Natasha Mason

Natasha Mason

Natasha Mason, MSc, is completing her PhD at Maastricht University, Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology. Her research focuses on the acute and long-term effects of recreational drugs on brain and behavior, with a particular focus on the potential therapeutic mechanisms of psychedelic drugs.

The Effects of Psilocybin on Cognitive Flexibility: A Placebo-controlled Experimental Study

The Effects of Psilocybin on Cognitive Flexibility: A Placebo-controlled Experimental Study Natasha Mason, MSc Disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD are characterized by a cognitive inflexibility, with individuals displaying repetitive, rigid, and pathological patterns of negative thoughts that facilitate habitual behavior patterns. An intervention that enhances creative, flexible thinking could be therapeutically effective in that it increases an individual’s ability to generate new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies. A recent study from our lab showed that psychedelics increased creative, divergent thinking after drug intake. Furthermore, imaging studies have shown that the classic psychedelic, psilocybin, promotes a desynchronization in the default mode network that is suggested to result in a cognitively flexible state. Additionally, clinical studies have demonstrated that psilocybin produces therapeutic relief in psychopathological populations with a preference for habitual behavior. Taken together these studies suggest that psilocybin can enhance creative, divergent thinking, which may provide therapeutic potential in facilitating goal directed over habitual behavior. The present, ongoing study was therefore designed to assess the acute and long-term influence of psilocybin on creativity and cognitive flexibility. Experienced psychedelic users participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group design. Participants received acute doses of psilocybin (.17 mg/kg) or placebo, and returned 7 days later to assess persisting effects. An instrumental learning task was used to assess goal directed versus habitual behavior, and the Picture Concept Test and Alternate Uses Task were used to assess creativity. Additional measures assessing underlying mechanisms, including brain activity and biological markers in blood, were taken. Finally, questionnaires assessed subjective mood and well-being. Preliminary results will be presented.