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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2007 5:04 am    Post subject: US LA: Edu: Column: Religion, Drugs Similarly Affect Brain Reply with quote

US LA: Edu: Column: Religion, Drugs Similarly Affect Brain

http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v07/n234/a03.html?397

Pubdate: Fri, 23 Feb 2007

Source: Daily Reveille (LA Edu)

Contact: editor@lsureveille.com

RELIGION, DRUGS SIMILARLY AFFECT BRAIN

Revelers' beer bingeing episodes on Fat Tuesday and somber Catholic masses on Ash Wednesday are traditionally viewed as far removed from each other.

One day is filled with an excess of food, drink and hedonistic pleasure seeking.

The other is a day when the devout begin to cleanse themselves with an ashen mark of the cross on the forehead and forego those bad habits - well at least for 40 days. The mood may be different, but religion, drugs, drug users and the devout share a kinship in their experiences, attitudes and behavior.

Religion and drugs are inextricably linked, from spacey cults to Christianity. Each owes their history and perhaps their ultimate origin to these ethnogens.

In Exodus 16:14, Moses introduces his followers to what appears to be Psyclibon Mushrooms, small circular objects sprouting from the moist ground.

They ground up the substance using mortar and pestel, finding otherwise it would stink and breed worms if left unattended. Moses implored his followers to preserve this "manna" for future generations. In the New Testament, Jesus sings the praises of using wine in moderation for religious ceremonies and celebrations. Native American religions involve the use of peyote as a means for self-exploration and tobacco as a means to send prayers to ancestors.

Some squirm at the notion that drug experiences are on the same level of "true" religious experiences. If manifestations of religious or spiritual experiences are simply the result of firing synapses in the brain, it would severely undercut the idea of an objective existence of "God." Dr. Andrew Newberg, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered neuroimaging techniques of both believers and non-believers alike.

He found certain areas in the temporal lobe were excited during prayer or meditation, this is where the brain rates the significance of events which are then strongly internalized.

Moving from the temporal lobe into the pineal gland of the brain, Dr. Rick Strassman published his findings on Dimethyltryptamine ( DMT ) in his book "DMT: The Spirit Molecule." Produced naturally in the brain, DMT may be responsible for hallucinations involved in "near death experiences," dreaming and other mystical states, Strassman speculated. The "trip reports" in the book according to the research subjects, uniformly reported some kind of "otherworldly" living entity as a dominant element in their experiences.

Being "high" on Christ and life seems take on a whole new meaning.

What about the devout and other deeply religious people, are they addicted? It's certainly possible.

John Bradshaw, a former cocaine addict and now self-help guru and evangelical, equated the two experiences' effect on dopamine levels.

Dopamine, a chemical produced naturally in the body, plays a key role in pleasure, mood and addiction to other foreign drugs. Cocaine and nicotine employ it to encourage the user to continue use, and now prayer and meditation have been found to raise dopamine levels. Calling out the devout as "addicts" may seem extreme, but when taking into account their commitment to their faith, reliance on scripture and a compelling urge to continue to partake in religious ceremonies, it certainly is not a far leap.

Of course, being "addicted" to religion is not necessarily a bad thing in itself.

Many use the crutch to avoid other drugs or correct destructive behavior.

Here again, this religious transformation owes itself to what many experience in taking substances such as the popular lysergic acid diethylamide ( LSD ) and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine ( MDMA ) in controlled environments. Prior to its criminalization, psychotherapists used MDMA to treat anxiety disorders and help patients cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD ). Currently there is new research involving MDMA and sufferers of PTSD, especially veterans.

Admittedly, research into these drugs has been ambiguous, given the unique nature of LSD, MDMA and other psychotropic substances and how they interact with individual subjects, their environments, current drug policies and the DEA's apprehension of granting special licenses to researchers. But they have demonstrated very real life-altering experiences in their subjects, just more compressed compared to the traditional religious journey involving prayer and Scripture.

As neuroscience and philosophy plod forward, we can comprehend more of the human condition and its willingness to accept the spiritual. Neuroscience may never totally discredit or credit the existence of God or transcendental experiences. That is outside the scope of neuroscience and ultimately a small question compared to the possibilities of drugs and evangelism solving tangible problems today.
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