Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why combine Psychedelics with EEG Biofeedback?

First of all, why not, given that people have spiritual experiences with psychedelics as well as alpha feedback.

But what probably gave me the idea was an excerpt from a paper on ayahuasca that included a brief survey of research on psychedelics and brain waves:

The majority of EEG studies done on psychedelics appeared in the scientific journals some 30 years ago before these compounds were banned. Wikler (1954), Itil (1968) and Fink (1978) are all in agreement that psychedelics, regardless of the substance (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin), produce decreases in slow wave (alpha and theta) activity together with increases of fast (beta) activity. This low amplitude, desynchronized EEG pattern induced by psychedelics reflect an activation of the brain and is in opposition to the highly synchronized alpha pattern observed during deep relaxation. Fink (1978) found that regardless of the nature of the drug administered, EEG synchronization (alpha/theta waves) was associated with euphoria, relaxation, and drowsiness; while EEG desynchronization was associated with anxiety, hallucinations, fantasies, and illusions.
I for one, vote for euphoria and relaxation over anxiety and illusions.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trip Report #1: Psilocybin + EEG Biofeedback

Trip Report

2.3gm Psilocybe Cubensis fungi + EEG Biofeedback

I started with some trepidation.  It had been a long time since I had tripped, but somehow, it was just time.  I had made all the preparations, and yet in a way it felt arbitrary, like I just had to do it.

I started at 4pm.  I took some GABA* and Theanine* at the same time, substances that are thought to be somewhat calming and alpha producing.  Had never taken fungi by capsules before.  I knew capsules are supposed to take longer to hit, but it was slower than I anticipated.  I was killing time reading a Buddhist book and it became slightly difficult to read, mainly I was just easily distracted.  I decided I might as well go ahead and get started with the biofeedback and began at 4:35.

The feedback design had gone thru a lot of changes over the months, but ended up being pretty much a pure alpha wave trainer, and somewhat similar in feel to a typical alpha theta design.  Electrodes were at C3 & C4, I figured this was a good mid-brain location, covering both hemispheres.  Continuous proportional feedback on alpha as well as discrete feedback as a reward for hitting new relative highs.  All over a background of surf whose volume varied with a slow average of alpha minus beta.  I darkened the room, settled into my zero gravity chair, and closed my eyes.

Over time it finally started coming on.  It was so slow compared to my normal experiences of eating mushrooms that I was not expecting much.  But it continued to come on, and on.  Once it reached full intensity, it was perhaps more than expected.  There was probably an hour or so of just wonderful stuff that was like making love to god or something.  Hard to put into words.  Just so, so wonderful, ecstatic.  I would find myself grinning so wide, absolutely ear to ear with tears running down my cheeks.  A few moments of oceanic oneness, or very close.  A fair amount of light was generated within my closed eye visual field, although there was no concrete visuals at this time (like the orange and yellow op moire checkerboard I had experienced in the past).

My feeling during this time was that I wanted to share it with everybody - everybody should do this!  I felt so much love!  During these times the discrete feedback sounds, along with the surf, made for a truly heavenly choir.

Later, the ride became a bit rockier, but somehow I was prepared.  I did have to work a bit to constantly relax and let go, go with the flow.  Throughout the entire evening the "I" was very much present and clear, with a lot of commentary, almost too much at times.  But it was also functioning very usefully during this more challenging period as an internal coach.

As a result, I think I really understand how to trip now.  The attitude that whatever comes up is okay, to meet everything with open arms and full acceptance, will truly get you through anything.  All the old hippie stuff about going with the flow, I knew all that stuff, but now I feel that I really know it at a deeper level.  I was always letting go of tension and resistance, constantly surfing the leading edge of what had to be let go of next.  I felt like I learned a lot.

During this part I was being shown aspects of both myself and the world that I was not fully okay with, and I had to just fully accept it all.  I viewed it with a certain determination, like it was a game, and I wasn't going to let this thing take me down, and found that a sense of bemused wonder was very useful.  I constantly remarked to myself "so many flavors!"  Not just the good flavors, but the so-called "bad" ones as well.

For a period of time I was seeing/feeling imagery of people of various types, again, often types that maybe I was not so aligned with or wanted to resist, but I learned that I had to see them all as aspects of myself, and accept them as expressions of the same thing.

