The Top 10 Psychedelic Science Studies Of 2022
Before you can assemble a list of the top ten greatest psychedelic science studies of 2022, you must first read every psychedelic study of 2022. I cannot stress enough how much of a social-life-depriving task this truly is.
It’s one thing to read every psychedelic neuroscience study ever conducted since 2017 during a pandemic. However, to read every psychedelic study for an entire year while living in an area of Europe that’s within a short train ride of three other countries, you realize that there’s other things to do in life besides affixing your eyes to the dim glow of some science paper emanating from your laptop.
Nevertheless, someone has to do it — so I did. The difficult part wasn’t reading stacks of papers. It was only selecting ten for this article — and then calling it the “ten greatest psychedelic science studies of 2022.”
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Some of the studies left off the list are from my own colleagues at Maastricht University. People that have offices just a few doors down from me. Do you understand the agony that will be racing through my arteries the next time I walk into our laboratory knowing that I read the work of my own colleagues in my own lab and made the conscious decision of proclaiming “meh, your work isn’t great.” It’s a position that I don’t wish on anyone, but I’m built for this.
So let’s get on to the top 10 psychedelic science studies of 2022.
The criteria is pretty simple. A study must involve psychedelic experimentation, highly innovative psychedelic-centric surveys, or data sets from psychedelic studies and be critically analyzed using the scientific method. While there have been an enormous amount of groundbreaking reviews from top-tier psychedelic scientists across the world (like Manoj Doss and David Yaden), all of these were excluded from the list.
Only those psychedelic science studies that (I believe) have the potential to revolutionize the field of psychedelic scientific inquiry and impact humanity’s understanding of the brain, physiology, consciousness in context with psychedelics were included on the list.
The List Of The Top Psychedelic Science Studies In 2022 (In No Particular Order)
1. Changes in music-evoked emotion and ventral striatal functional connectivity after psilocybin therapy for Depression.
When it comes to an all-star roster of the top psychedelic scientists, look no further than this study — led by Melissa Shukuroglou at Imperial College London. The likes of Carhart-Harris, Roseman, Kaelen, Nutt, and, of course, Matt Wall — a guy that’s like the Nate Dogg of psychedelic science.
One of my favorite topics in science is discovering new ways in which sensory information (like auditory and visual information) become modulated by psychedelics. Music, in particular, has been an interesting line of psychedelic research that has often yielded some pretty wild study designs — like Allison Feduccia’s ‘rat rave.’
In this study, the Imperial team looked at music’s effect on people with treatment-resistant depression before and after listening to music.
Using fMRI, researchers focused their investigation of the subcortical structure of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. This is a place known for reward and pleasure processing, which also means that music appreciation also goes down in that area.
Each person received a low dose of psilocybin mushrooms (10mg) in one session, and a higher dose (25mg) in the second session. They then jammed out to Cipa tunes.
As for the results, well, they were exactly what you would expect. People who took psilocybin had an increase in music-evoked emotion, and a decrease in anhedonia. The latter is a behavioral condition that hinders a person from feeling pleasure.
2. Remembering Molly: Immediate and delayed false memory formation after acute MDMA exposure.
Maastricht University is definitely on the map when it comes to robust MDMA research. Perhaps, even more so, than any academic institution out there. This is mostly due to Kim Kuypers persistent research on the psychedelic.
In fact, this study from Maastricht University may be the only study that Kim Kuypers did not get involved in — probably because she was too busy doing whatever international psychedelic scientist legends do.
Led by Lilian Kloft (supervised by Jan Ramaekers), this study looked at MDMA and memory in a double-blind placebo controlled study. 60 healthy individuals with a history of MDMA use were administered the substance (75mg of MDMA), then completed a false memory task entirely conducted in VR. The memory task was based off Kloft’s previous work on looking at the memory of cannabis users, a study that is also worth taking a look at.
