How Psychedelics Rewire The 'Default Mode Network' In Your Brain — For Better Or Worse

Expert Matt Zemon on how new therapies change the way our brains work.

hippie woman holding flower over eye Maria Markevich / Shutterstock

Has there been a psychedelic surge lately, or is it just me? Throughout my time in college, I swear I couldn't go one day without talking to someone who admitted to taking psychedelics for recreational purposes. Back then, I dismissed psychedelics as hippie nonsense or just plain-out stupidity. Could you even blame me? That has been the messaging around hallucinogenic drugs and treatments for decades. 


However, recent research has shown that perhaps psychedelic drugs could be powerful therapeutic treatments for all sorts of emotional and psychiatric conditions. According to CU Anschutz Newsroom, "Studies are finding psychedelic therapy could reverse debilitating effects of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and PTSD"

But despite this, most of us are still a bit apprehensive about taking a magical mushroom (or another similar drug) to help us feel better. After all, what type of impact do these drugs even have on our brains?

In the podcast Open Relationships: Transforming Together, host Andrea Miller sits down with neuroscientist Matt Zemon to discuss the impact psychedelics have on our brain and if it truly is all that positive. 


How Psychedelics Rewire The 'Default Mode Network' In Your Brain

Most of us have a tiny "voice" in the back of our minds — sort of like a current of thoughts and self-analyses. Some people are lucky enough to have neutral or positive inner voices. Others of us have a negative inner monologue. Self-criticism? Check. Crippling anxiety or depression? Double check.

If you've dealt with those for years you're probably desperate for a solution. And you'd probably do just about anything to silence the negativity in the back of your mind. 

Some people turn to alcohol or addictive drugs hoping to seek relief. As much as this may give you temporary peace, in the end it will only worsen your depression and make your severe anxiety worse. So where do hallucinogenic therapies like magic mushrooms fit into all of this?


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Zemon explains, "So at a high level it [changes the way your thought patterns take shape]. And I'm going to generalize, but at a high level, what it does it it turns down your default mode network." In other words, it can help quiet the inner voice in your head. And for most, this will feel like the weight of the world lifting off your shoulders. No more insecurity, depression, anxiety, or negative self-talk? Count me in! Yet, that's not all it does.

He continues, "The next thing it's going to do is it's going to have help your brain launched neurons, neurons that haven't fired together in many, many years, they're going to start to fire." But what does this look like?

Imagine yourself skiing down a mountain. As you get older you become familiar with the same old track and you don't delve from it. However, taking psychedelics helps you to see a new path. It shows you a new path that has never been discovered before. 


Zemon adds, "And for those 4 or 5 six hours, oh my goodness, I forgot. I could think this way. I don't need to think about my relationship with food or money, or my partner, or my boss or my kids. This way I can think of it that way."

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The best thing about psychedelics is that it can give you hope. It can show you just how positive you can become. 

Co-host and author Joanna Schroeder adds that she loves to listening to American comedian and writer Neal Brennan's podcast. Brennan has been open about his own therapeutic use of psychedelics and how they've changed his life. 

Schroeder shared that she finally started to understand the good that can be done with these therapies when Brennan explained how his own brain works. "He said that he didn't know that his brain, like, did positivity. He thought his brain just did crabby ness, depression, anxiety, whatever it was."


The more Brennan experimented, the more he realized that his brain wasn't wired to be negative. That he could pick out the positivity and bring it into his own life. Schroeder said it really opened her eyes to the potential. 

Well, it tells us that our brains can experience the world differently than they have in the past. That even if we have experienced depression or anxiety, we aren't meant to be depressed and anxious all the time. That being content and happy is within everyone's reach. 

But pause — don't get it twisted, psychedelics aren't a cure for everything. They aren't meant to solve all your life's problems and suddenly make you whole again. However, it can do something just as great. 

These new therapies can help us remember. It can help us remember how loved we are. Zemon continues, "To remember that we're enough. Remember that we're worthy with that information."


And with all that information, we can start to think about the way we are living our lives. Are we living with any guilt or shame? And if so, how can we change our mindset and live a better more fulfilling life? 

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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.