At some point, I'm not entirely sure, I grabbed my light and sound machine and spent a couple of minutes trying to get it to work, looking to add some photic stimulation.  I briefly tried a fixed alpha frequency, but this was not really doing it.  A few more minutes and I managed to get a setting where the unit would meander through a range of frequencies, always changing, which was very effective.

When I first turned on the light unit the imagery became very orderly and architectural.  The first major image made a memorable impression - it was the interior of a kind of psychedelic mosque with light brown tiles.

At times, the imagery that the light and sound unit imposed was too structured and cold, I would have preferred something more organic.  Also would have been nice to have more colors (I'll bet the Laxman unit would be awesome for this), yet from time to time the colors did change.  From time to time I would take the glasses off, then put them on later as needed.

It is literally staggering the difference that lying down and closing your eyes makes.  I had never tripped this way before.  Around 9:00 after another bathroom break I was feeling relatively capable, but once I lay down with the eyes closed and the feedback, the next thing I knew I was going through one of those incredible overwhelming euphoric rushes again.  Around 9:45 I hadn't had a rush in a while, so I got up for good and detached from the feedback.  Just over 5 hours of continuous alpha feedback.

I think the feedback was key.  It was very lined up with what was happening in my experience, and it felt like having an "expert guide," my personal alpha guide.  There were some moments when I could have stood to have a bit more variation in the auditory feedback environment, like some music, but it was fine, really.  I'm not sure ultimately that music would be better.  Sometimes that alpha tone was just the friendliest, most intimate thing in the world.  And the surf sound would sometimes give a nice "day at the beach" kind of vibe.

All in all, probably my best trip ever.

*In doing some reading I discovered one mention that Theanine *may* be an MAO inhibitor which could potentiate effects, but realistically I couldn't find any really solid information on that.  I see that it often seems to show up on web pages that happen to mention other substances as being MAO inhibitors.  On the contrary, one experienced psychonaut commented that it actually blunted the effects of psychedelics and was useful for coming down from a trip.  So either way, I think that one is out of the mix, at least pre-trip.

As to GABA, not a lot can pass the blood-brain barrier, so that may be a waste.  On the other hand, some can pass in certain areas.  James Austin mentions GABA as possibly inhibiting the egocentric view.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

James Austin on Attention

From the Insight Journal, Austin looks at egocentric (dualistic) vs. allocentric (nondual) attention and postulates a path through the temporal lobes for nondual attention, also suggesting a role for GABA in inhibiting the egocentric view.

Theta Coherence in Meditation

Theta (6.5-8.0 Hz) coherence was increased in a case study of a Chan Buddhist meditator reported by Lehmann et al.  Gamma coherence generally decreased.  I found it interesting that they only measured during the first 3 minutes of meditation.  I'd be inclined to give the subject a few minutes to get deeper.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Meditation Links 3

I've been listening sporadically to Buddhist Geeks for a while, and as I go back and start to fill in the gaps it's interesting how many really good episodes I missed along the way.

For example, I missed the posts that talked about Dharma Overground, a site I mentioned before that has been very helpful.

And the posts about Kenneth Folk, who related the stories of the Burmese/Mayasian Theravada culture, where enlightenment is seen as very real and very possible, as opposed to American Zen practice, where such attainments are never talked about and their likelihood is characterized as pretty much nil.

And here is one map of the territory, the Progress of Insight by Mahasi Sayadaw.

Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen have a site called Jhanas Advice, which has links to a number of their talks.  They also have a book, Practicing the Jhanas, based on their experience and with the endorsement of Pa Auk Sayadaw.

Stephen and Tina also have some stuff at Dharma Seed, which has a lot of Vipassana talks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Meditation Links 2

Bhante Vimalaramsi - breath meditation (anapanasati), with a big emphasis on relaxation and no particular point of focus (like the upper lip area, which I now favor), based on the original sutras.

Open Enlightenment - some enlightened guy.  The free ebook  has a fair overview and history of spirituality which might be eye opening for anyone who hasn't thought about such things.

