Guide to Tripping on Psychedelics

179959_10150810511001301_1252803218_n (1)“A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of spacetime dimensions, and of the ego or identity. Such experiences of enlarged consciousness can occur in a variety of ways: sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, religious or aesthetic ecstasies, or spontaneously. Most recently they have become available to anyone through the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT etc. Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.” – The Psychedelic Experience

This is an extension to my earlier post Psychedelic Mushrooms and You, which covered the process of finding, identifying, drying, and storing magic mushrooms found in the wild. That guide was written with the intention of making psychedelics more readily available to those seeking it with the hope that the information might open doors for those who were wanting to explore different planes of consciousness and not just get high for kicks. It also served the purpose of helping others become more capable in avoiding poisonous lookalikes, thus avoiding potential unnecessary deaths. Psychedelics can be a real game changer as far as your life is concerned; they can be fun, exciting, playful, weird, tense, frightening, expanding, contracting and everything else on the spectrum. At times taking psychedelics can be like putting your mind under under a microscope, or plugging it into an amplifier – it can and probably will confront you with yourself, and this can either enlighten or frighten the shit out of you depending on your level of preparation. It is for this reason that it is important to treat psychedelics with a great deal of respect, and one way of doing this is to mentally prepare yourself for the experience before you have it.

Note: a lot of the photos in this post were taken on an amazing mushroom trip I had in the spring of 2012, whilst road ‘tripping’ with two close friends through the great alpine road in a rented winnebago, which we affectionately named the ‘dojo’.

Contents

Continue reading

Cognitive Psychology: 7 Techniques for Studying the Brain

cognition

This post will be dealing with a more science oriented approach to psychology known as cognitive neuroscience, which is a  branch of psychology that involves intensive study of the brain as well as behaviour. The human brain is a lot more than a mass of grey goop; it is an extremely complicated organ consisting of a team of 50 billion neurons (each of which link up to 10,000 more neurons!) that work around the clock to control every thought, action, and perception we have. Your brain is responsible for literally everything you think and know about yourself and the world you live in, and is therefore the holy grail of psychology, as everything that is knowable has it’s roots in the brain. Even though we all have a brain, we are not born with an instruction manual on how to use it, or how it works. So we spend the rest of our lives letting it work on autopilot, outside our conscious control – do we control the brain, or does the brain control us?

 

In a great display of irony, scientists and neuropsychologists have dedicated a significant portion of their own brains power in order to understandhow it works. Over time this has resulted in enormous advances in technology, which allow us numerous ways of obtaining detailed information about the brain’s structure and functioning and what roles it plays in dictating human behaviour. With access to this technology we are able to find out exactly what areas of the brain are responsible for certain behaviours and actions, and also how these areas of the brain are affected in cases of disability and mental illness. Note that each piece of technology has both its strengths and limitations – at the most basic level they vary in the precision with which they identify the brain areas active when a task is performed (spatial resolution), and the time course of such activation (temporal resolution). I will now list 7 of the major techniques for studying the brain, in no particular order they are:

Single-unit recording 

This technique involves inserting a micro-electrode one 110,000th of a millimetre in diameter into the brain to study activity in single neurons. This is a very sensitive technique, since electrical charges of as little as one-millionth of a volt can be detected. This technique has it’s obvious advantages in being able to observe brain activity at a very localised level. Another advantage is that information about neuronial activity can be obtained over time periods ranging from small fractions of a second up to several hours or even days. However, the technique can only provide information about activity at the level of single neurons, so other techniques are necessary in order to assess the functional of larger cortical areas.

Event-related potentials (ERPs)

eegThe electroencephalogram (EEG) is based on recordings of electrical brain activity measured at the surface of the scalp. Very small changes in electrical activity within the brain are picked up by scalp electrodes. These changes can be shown on the screen of a cathode-ray tube using an oscilloscope. However, background brain activity sometimes clouds the impact of stimulus processing on the EEG recording. This problem can be solved by presenting the same stimulus several times. After that, the segment of EEG following each stimulus is extracted and lined up with respect to the time of stimulus onset. These EEG segments are then simply averaged together to produce a single waveform. This method produces event-related potentials (ERPs) from EEG recordings and allows neuroscientists to distinguish genuine effects of stimulation from background brain activity. ERPs have very limited spatial resolution but their temporal resolution is excellent; they can often indicate when a given process occurred to within a few milliseconds.

