Kristi Panik, MD,
is a psychiatrist in private practice and on the clinical staff of the University Student Health Services at UC Berkeley, Calif.
The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe, and the study of its structure and function is one of the most rapidly developing fields in contemporary science. Yet many great mysteries remain, including understanding the brain processes involved in memory, perception, mental illness, and arguably the greatest unanswered question in all of science: How are consciousness and mind related to the physical processes within the brain?
Psychedelics are among the most powerful, interesting, and poorly understood of all the psychoactive substances. They produce a variety of complex effects on the brain and mind, including intensification of thoughts and feelings, alterations of sensory perception, and loosening of psychological defenses. As such, psychedelics probe the connection between brain physiology and consciousness, perhaps the most deeply mysterious arena in contemporary science. In their plant and fungal forms, psychedelics have been used by humans for millennia for medicinal and spiritual purposes.