consciousness.

Consistently receiving greater CBF and energy than all other regions of the brain, the default mode network (DMN) has a functional centrality as it integrates and routes information from different brain networks, excluding sensory. The DMN, in fact, may be the highest level of functional hierarchy, engaging in metacognition that encompasses: self-reflection, theory-of-mind, and mental time-travel. This metacognition, the discernment and/or control of one’s own thoughts and behaviors, is commonly only attributed to humans, and may be thought of as “self” or as “ego” in Freudian terminology. A recent study used fMRI to investigate the medial temporal lobe (MTL), including the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of long-term memory, and its interaction with the DMN. Functional coupling between the MTL and DMN decreased post-psilocybin delivery into the bloodstream, further supporting the hypothesis that the psychedelic state is a regression from executive control. Studies on meditative states, long thought to be similar to psychedelic ones, have found the same phenomenon.

This desynchronization of cortical activity can be observed via the modulation of alpha oscillations, deduced to be a result of psilocybin-excited 5-HT2A receptors. Related to temporal framing of perception, alpha oscillations were found to regulate both cortical excitation and N170 visual potentials that appear connected to visual hallucinations. The decreased alpha power values post-psilocybin absorption in the body demonstrated a statistically significant relationship with both general increased excitability in the absence of stimuli, as well as the formation of hallucinations, which is consistent with known psychedelic effects. The latter is likely because psilocybin attenuates N170 potentials, which help translate natural images into clear and meaningful structures. Moreover, another study found that this decrease in alpha power positively correlated with subjective ratings on both the disintegration of “self” and the “supernatural” quality of the experience. The presented pharmacophysiological mechanism underlying these results submit that oscillatory rhythms constrain spontaneous firing of individual pyramidal cells, upholding structure to brain activity and supporting the theory of “self-organized criticality.”

The entropic theory of consciousness, known as the entropic brain hypothesis, relates system entropy in the brain with “self-organized criticality.” Entropy refers to system disorder. “Self-organized criticality” refers to a complex system (the brain), in which the properties as a whole are not those expressed at the level of an individual unit (neuron). The entropic brain hypothesis purports that a mature sense of self-identity or personality, related to metacognition, suppresses entropy in the brain so that humans can have more advantageous control over the natural world. We'll talk more about the entropic theory of consciousness in the second part to this article.

Share if you've learned something new! I've put references below, if you'd like a more thorough understanding.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to condone the use of illegal substances, or replace individual research. The author takes no responsibility for the actions of readers.


  1. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Hellyer, P., Shanahan, M., Feilding, A., Tagliazucchi, E., Chiavlo, D., Nutt, D., (2014). The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. U.S.A. 8, 1662-5161, DOI=10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020
  2. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J., Colasanti, A., et al. (2012a). Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109, 2138–2143. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1119598109
  3. Yu A-M. Indolealkylamines: Biotransformations and Potential Drug–Drug Interactions. The AAPS Journal. 2008;10(2):242. doi:10.1208/s12248-008-9028-5.
  4. Dinis-Oliviera, R.J., Drug Metab Rev. 2017 Feb;49(1):84-91. Doi: 10.1080/03602532.2016.1278228. Epub 2017 Jan 31.
  5. Zhu JJ. Maturation of layer 5 neocortical pyramidal neurons: amplifying salient layer 1 and layer 4 inputs by Ca2+ action potentials in adult rat tuft dendrites. The Journal of Physiology. 2000;526(Pt 3):571-587. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7793.2000.00571.x.
  6. Sporns, O., Chialvo, D. R., Kaiser, M., and Hilgetag, C. C. (2004). Organization, development and function of complex brain networks. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 418–425. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.07.008
  7. Euston DR, Gruber AJ, McNaughton BL. The Role of Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Memory and Decision Making. Neuron. 2012;76(6):1057-1070. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.12.002.
  8. Freud, S. (1927). The Ego and the id. London: L. and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth press, The Institute of psycho-analysis.
  9. Chialvo, D. R., Balenzuela, P., and Fraiman, D. (2007). “The brain: what is critical about it?” in Collective Dynamics: Topics on Competition and Cooperation in the Biosciences, eds L.M. Ricciardi, A. Buonocore, and E. Pirozzi (New York, NY: Vietri sul Mare), 28–45.
  10. Ardila, Alfredo. (2008). On the evolutionary origins of executive functions. Brain and cognition. 68. 92-9. 10.1016/j.bandc.2008.03.003.
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I'm 19 Years Old and I Can't Function Without Medication

If not for my five daily medications, I wouldn't be able to function.

The first thing I do every single morning when I wake up is take my anxiety medicine and my antidepressant. The last thing I do every single night before I go to bed is take my bipolar medicine, my sleep medicine, and my anxiety medicine.

I take five daily prescriptions, one of which is twice daily. I also have a second "as needed" anxiety medicine, as well as a prescription for a migraine medication. I'm nineteen years old, and I rely on daily medications to keep me functioning.

I felt really inspired to write about it this week because I missed a dose of one of my medications a few days ago and it has completely thrown me off.

On Sunday night, I took my last dose of my sleep medication and sent it in to be refilled by my pharmacy. When Monday came, I wasn't able to pick it up just because of the way things played out, which meant that when it came time for me to go to bed I couldn't take my sleep medicine. I haven't missed a dose of this particular medicine since last summer, and I think a part of me forgot how miserable I'd be all night because I didn't have it.

I took the rest of my medications at 11, just like I do every other night, and then I laid down and closed my eyes. I was really hoping I would fall asleep, at least for a little bit, but unfortunately that was not the case. I was emotionally exhausted, and my body was tired but not in the sense that meant it would fall asleep. I felt wired.

I decided to do my laundry, do my homework, read a book, but none of that made me feel any less tired. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I didn't sleep a wink all night long.

All day on Tuesday, I was just going through the motions. I was exhausted, unmotivated, and cranky. I feel so bad for anyone who had to talk to me that day (sorry everyone). Thankfully, I got my medication and was able to fall asleep with no problem on Tuesday night.

Clearly, it's not good when I miss a dose of my sleep medicine, but it's even worse when I miss a dose of any other of my medicines. If I skip my antidepressant, I get lethargic and whiny and I cry all week. It's miserable, and I'm not even crying for any reason other than the fact that my brain chemicals are all messed up. If I skip my anxiety medicine, I'm jittery and paranoid and constantly on the verge of an anxiety attack. If I skip my bipolar medicine, it's a totally different story.

With any of my other medications, I'm back on track within a week, but missing so much as one dose of my bipolar medicine is enough to throw me off for weeks. Ask my sister, I turn into a hellion. A raging psychopath. A literal monster.

I start rapid cycling, so my mood doesn't stay the same for more than an hour or two. I get really irritable and I lose all sense of what things are and are not appropriate to say to people, as well as my sense of what's nice to say and what's not. I become even more argumentative than I usually am, and I take offense to everything. It's exhausting for me and for everyone around me, and I can never tell when it's going to end or when I'll go back to "normal."

A lot of people tell me that they don't think I need to be on medication, or that there are better options than medication. Maybe that's true for other people with other illnesses, but when it comes to my situation, the illnesses I'm dealing with are attributed to chemical imbalances in my brain. Obviously no one wants to be on five medications every day for the rest of their life, but for me I've had to weigh the risks vs. the benefits, and I've learned that I can't function without my medication.

That's a hard pill to swallow (pun fully intended), but it's my reality, and ultimately my life is better for it.

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