Psychedelics and Neuroplasticity with Dr. Kay Tye

Andrew Huberman and Dr. Kay Tye engage in an in-depth discussion on how psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA, while not traditionally considered classic psychedelics, have been shown to enhance neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to form new neural connections—and foster a heightened sense of empathy toward oneself and others. 

Recognizing the profoundness of these substances, Huberman emphasizes the necessity for controlled, clinical environments, cautioning against the recreational use of psychedelics, particularly among young people or individuals for whom it would pose psychological risks.

Dr. Tye recounts her fascination with the mind-altering effects of psychedelics that began during her undergraduate years, noting her thesis on hallucinations and their resemblance to other altered states like REM sleep and psychotic breaks in schizophrenia. 

She is particularly captivated by how psychedelics allow one to experience and recall a created reality unlike those experienced during sleep or non-inducible mental conditions. 

Dr. Tye further explores how psychedelics induce not only momentary but also long-lasting behavioral changes that differ from traditional therapeutic treatments. 

Her current focus, she explains, is to investigate psychedelic experiences at a quantitative level. 

Dr. Tye is curious about the cellular mechanisms of hallucinations, questioning whether they could result from the brain’s reinterpretation of noise as familiar patterns or if different doses of psychedelics might lead to distinctive brain states or moods.

A significant part of their research involves analyzing the transition probabilities between various mental states, such as happiness or sadness, assessing whether psychedelics make these transitions more fluid. 

Dr. Tye and her team employ advanced techniques such as recording neuronal activity with neuropixels to unravel the impacts of substances like psilocybin on animals’ behaviors and cognitive functions, particularly in ambiguous or conflicting situations.

Their approach is meticulous: using computational models like hidden Markovian models, they seek to understand unobservable ‘moods’ or states that influence behavior and potentially unveil how psychedelic experiences might alter these hidden states or transitions between them. 

An intriguing aspect of their study is analyzing the representation of self versus other in the brain and how psychedelics might influence the perceived distance between these identities.

Both researchers agree that there’s a disconnect between popular psychology’s interpretation of emotions and the nuanced understanding within clinical practice, where psychedelics might offer an alternative perspective to emotional processing and mental health treatment.

The conversation circles back to the potential for psychedelics to not only shift the assignment of value in ambiguous situations but also to serve as predictors for who could benefit from psychedelic therapy, teasing apart individual variability and the influence of set and setting.

In summary, there is a cautious yet palpable excitement for the potential of psychedelics to usher in a new era of understanding in both neuroscience and psychology.

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People Mentioned

  • S.M.: patient with bilateral amygdala damage
  • Harry Harlow: Psychologist, known for his social isolation experiments in monkeys
  • Markus Meister: Professor of Biological Science at Caltech
  • Ben Barres: Neuroscientist at Stanford

About this Guest

Dr. Kay Tye

Kay Tye, Ph.D. is a professor of systems neurobiology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator.

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