If you’re familiar with psychedelic substances, especially psilocybin, you might have already heard of the Default Mode Network (DMN). Continue reading this article if you’re curious about what DMN means and how it’s relevant to psychedelics.
What is the Default Mode Network (DMN)?
DMN is short for Default Mode Network, which describes the brain network that mediates consciousness and daily functioning. It is a loose connection between different neuron groups and brain areas that communicate to perform different functions.
Mental processes are usually linked with high DMN activities. These processes include social thinking, awareness of ourselves, and thinking about the future or past. When you stay focused on activities like solving puzzles, moving objects, or maintaining vision, the DMN is mostly less active. Sometimes, these tasks are mediated by a different brain network, the Task Positive Network (TPN).
Understanding the Relationship Between DMN and TPN
DMN and TPN are both brain networks and are mostly considered to be opposite of each other. Whenever the TPN is active, the DMN is less active, and vice-versa. The TPN is more active when people focus on tasks requiring much attention. However, the DMN stays less active during these tasks. DMN becomes more active when people have thoughts that wander, while the TPN stays less active.
The Default Mode Network and Mental Health
DMN is associated with different mental health conditions. However, symptoms may also arise from its disrupted activity and hyperactivity.
Here’s an overview of how the default mode network contributes to different mental health conditions:
DMN and Depression
For people with severe depression, hyperactivity in some DMN regions is replaced with excessive rumination. This implies that their DMN is mostly overactive, which can contribute to excessive negative or inaccurate self-reflection. These thinking patterns are mostly the symptoms of depression.
Also, the DMN lower activity is linked with overgeneral autobiographic memory (OGM), which is also a symptom of depression. This occurs when an individual tends to remember general events and not specific ones at will. It’s a symptom of bipolar disorder, depression, and PTSD.
From these two cases, it’s clear that changes in DMN activities can reduce or increase depressive activities.
DMN and PTSD
The connectivity within DMN and other changes in parts of the DMN is usually associated with severe PTSD.
DMN and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Study shows that patients with ADHD have decreased DMN connectivity. This is mostly related to attention deficits in ADHD patients. Also, it causes an inability to focus on self-reflection for a sustained period and the inability to control unacceptable behavior.
DMN and Autism
Like ADHD, a study also shows that autism patients have decreased DMN connectivity. It’s mostly associated with the difficulty that autistic patients face, especially when it comes to understanding social cues. This also affects their ability to understand their emotional responses and other people’s perspectives.
DMN and Chronic Pain
Study also shows that patients with chronic pain that are likely to ruminate about their pain have higher DMN connectivity.
DMN and Schizophrenia
In general, DMN is more active in patients with schizophrenia, especially when they focus on tasks that require much attention. It’s worth mentioning that as DMN activity reduces, the TPN activities increase and take over cognitive processes.
Research also shows a link between the inability of the DMN to reduce during tasks that require attention and other cognitive deficits. Patients with schizophrenia also suffer from other cognitive symptoms like paranoia. These patients are also more likely to have high DMN activities while attempting to complete certain tasks.
How do You Turn Off the Default Mode Network?
There are many techniques and behaviors that can be used to minimize the power of DMN over cognition. Here’s an overview of some of these strategies:
Studies show that meditation can reduce the connectivity of DMN in people who practice it for years. This is primarily because the goal of meditation is to reduce the influence of the self on resting thoughts. However, it’s worth noting that meditation, like transcendental meditation, can facilitate the activation of the default mode network.
There are studies that show that acupuncture can lower the activity of DMN. This is via the pain stimulus that the process creates, which distracts the mind from different thoughts.
Many antidepressants work by reducing the activity of the default mode network, especially in people managing a mental health condition.
The most profound and immediate way to minimize the control of the default mode network over the mind is psychedelics. There are many neuroimaging studies showing that LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics can reduce the connectivity of DMN. This is mostly associated with the experience of ego-dissolution. We can also link this resetting process to psilocybin’s antidepressant effects.
How Does Psilocybin Work on the Default Mode Network?
Psilocybin leaves a prominent effect on the default mode network. After ingesting magic truffles for psilocybin, the DMN connections dissolve rapidly, thereby freeing the brain from the control of DMN.
This loss of DMN control is like ego-dissolution that results after taking a psychedelic substance. It’s worth mentioning that ego-dissolution involves the loss of senses during a psychedelic experience. This is what allows people to identify the boundaries between the world disappearing and themselves. One of the major effects of psychedelics is temporary ego-loss, and it’s able to induce powerful personal transformations.
Another interesting research finding is that even though DMN is reduced during a psychedelic experience, the effects come back stronger. This DMN resetting is beneficial for people with depression and other mental health conditions. Also, the profound transformational benefits and healing potential of psilocybin correlates to the resetting and release of the brain’s control mechanisms induced by a psilocybin experience.
The brain on the left, the placebo, shows a normal, well-ordered brain. In contrast, the one on the right, after psilocybin injection, shows vast cross-linking of networks, indicating greater communication across the brain. The brain seems to become (at least temporarily) more interconnected and less specialized long enough to create new perspectives, insights, and meanings while the DMN is temporarily pulled offline.
This greater communication is what Carhart-Harris refers to as “the entropic brain.” In science, higher entropy is typically synonymous with the increased disorder (or chaos). Looking at this increase in the context of psychedelic use allows for a return to more primitive or primary states of consciousness.
Imagine a toddler exploring the world, taking in new information rapidly. Normally, the DMN lowers entropy (creating the state of normal waking consciousness that is typical in adulthood), filtering out much of this information. Imagine what new solutions and insights are possible in this state, with existing self and world narratives temporarily put aside.
These are the key things to know about psilocybin and the default mode network. According to research, the default mode network mediates different states of consciousness, and psilocybin rapidly dissolves DMN connections. This dissolution is vital for managing different mental health disorders, particularly depression.
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