On Dharma Overground, the Mahasi style of vipassana insight meditation is pretty popular, this Satipanya Buddhist retreat site has some audio instruction I plan to check out.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Goenka Meditation activates Occipital Gamma

In Occipital gamma activation during Vipassana meditation, 16 subjects with 2.5-40 years of meditation in the Goenka style of vipassana showed significant decreases in frontal delta (1st image) and significant increases in occipital gamma (2nd image).  These images represent change from control periods to meditation periods.

It is interesting that the Goenka method involves scanning the body sensations from head to toe and back, and thus there might be a proprioceptive visual component that generates the gamma increase in the visual cortex.  It is also interesting that the gamma effects are so different from the areas reported in Davidson's study, with no frontal effects.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Meditation Links 1

The Dharma Overground provides a forum for hardcore meditators, and has refreshingly less dogma than most Buddhist sites I've run across. I liked Dan Ingram's view of things once he had begun looking for a path, where after a lot of searching, he realized "those darn Buddhists have come up with very simple techniques that lead directly to remarkable results if you follow instructions and get the dose high enough." He has a fairly no-bullshit guide to Buddhism, the MCTB, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.  Dan also has a site, Interactive Buddha.

Also by way of the Dharma Overground, I found the brief but informative A Reformed Slacker's Guide to Stream-Entry by Tarin Greco.

Also came across Shinzen Young, who provides some dogma-free stuff, with his Basic Mindfulness Home Practice Program. Kind of like Kabat-Zinn for hardcore practitioners that want to go beyond simple MBSR. I was a bit put off at first by the new jargon he introduces, but ultimately I like what he's doing.  It seems to be a noting practice, rather than a concentration practice.

EEG of Jhanas

EEG Power and Coherence Analysis of an Expert Meditator in the Eight Jhanas is a working paper that describes the EEG differences between resting state and Jhana for a single subject, Leigh Brasington (Leigh discusses the study on Youtube). Jhanas are altered states of consciousness that meditators go into typically as a result of a concentration style practice. The Jhanas are described as some of the most pleasurable experiences that a human can have, and Leigh has the envious ability to reliably go in and out of these states.

I was mainly interested in the maps of various power bands while in Jhana compared to the resting state. These provide some information on the EEG changes, but of course these are relative to Leigh's resting state, not a normative sample. Which may be a good thing, in terms of what we're looking for, but one thing I'd also like to see is how Leigh's resting state compares to a normative database.

The maps are based on a 256-channel Geodesic Sensor Net and I had to dig up some information to get an idea of how to think of the sites in a 10-20 or 10-10 kind of way. Black boxes represent higher amplitudes, white boxes represent lower amplitudes.  I found myself struck by the beauty and symmetry of the patterns.

A lot of the effects are concentrated in the prefrontal area, roughly in triangles formed by Fp1-F3-F7 and Fp2-F4-F8, or to put it more simply, the median of these areas might fall a bit below F3 & F4.   There were a couple of areas around FC3 & FC4 where gamma was decreased, this would be in contrast to Davidson's research that found gamma increases in those areas in his study of Tibetan monks practicing loving kindness meditation. In the aforementioned areas during Jhana,

  • Theta 4-6Hz was lower
  • Alpha 8-10Hz was higher
  • Alpha 10-12Hz was much higher
  • Beta 12.5-25Hz was much higher
  • Gamma 25-42Hz was much higher, probably overall the biggest effects

Theta 4-6Hz and Alpha 6-8Hz were higher in the Cz-Pz area, radiating out towards F3 and F4. Alpha 10-12Hz was slightly lower around Pz, which is somewhat at odds with Newberg's research showing less activation (i.e. presumably more alpha) in that area for contemplatives experiencing oneness.

All in all, very interesting stuff, this is the exact kind of thing I've been searching for, and I look forward to seeing the final paper, which looks like it will have a section on coherence, as well as more research along these lines.

What this blog is about

Having recently gotten back into meditation, I have found a bewildering number of sources of information and possible techniques and would like to explore them here. I also have a fair amount of experience with EEG biofeedback, and wanted to use this blog to similarly document relevant research and approaches, pose questions, and discuss BioExplorer software.

Of particular interest, does EEG biofeedback constitute an "expedient means" (see the Lotus sutra) of achieving enlightenment?