It has long been hypothesised that psychedelics help to promote neurogenesis – meaning the creation of new neurons – and neuroplasticity, which refers to the ability for new neural pathways to form. This, in turn, suggests that these substances could help restore damaged brain cells and stimulate the rewiring of the brain, facilitating the formation of new modes of thinking and behaving and aiding the recovery process from addiction and depression. There is even reason to believe that psychedelics could have a role to play in reversing dementia by helping to fix or replace the neurons that become damaged as we age.
To understand the implications of this, and how it can be utilised to help bring about healing, it’s necessary to examine the scientific evidence for this hypothesis. Firstly, substances like LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca and other psychedelics are known to interact with the 5-HT2A receptor (or serotonin 2A receptor) in the brain. In one study conducted on rats, it was shown that the stimulation of this receptor caused an increase in Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) – a molecule that promotes the growth of new neurons and neuroplasticity.
Ibogaine has also been shown to promote the release of BDNF in the brain, along with another growth factor called Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF). In addition, ibogaine interacts with the brain’s N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which also play a central role in the formation of new neural connections and pathways. Interestingly, there is a growing number of anecdotal reports that ibogaine reduces the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, suggesting it really does help to repair damaged neurons, although much more research is needed in order to confirm this.
On top of this, research conducted by the Beckley Foundation revealed that certain compounds found in ayahuasca – such as harmine and tetrahydroharmine – accelerated the rate at which hippocampal stem cells matured into neurons.
Clearly, then, there is plenty of evidence that ibogaine, ayahuasca and other psychedelics may indeed promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, yet without solid evidence of new neurons forming in a living human’s brain, we cannot say for sure that this is the case. The Beckley Foundation study, for instance, was conducted in a petri dish, so we don’t know if ayahuasca really does have this effect in the brains of those who drinks it. All of the other research was conducted on rodents, and therefore may not yield the same results in humans.
Yet if it were proven that these substances help to create new brain cells and neural
pathways, learning to harness this benefit would still be of paramount importance for anyone hoping to use psychedelics to bring about recovery from addiction. After all, the secretion of growth factors merely creates the potential for the brain to be rewired, but it is the responsibility of the owner of that brain to determine the nature of this rewiring.
It is often said that “neurons that fire wire together”, so it’s vital to get the right neurons firing while these growth factors are being secreted. To achieve this, it may be necessary to work with an experienced psychedelics counsellor who can help you implement self-love and mindfulness into your daily life, thereby enabling you to create the kinds of neural connections that can raise your consciousness and positively alter your relationship to yourself and the world around you.