Kloft’s study on MDMA and memory found that, while small impairments of word list tasks were detected, episodic memory was not generally affected. The data collected showed MDMA does not induce any distinct memory impairments in individuals — at least not after a single dose.
3. Ketamine induces multiple individually distinct whole-brain functional connectivity signatures.
In the United States, ketamine is the only psychedelic that is federally legal. It’s also the only psychedelic that is constantly disputed as not being a psychedelic. Unlike other “classic psychedelics” that exert its psychedelic effect on an individual through serotonin, ketamine works by blocking NMDA receptors.
Since ketamine is an NMDA antagonist, some word sticklers call it “dissociative anesthesia” — which attempts to erode the powerful effect ketamine has on human cognition. In comparison, an hour of watching The Bachelor is a real dissociative.
Most psychedelic research often establishes a certain criteria to get a specific type of subject. The results are generally averaged among all those that participate. There are variations to this process, and actual study designs are often far more complex to cover in this article.
But a global understanding of how psychedelics affect a group or the general population is often the aim in research.
This ketamine study from Yale, led by Flora Moujaes, took a revolutionary approach to psychedelics and sought to focus on what’s known as the inter-individual variability.
Essentially, instead of looking at the group of study subjects as a whole, Moujaes (and the other researchers at Yale and University of Zurich) focused on the differences between each person. Yes, we all are unique snowflakes with our own multi-dimensional and culturally diverse backgrounds.
Psychedelics may ignite the same neuronal process in all of us. However, we each come to the psychedelic process with our own novel life experiences that simply can’t be replicated — regardless of any experimental procedure.
Researchers found that an acute ketamine experience is not a uni-dimensional process, but indeed a multi-dimensional effect. This seems to be different among all those who take it.
4. Increased global integration in the brain after psilocybin therapy for depression.
Imperial College London is no stranger to paradigm-shifting psychedelic research. Once led by Robin Carhart-Harris, the university essentially became the face of astronomically-high quality psychoactive research — and in 2022, they’re keeping up the tradition with more psychedelic science studies.
Researchers from Imperial investigated the antidepressant effects of psilocybin in two separate trials.
The first was an open-label study in people that had treatment-resistant depression. This means both the participants and researcher knows the psychedelic being consumed and the exact amount. Subjects of this study received two doses of psilocybin (10mg and 25mg) a week apart.
The second was a double-blind trial in which patients with major depressive disorders received either psilocybin therapy or the antidepressant Escitalopram. The dosage of this study was a bit complex; one group received two doses of psilocybin, which was followed up by a 6-week placebo regime. The antidepressant group received two lower doses of psilocybin along with an Escitalopram regime for six weeks. fMRI data was recorded to determine brain network integrity.
What they found was a common theme that has been echoed throughout modern psychedelic research. The antidepressant response of psilocybin (which was greater than the antidepressant), also correlated with a loss of brain integrity. In turn, this increased activity throughout the brain.
The discoveries fall in line with the idea that areas of the brain — like the Default Mode Network and the Fronto-Parietal Network — lose their antagonist relationship and begin talking with other areas they don’t normally communicate with.
5. Neural mechanisms of imagery under psilocybin.
Before we go on, I have a confession to make: I like this study so much that I could have easily written an entire article. In fact, I will most likely write an article for Healing Maps regarding the topic of this study since it’s in close proximity to the perceptual psychedelic research I’m doing at Maastricht University.
I can’t get enough of research like this, and for this simple fact, this entry on the list of our top 10 psychedelic science studies of 2022 will be the shortest. Restraint is a virtue that’s rarely practiced.
In this Monash University study (led by Devon Stoliker), researchers wanted to investigate the concept of closed-eye visuals during a psychedelic experience. The phenomena of experiencing complex visuals with a complete lack of bottom-up information is, I believe, one of the most baffling things in all of psychedelic science.
Researchers discovered that deprivation of sensory information in the brain may actually increase in neuronal activity. This contributes to the formation of experiencing complex visual imagery. An absolute jaw-dropping finding that will be discussed in depth by myself in 2023 and beyond.
