September 3, 2023

Apply Psychedelic Neuroscience to Optimize Integration & Personal Development with Dr. Manesh Girn

About this Episode

How can we learn to leverage our understanding of psychedelic neuroscience to optimize integration so that we can more effectively support ourselves and others on the path of personal transformation?

Dr. Manesh Girn is a guest teacher for TRANSILIENCE, starting September 13th where he will be teaching a module on psychedelic neuroscience, going much deeper into some of the topics we cover in this episode today. 

Topics Covered
  • Neural plasticity & self directed adaptive neural plasticity. 
  • 3 Reasons it’s important to understanding the neuroscience of psychedelics. 
  • And how we apply those 3 reason to inform optimal integration. 
  • The effect that psychedelics have on the 5HT2A
  • Critical periods, and the specific critical period that psychedelics help to open. 
  • Metaphor and meaning making. 
  • Why transformation is a slow and steady process, and why that’s actually a good thing
  • Manesh’s perspective on how mental health issues originate as nervous system dis-regulation
  • Discomfort as part of the transformation equation.
  • The power of stress and how stress can be highly adaptive.
The serotonin 2A receptor is the main receptor that's targeted by psychedelics. And one interesting thing about this receptor is that it's most densely located in parts of our brain that seem to underlie our ability to learn intergenerational knowledge or cultural knowledge. By disrupting the usual patterns of activity in this area, they disrupt the usually encoded information, making change easier.
Dr. Manesh Girn

Dr. Manesh Girn Biography

Dr. Manesh Girn has been lead or co-author on nearly two dozen scientific publications and book chapters on topics including psychedelics, meditation, and the default-mode network. Having completed his PhD in Neuroscience at McGill University, he currently works as a postdoctoral psychedelic neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). At UCSF, Manesh works closely with pioneering psychedelic researcher Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, where he conducts research on the brain mechanisms underlying psychedelic drugs and personal transformation. Manesh also runs a YouTube channel and Instagram page – called The Psychedelic Scientist – where he discusses the latest findings in psychedelic science in a layperson-friendly form, and he also serves as Chief Research Officer at the psychedelic bioscience company EntheoTech Bioscience


I want to underscore the importance of being intentional and conscious about what you're doing and using our attention to selectively focus on what serves us and what brings us towards the path we want to go into.
Dr. Manesh Girn

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Episode #68: Apply Psychedelic Neuroscience to Optimize Integration & Personal Development with Manesh Girn

Laura Dawn: It’s so good to have you back on the show. It’s been a while since we recorded our first episode together. And to just drop in about everything that you’ve been tracking, what you’ve been working on, and what’s to come in your path.

You have some pretty exciting things in this next chapter as you wrap up your PhD, which is just so incredible. Um, so let’s just dive in and start getting into the, the nitty gritty of it. 

Manesh Girn: Sounds great. I’m really excited to chat with you again. It’s been a very busy couple years and yeah, lots, lots to talk about.

Laura Dawn: All right, well I think it’s an interesting question as we were talking before we started recording about, you know, why is it important for people to have. Somewhat of a grasp of the neuroscience of psychedelics and understanding psychedelics from this perspective. Because there’s a lot of different ways that we can approach our understanding of these very powerful compounds.

And when we look at it through the lens of neuroscience, it offers us, you know, some information that we can then take that and do something with that to better our lives. So I wanna look at it through that lens and start with this high level question around why is it important for people, do you think, to understand some of the neuroscience of psychedelics right now?

And looking at it from that perspective. 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, there are several reasons I could talk about here. I think one is it can be really useful for helping people understand their experience. And I wanna be mindful that there are many ways of knowing and different one ways of knowing are gonna resonate with different types of people, right?

But for those who are more oriented towards scientific modes of understanding, I think, um, having a great 

understanding of the neuroscience of psychedelics can help inform how they relate to their experiences and how they make sense of them. For example, under a psychedelic, you might have this extremely reality shattering experience where you feel like your entire reality was swept out from under beneath you.

And you now are find yourself questioning, who am I? What is the nature of this world that I’m in? What is the nature of reality? And it could be a bit destabilizing if you don’t have a strong meaning-making framework for it. And I think neuroscience, by creating these abstractions and frameworks such as, you know, oh, your default mode network was altered.

Oh, my brain networks became more interconnected, or there was increased entropy in our brain. These might help people ground and be like, oh, this is a temporary experience where my brain activity was shifted in such a way that my perception was changed in such a way, and therefore I kind of can open up this freedom to explore that and say, okay, I know that I’m safe.

I know it’s just temporary alteration of the brain circuits underlying these aspects of my experience. How can I explore and use this opportunity to see new ways of viewing the world in myself as opposed to being afraid that, oh, I’ve gone crazy, I’ve lost it. My brain is not working in a correct way, or something like this.

Mm-hmm. So it can provide that kind of grounding. Mm-hmm. Um, and then another reason. Which is a really important one, is that by understanding how it works at the level of the brain and psychology, we can then see how it relates to other practices such as meditation or breath work or, or yogic practices or, you know, sensory deprivation, all these other means of accessing altered states.

And if we’re starting to look at how they work in the brain, we can look at the similarities and differences and then that in turn can let lead to the development of other interventions and practices that can tap into similar mechanisms to potentially also be useful for insight in transformation and these kinds of things.

Mm-hmm. Um, and, and the last one, a last reason that comes to mind is, uh, this concept of neuroplasticity. It’s a big buzzword in the psychedelic space and is core to their effects. And having a good understanding of neuroplasticity is so important for optimal integration practices and how to go from your experience to lasting changes in your life.