Positron emission tomography (PET)

PETThis technique involves the detection of positrons, which are the atomic particles emitted from some radioactive substances. Radioactively labelled water (the tracer) is injected into the body, and rapidly gathers in the brain’s blood vessels (seriously, who’s idea was this?) When part of the cortex becomes active, the labelled water moves rapidly to that place. A scanning device next measures the positrons emitted from the radioactive water. A computer then translates this information into images of the activity level in different brain regions, which looks like the brain viewed through thermal goggles. It seems dangerous to inject a radioactive substance into the body, but I have been assured that only tiny amounts of radioactivity are involved (everything is o.k in moderation, right?), and the tracer has a half-life of only 2 minutes. PET has reasonable spatial resolution, in that any active area within the brain can be located to within 5-10 millimetres. However, as with most things in life, it suffers from limitations too. For example, it has very poor temporal resolution – PET scans indicate the amount of activity in each region of the brain over a 30-60 second period, so therefore PET cannot assess the rapid changes in brain activity associated with most cognitive processes. Also, more importantly, PET scans require the patient/victim to be stabbed with a syringe full of radioactivity, which can sometimes make it difficult to administer.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

fmriMagnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) is the process of using radio waves to excite atoms in the brain, which produces magnetic changes detected by a very large magnet surrounding the patient. These changes are then interpreted by a computer and turned into a very precise 3D picture. MRI scans can be obtained from numerous different angles but can only tell us about the structure of the brain rather than its functions. As cognitive neuroscientists are generally more interested in brain functions than brain structure, it is lucky that MRI technology can provide functional information in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Oxyhaemoglobin is converted into deoxyhaemoglobin when neurons consume oxygen, and deoxyhaemoglobin produces distortions in the local magnetic field. This distortion is assessed by fMRI, and provides a measure of the concentration of deoxyhaemoglobin in the blood. Technically, what is measured infMRI is known as BOLD (blood-oxygen-level-dependent contrast). Changes in the BOLD signal produced by increased neural activity take some time to occur, so the temporal resolution of fMRI is about 2 or 3 seconds. However, its spatial resolution is very good (approximately 1mm). Since the temporal and spatial resolution of fMRI are both much better than PET, fMRI has largely overshadowed PET.

Magneto-encephalography (MEG)

MEGMagneto-encephalography (MEG) involves using a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) to measure the magnetic fields produced by electrical brain activity. This technology is quite complex due to the size of the magnetic field created by the brain, which is extremely small relative to the earth’s magnetic field. It is also extremely expensive to use, as SQUIDS need to be kept very cool by means of liquid helium, and recordings are taken under magnetically shielded conditions. Despite this, the MEG provides very accurate measurement of brain activity, in part because the skull is virtually transparent to magnetic fields. This means that magnetic fields are minimally distorted by intervening tissue, which is a definite advantage over the electrical activity assessed by the EEG. Overall, MEG has excellent temporal resolution (at the millisecond level) and often has very good spatial resolution as well.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

TMSTranscranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a technique in which a coil is placed close to the participant’s head, and a very brief (less than 1 millisecond) but large magnetic pulse of current is run through it. This causes a short-lived magnetic field that generally, but not always, leads to inhibited processing activity in the affected area. More specifically, the magnetic field created leads to electrical stimulation of the brain. In practice, several magnetic pulses are usually administered in a fairly short period of time – this process is known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This technique creates a temporary ‘lesion’ so that the role of any given brain area in performing a given task can be assessed. If TMS applied to a particular brain area results in impaired task performance, it is reasonable to conclude that that brain area is necessary for the tasks performance. Therefore, the greatest advantage of TMS and rTMS over neuroimaging techniques is that it increases our confidence that a given brain area is necessary for the performance of some task. TMS allows us to manipulate or experimentally control the availability of any part of the brain for involvement in the performance of some cognitive task. In contrast, we can only establish associations or correlations between activation in various brain areas and task performance when using functional neuroimaging.

And there you have it, stay tuned for the next post on cognitive psychology!

Guide to Magic Mushroom Hunting

img_0422-1-991x470DISCLAIMER – This guide is in no way meant to advocate the use of illegal drugs; it exists solely to spread an important pocket of knowledge that might have the potential to save lives, or at the very least, trips to the hospital. There is currently too high a risk for the uninformed novice to mistake a poisonous mushroom for a psychoactive one, and so it is our hope that this article helps illuminate the otherwise dark and mysterious pursuit of magic mushroom identification.