6. Psilocybin induces acute and persisting alterations in immune status and the stress response in healthy volunteers.
This next study comes from the same psychedelic laboratory that I’m a part of: Maastricht University’s Psychopharmacology Department. Should this entry on the list come with some conflict of interest statement or a giant asterix somewhere indicating there may be some slight favoritism? Not really, good science is good science. It just happens that some of these studies come from my laboratory because we do great work. I can’t help that we’re crushing it — it just… happens.
Led by Maastricht’s Natasha Mason, this looks at the role of psychedelics on the immune system, specifically on cytokines and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. There’s no way I would just throw enormous words at you and leave you stranded at sea, with the same make-shift raft Rose used.
Cytokines are proteins that are important for the immune system. However, their effects on the immune system vary. Some inhibit the growth of other cells. Other cytokines increase growth. But when a person is stressed, there’s an increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
As far as the HPA axis, it’s an allostatic process, meaning it’s something that helps a person deal with the stressful wear and tear of life. Neurons in the hypothalamus release hormones that connect with the pituitary gland. When this happens, more hormones are released. In effect, this causes even more hormones to release — including a hormone known as cortisol.
Cortisol (which is a glucocorticoid) is a direct result of the HPA axis. In turn, this is a direct result of this allostatic process trying to deal with your daily stress.
Participants were administered psilocybin and went through an intense stress protocol to get those cytokine numbers to raise. Mason discovered that psilocybin actually reduced the amount of proinflammatory cytokines immediately after psilocybin administration.
The numbers reverted to “normal levels” seven days after the initial dose, while other inflammatory markers were reduced. The reduction in these inflammatory markers also correlated with positive mood and behavior from participants.
Another interesting thing in this study was that psilocybin appeared to blunt a person’s response to the stress test. Even though they were in a stressful environment, they just didn’t get that stressed out. These are remarkable findings that will undoubtedly lead to more work in cytokines and the HPA axis while under psychedelics.
7. Parker Singleton’s Paper
Many of you have read my article on Healing Maps referencing research about dark energy. Or, you may have either watched my YouTube video about this study or read my Twitter thread about this wildly intriguing psychedelic. Admittedly, it’s my favorite psychedelic study of the year. In fact, I’ve called it the G.O.A.T of 2022.
The notion of energy use in the brain while under psychedelics has always been elusive for neuroscientists. Through a collection of FMRI brain scans of people on acute doses of psilocybin and LSD, neuroscientist Parker Singleton discovered that psychedelics seem to lower the energy costs of the brain switching between networks often associated with psychedelic cognitive states. This lowered energy costs enables the brain to switch between these states at a higher rate.
This study represents a pinnacle in psychedelic neuroscience.
8. Psilocybin induces spatially constrained alterations in thalamic functional organization and connectivity.
I love when Johns Hopkins occasionally decides to do thalamic-focused psychedelic research without any real intent for clinical application. There’s so much that we don’t know about how the brain is modulated by psychedelics. Yet the near totality of psychedelic research seems to focus on how psychedelics can help with depression, anxiety, and other maladaptive behavior.
Those are all important areas of research, and I don’t want to disregard them. However, as many of you may know, I’m wholly focused on perception with psychedelics and how these substances modulate the brain.
The thalamus is a small part of the brain located just above the brainstem. It’s considered to be the brain’s processing center. All sensory information that you collect during the day (everything you see and hear) goes to the thalamus before going to any other part of the brain.
Imagine the thalamus as a UPS sorting center where all packages are sent to so they can be organized and ultimately shipped. This process of receiving, sorting, and distributing information is also known as a thalamocortical circuit. Like a delivery service of information to your brain.
This thalamocortical circuit is vital for consciousness. Without it, our perception would be scrambled to the point of pandemonium. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprising to some), when we take psychedelics, the activity in the thalamus and within this thalamocortical circuit gets disrupted in ways we’re still trying to understand.
