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Improving mental health to achieve happiness

If we can reduce this anxiety by a combination of drugs and yoga, then maybe we will be able to produce a happier and less conflict-driven society and world, writes Anil. K Rajvanshi for South Asia Monitor 

Anil K. Rajvanshi Jul 26, 2022
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Improving mental health to achieve happiness

I was a student in IIT Kanpur in late 1960s. During this time Baba Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert), former Harvard university professor, visited the campus and gave a talk on the use of psychedelic drug LSD (or ‘acid‘ in hippie lingo) for therapeutic and recreational purposes and told us about the fantastic visions that he and others had after its use. Baba Ram Dass was a close associate of Timothy Leary, another Harvard University Professor who pioneered the use of LSD for therapeutic and other uses.

Listening to Baba Ram Dass about the mind-altering experiences and the visions that he and others had after consuming the drugs reminded me of the accounts of similar experiences that Ramakrishna Paramhans had during his intense meditation and Sadhana. I realized at that time that both (LSD and meditation) might be altering the brain chemistry and its structure.

How that could happen was a mystery at that time but rapid research in this field since 1960s has shown that they probably help in neuron rejuvenation by improving synaptic connections. The synaptic connections produce thought and memory and any deterioration in their connectivity leads to brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.                              

What drugs do?

Recent research by Yale scientists has shown clearly that a single micro dose of psilocybin (a drug derived from various mushrooms) helps in inducing neural plasticity (improvement of synaptic connections) in mice. Researchers have found similar enhancement in humans also. Though psilocybin and LSD are different molecules, their mind-altering mechanism may be similar which is by improving synaptic connections and neural plasticity.  

Recently, a fascinating four-part docuseries “How to Change Your Mind” on Netflix traces the development of psychedelic drugs and their use and possible acceptance by the medical community of US. There are indications that some of these mood- enhancing drugs will be available soon to consumers.    

Mood-enhancing drugs and concoctions have been used by all civilizations throughout the history of mankind. They are part of the basic rituals in shamanic religions and are said to help the shaman in communicating with the spirits so that better life results for the shaman and through him/her for the persons who have come for help.

Meditation and sanyam

Even in Patanjali Yoga it is written that a yogi can attain psychic powers either by birth, use of drugs or by the practice of samadhi and self-discipline. However, Patanjali does not say which drug or how much of it should be taken to achieve these powers.

Meditation and practicing sanyam is a sure shot way to improve the brain and increase its neural plasticity, but it is hard work and takes years of practice to achieve the spiritual experiences.

Taking psilocybin, LSD or other psychedelic drugs help to achieve the experience much faster. However, this fast route is also full of danger. Many habitual users of these drugs have experienced hallucinations and nightmares during and after drug-taking episodes since there is no control on how these drugs affect the brain during this time.

Yet there is enough clinical data which suggests that the drug taken in micro doses has helped in improving mood and reducing depression in patients.

Safety first

Thus, it can be conjectured that a possible and safer route may be to take a micro dose of these drugs which may help improve neural plasticity and then practice Yogic Sadhana in a sustained manner for a long time. Such experiments nevertheless should be done safely and under proper medical supervision.  

Presently world over there is tremendous anxiety among the youth. The reasons could be many, but anxiety leads to greed, anger, violence and a whole horde of very poor behaviour exhibited by a good many citizens of the world.

It is estimated that in India up to 30 percent of youth population might be suffering from severe anxiety disorder and the pandemic has made it worse. With mounting pressures of society and increased competition these levels will increase further.

If we can reduce this anxiety by a combination of drugs and yoga, then maybe we will be able to produce a happier and less conflict-driven society and world.    

(The writer, an IIT and US-educated engineer, and a 2022 Padma Shri award winner, is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. Views are personal. He can be reached at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)    

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