DISCLAIMER #2 –  PRISM do not have magic mushrooms (or any other illegal substances) in their possession. We destroy all evidence of this rewarding (but sadly illegal) hobby by means of digestion. Every year in Victoria, Australia, between the cold months of April to August, magic happens. This magic reveals itself in the form of psychoactive mushrooms. They grow wildly in parks, playgrounds, creeks, forests, nature strips and garden beds They thrive pretty much anywhere with wood chips, tanbark, or mulch that gets a lot of rain and shade. Of course, there are lots of poisonous doppelgängers out there, so it pays to have a bit of experience in identifying the right ones. This ‘experience’ is something we have acquired over the past five or six years of picking and eating magic mushrooms, and so this guide is written with the hope of sharing that knowledge with others. Why buy a man a fish when you can give him a fishing rod, right? This exclusive PRISM feature will attempt to explain how to find magic mushrooms on your own (or with friends), and outline some good methods of drying and storing them.

Contents

Continue reading

Jazz Guitar – Bebop Scales

jazz guitar scales

Bebop scales are certainly very valuable scales to add to your repertoire, especially if jazz is your bag. If you already know how to play the major scale and all of it’s modes, then you will find playing bebop scales a breeze. The reason being, these scales are essentially the same as the major scale’s modes, with the addition of an extra passing note in each of them. There are also bebop scales derived from the modes of the melodic minor, and the modes of the harmonic minor scale (guide on those coming soon!), but for the purpose of this guide I will only be dealing with the three most used bebop scales, and all three originate from the major scale.

Above is a terrific example of the dominant bebop scale (key of Bb) being played. Wes Montgomery is on fire as always, listen and take note! The bebop scales are frequently used in jazz, and deservedly got their name from their extensive use in the Bebop era (1940s-60s) by such jazz musicians as Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie, to name a few. Each scale presented is based on a mode of the major scale, with the addition of an extra passing note which gives it it’s characteristic chromatic run – you always hear the jazz giants flowing through their scales like this.

The bebop scale’s intention was to open up the major scale and give it more of a jazz flavour, and also to introduce a new ‘technique’ for playing over chord changes. Thanks to the added passing tone, if you begin the scale on the root chord tone (1) of the chord playing, and on the downbeat, all other chord tones (3, 5, 7) will also fall on downbeats, while the remaining tones in the scale will occur on the upbeat. This, of course, is assuming the scale is played either ascending or descending, without skipping an interval. These sort of scale runs, peppered occasionally with sequencing, are very common techniques in the world of jazz, as they colour the chords which are being played. Another advantage of the bebop scales is the additional note allows more soloing opportunities, which make it playable over more chords, thus eliminating the need to change scales as frequently as you would with the original major scale modes.

Continue reading

Mother of All Music Theory – The Major Scale

john scofieldI’m not sure why I took so long to write a guide on the major scale, considering it’s easily the most important bit of music theory that you can learn, and knowing it is essential in order to learn other scales and chord theory. I even wrote my guide on modes of the major scale first! But don’t fret, it’s finally here – a guide to the major scale, the mother of all scales. It’s the scale which all other scales are compared to, and from where chords and their progressions derive from; it literally gives birth to music theory. The major scale is the first of the diatonic scales, which is just a fancy word for a seven-note octave repeating scale, which consists of five whole steps and two half steps between each octave. Don’t understand any of that? Don’t worry, you will very soon.
Continue reading

Natural, Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

wes montgomeryThis post we’re going to be discussing three minor scales: the Natural Minor scale (Aeolian mode), the Harmonic Minor Scale, and the Melodic Minor Scale.

As you probably know already from my guide on the Modes of the Major Scale, the 6th mode of the major scale is always the natural minor scale, or the Aeolian mode. In the Key of C major, the Aeolian mode is A minor; therefore A minor is the relative minor of C major: every major chord has a relative minor. When you play an A Aeolian as part of the C major scale then they both share the same notes; for example, the pattern for the major scale is: (W = whole step – 2 frets), H = half step – 1 fret)

W – W – H – W – W – W – H
1    2    3    4     5    6    7

Which in C would = C D E F G A B (then back to C again, but at a higher octave.)

Continue reading