In this study from Johns Hopkins, researchers took fMRI readings from long-term meditators before and after taking an acute dose of psilocybin. What they discovered was that the thalamus showed distinct alterations in its spatial organization.
The intensity of these changes correlated with the intensity of a person’s reported psychedelic experience. Also, the thalamocortical circuits I talked about earlier? This study showed a decrease in connectivity of the thalamus and the sensory/cortical regions of the brain (like the visual and auditory cortex).
This gives us even more evidence that psychedelics disrupt the way information is delivered from the thalamus to cortical regions. It also gets us closer to understanding the neuronal basis of a psychedelic trip.
9. LSD and creativity: Increased novelty and symbolic thinking, decreased utility and convergent thinking.
For some reason, people always overlook the sheer qualitative psychedelic research that has been coming out of Brazil for over a decade. To my knowledge, the first psychedelic research emerging from Brazil happened in 2010. This is when researchers from Universidade do Extremo Sul Catarinense looked at the effects of harmine on depression in the hippocampus of rats.
Results showed that chronic (otherwise known as “heroic”) doses of harmine increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This led to a potent antidepressant effect.
In this 2022 psychedelic science study, the University of Campinas’ Isabel Wießner collaborated with Jan Ramaekers and Natasha Mason of Maastricht University. The aim was to investigate LSD’s role in creativity. Of course, ask any psychonaut and they’ll tell you LSD absolutely enhances creativity. I even did an entire video about this concept.
Most people who have used LSD prescribe to this idea. But as psychedelic science builds a collection of well-designed research, the idea of LSD enhancing creativity is starting to get substantial data.
Wießner assembled a double-blind, placebo controlled study. 24 participants received 50μg of LSD (about a half-tab of traditional LSD), and, at the peak of their trip, completed a variety of creativity tasks. These included creative metaphors and picture concept tasks, along with other measures of creativity.
They discovered that, not only does LSD affect creativity, but it does so in three interesting ways.
First, LSD seems to induce a “pattern break”, which is reflected in increased novelty and originality. Second, the psychedelic also incites a decrease in cognitive organization, resulting in an increase in convergent thinking.
10. Psychedelic use predicts objective knowledge about climate change via increases in nature relatedness.
There’s something about survey research that always seems to irritate certain people. If you’re not familiar with the process, survey research is usually science that is conducted through the use of questionnaires, which are designed to assess certain factors of the human condition. Subjects are often gathered through an open invitation on social media or email lists.
Generally, in survey research, psychedelics are never administered to subjects. However, a history of psychedelic use is required to participate.
In this particular psychedelic study — led by Christina Sagioglou at the University of Innsbruck in Austria — Sagioglou wanted to look at the idea of ‘Nature Relatedness’ in relation to psychedelic use. It’s a concept created by Elizabeth K. Nisbe in 2009. The Nature Relatedness scale “assesses the affective, cognitive, and experiential aspects of individuals’ connection to nature.”
After surveying over 600 participants, the study revealed that a history of psilocybin use is commonly associated with a strong connection to nature and the environment. In a general sense, all psychedelic use correlated with a pro-environmental stance and knowledge of climate change.
On the surface, it’s easy to pin the popular bumper sticker idea that “psychedelics (especially mushrooms), bring us closer to Mother Earth.” Sure, that may be true. However, there are a myriad of other factors that could result in this correlation.
The behavioral openness of even taking psychedelics may be a larger indicator that a person may also be open to ideas of the environment and climate change. Political leanings of the average psychedelic user could also skew to the spectrum of environmental awareness.
In Conclusion – The Psychedelic Science Studies Of 2022
That’s the end of the top 10 psychedelic science studies of 2022. If you did not make the list, then please feel free to hunt me down on Twitter. Be sure to follow before you send me long threads as to why your study should have been on the list.
As for next year, perhaps I’ll assemble a panel instead of manically trying to do all of this myself. I need a social life one of these days. After all, it might be nice to look at something else besides a computer monitor.