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Archive for December, 2011

Dr. Mario Beauregard and Vincent Paquette conducted research into the “Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns” in March 2006. Whilst Dr. Beauregard could not scan the nuns brains whilst they were in the midst of a “mystical experience” as they can not call upon god at will, he could scan their brains as they remembered one. As only memories of these experiences were used it could be said that the study is not a true collection of data upon a person’s interaction with god, just how the brain interprets those interactions after they have occured, possibly the brain making sense of what has happened. Dr. Mario stated the hypothesis of the study was identifying neural correlates in the brain with a “mystical experience”. 15 non-smoking nuns who had been with the Carmelite order for at least 2 years took part in the study, with three conditions present: Baseline, Control and Mystical. The Baseline condition involved being scanned with eyes closed, resting, in order to create data for the experimenters to look for deviations from in the other two groups. The Control state required the nuns to remember and relive the most powerful state of union with another human being, whilst the Mystical condition required the nuns to remember and relive the most powerful “mystical experience” they had ever had whilst in the order. The Control and Mystical groups are required to see if the brain is replicating/mimicking human interactions with its interpretation of a “mystical experience”, or if it is trying to understand something completely different. The three conditions were examined against each other, with the differences between MRI scans being the interpretation of the data. The study seemed to find that areas of the brain dealing with happiness (caudate nucleus and left insular activation) the IPL is activated, showing a change in body schema for the left half and a loss of self/other distinction from the activation of the right half. As we have no definite data on exactly what each part of the brain does (the right half of the IPL is also involved in motor imagery) we cannot bring any real conclusions from this as we can see how the brain works whilst in these conditions, yet not pull any definite conclusion about what causes these states from our viewing of the brain.

The Telegraph posted a news story in the end of August in 2006 headlined: “Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind”. The article summarises the research put forward by Dr. Mario Beauregard and his student Vincent Paquette. While the headline seems to indicate that they have managed to “confirm” the existence of god, they have not, as clearly stated by Dr. Mario in the article. There does seem to be a part of the brain that is activated when a person experiences a “mystical experience”, however this is not evidence for god, or a person’s ability to communicate with god. The headline can be seen as slightly misleading, as while the research found that the brain does activate in a “mystical experience”, that still does not prove (as far as anything can be scientifically proven) that god is not a figment of the mind, as other work by Michael Persinger (also mentioned in the article) found that a “sensed presence” could be induced in a person through stimulation of emporal lobes. The article concludes that the research performed by Dr. Mario discredits theories that the human brain is at least partly designed for communication with god as mystical experiences are mediated by the brain. The conclusion is apt for the studys mentioned as they deal with how the brain reacts to a “mystical experience. Whilst not written in the article it does not imply that mystical experiences are caused by god, it gives no reason as for why they happen, just what happens when the “mystical experiences” do occur.

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As a drug banned by the government, Marijuana suffers from the label of being “illegal” and so carries with it stigma. Many people view its use as horrific simply because of its illegality, whereas users seem to describe it as a sort of wonder drug that can solve everything, perhaps to try to negate people’s stigma about the drug. There are many different theories about what its use does and does not do in the long term, with users claiming it to be healthier than alcohol as well as legalisation bringing in more money for the economy, whereas non-users claim it to be prevalent in the development of mental disorders, with Schizophrenia appearing to be the most commonly cited. Mja.com declares in one of its articles that there exist two forms of “cannabis psychoses”, a toxic one and a functional one. The toxic one points more to confusion after having injested large amounts of cannabis which leads to psychotic symptoms, from which the user recovers with speed as they sober up, whereas the functional psychoses is more of an extension of already existing psychotic symptoms created by the injestion of marijuana.

Andreasson et al. found that Swedish conscripts’ chances of developing schizophrenia was increased by 1.3 for users between 1 and 10 time, leading to an increased by a factor of 6 for those who had used more than 50 times, however, this risk factor was reduced after other independent factors were also considered as a risk to the conscripts’ mental health.

Other studies also show a link between schizophrenia and cannabis consumption, Volkow (2006) showed that schizophrenics smoke more cannabis than the general population.

The UKCIA.org website does show a long list of studies that indicate that while cannabis users can develop a “cannabis psychoses” with similar or more exagerated effects of schizophrenia, they generally recover much quicker and react better to neuroleptic drugs.

Overall, Marijuana seems to be able to inflict a mental disorder upon a person, however the disorder seems to be less severe than actual psychoses resulting from a form of trauma or socio-economic events in a person’s life. The effects of marijuana, especially the presence and effect of delta 9-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main ingredient in cannabis) seem to create a psychoses which can be treated more easily than schizophrenia, although they both share similar traits. Schizophrenics also seem to typically use more cannabis than the general population, perhaps creating the stigma around the drug and its cause of schizophrenia that I discussed at the beginning of the article. Marijuana seems to have less severe effects than its stigma implies, if it were legal then we would most likely be submitted to moderation advice similar to that which we already are given about alcohol as abuse of any substance can lead to negative effects.

http://www.ukcia.org/research/young/psychosis.php Andreasson et al study into Swedish conscripts and schizophrenia.

http://www.ukcia.org/research/young/psychosis.php List of studies comparing cannabis psychoses with schizophrenia.

http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/3/469.full.pdf+html Volkow, paper on substance abuse with schizophrenics

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