Neuroplasticity is the ability for the brain to change its connections order to facilitate learning or adaptation to new experiences, recovery from injury and so on. We know psychedelics boost it. So then the question is, where in the brain do they boost it? How much for how long? And all these things really inform how you can approach integration.

So it can be really useful in that way as well. 

Laura Dawn: Okay. There’s a lot to unpack there. When you were talking about the first point, I think it’s important to emphasize why gradual change is actually really helpful and a really good thing that we don’t want to just completely shatter our worldview. And right now we’re going through a major collective transition,

we’re moving into the fourth industrial revolution marked by incredibly disruptive technologies. Uh, I just read that about a quarter of all jobs are going to drastically change in the next few years just because of ai. And so we’re going through this time of reinvention where people are like, okay, I need to redefine who I am and how I operate in this world.

I wanna root this in how our brain evolved to survive. So if we could kind of ground this in the idea of adaptability versus stability, exploration versus exploitation. Why understanding that is kind of helpful and why it’s really good to remind people that slow and steady is actually a really great approach towards orienting ourselves towards our own inner transformation and the transformation that we go through on the psychedelic path.

Manesh Girn: Definitely. And it comes back to the way the brain functions and how it encodes neural circuits, right? There’s this idea in the brain that what fires together, wires together. So if you’re gonna fire the same brain circuits by engaging in this, the similar action over and over again, then those are gonna be \

encoded in a lasting way.

And if it’s done progressively over time, and then those circuits are gonna become reified and strengthened over time. Whereas having a one-off experience, you might flip into that state temporarily, but it’s gonna be much harder to maintain it because you didn’t have that progressive buildup. It’s really the long game that’s important ’cause that’s how you make real change in our brains.

And that’s why it’s so hard to change, as we all know, in usual circumstances, the brain is very stubborn and, but really what it takes is consistency over long periods of time. And this is particularly interesting because the brain is wired to make the world, to make our experience of the world efficient and optimized and automated.

So it’s constantly trying to create internal frameworks and models and habits that allow us to just navigate through life on autopilot. It’s basically trying to make us navigate an autopilot. Mm-hmm. But that makes it very easy to get stuck into the same patterns over and over again. And so it’s like this interplay between needing some kind of stability, needing to be efficient so we don’t have to think through every single thing we’re doing, but then also having the behavioral and psychological flexibility to adapt and change in response to experience as well.

Laura Dawn: Mm-hmm. And this is where the Rebus model comes in. So maybe we can unpack that a little bit and why understanding the Rebus framework is helpful to apply that to our own journeys and how we can leverage that understanding to support our own transformation. 

Manesh Girn: , definitely. So REBUS stands for Relaxed Beliefs under Psychedelics, and it’s a particularly influential model of how psychedelics affect the brain and mind proposed by a leading researcher, Robin Carhartt Harris, who I’ll be joining to work with in a month from now, which is pretty exciting.

And, uh, basically the idea there is, um, well, it’s drawing on these predictive coding slash bayesian brain models of brain function, which basically say that we experience the world through our internal frameworks, and that our brain is constantly in the business of creating these internal frameworks to then predict what’s gonna happen in the future.

And so the brain is always checking, cross-checking is my framework, is my model consistent with, with the inputs I’m receiving? And then it’s updating the model to be more match the inputs through prediction errors as they’re called. And so this model basically highlights how we experience the world through the lens of our beliefs, assumptions, and frameworks.

And we don’t usually see the world, quote unquote as it is. We’re very biased, which is not a new idea. Of course, we all recognize this. 

And the idea of this model is that through their unique effects on the brain, psychedelics seem to reduce the stability of our internal frameworks, beliefs, and assumptions, and allow us to kind of see them for what they are by making them more opaque.

So rather than them being this transparent window we see through, we now see the window like, oh wait, here’s a particular way I’ve been viewing reality and it’s been constraining me in this way. It has its limitations here. And then with that comes a greater awareness of other streams of knowledge and information maybe that were ignored before, and this ability to then revise those beliefs and models.

And so essentially the Rebus model suggests that. Psychedelics induced this temporary experience where our models and frameworks have less of a hold on ourselves, so then we’re able to experience new information to then revise them in healthier ways, ideally. 

Laura Dawn: Mm-hmm. It’s so fascinating because it really does point to this understanding that our past keeps creating our future, and we get stuck in these patterns.

And as children, it’s like we’re handed this frame like a pair of glasses, and we’ve been wearing those glasses for so long that we just forget that we’re wearing them. And those cognitive frames or those mental models we’re then trying to fit all of the information that we’re seeing to adapt to what we believe to be true, because that’s more energy efficient for the brain to try to confirm an assumption, a belief rather than question, an assumption or a belief.

Is that accurate to say from a neuroscience perspective? 

Manesh Girn: Yes. I think usual perceptions of the brain in this context are of, it’s trying to confirm its own models. It’s constantly seeking evidence to confirm it, and that’s how we go about life and make the most of our internal representations.

Laura Dawn: Let’s ground this in like a real example though. So let’s say I grew up in a family and, um, the narrative in my upbringing was money is harm to hard to come by. That’s, you know, a pretty. Prevalent belief system in today’s world. So if that’s the message that my parents came home with every day, and that was the sort of imprinting of the belief, then as I am an adult, I’m looking for information through my perceptual lens to fit into that assumption, into that, that it’s, that’s usually hidden into this hidden belief that says, money is hard to come by.

I have to struggle to make money, for example. So I’m always, my brain is literally looking to validate that belief system rather than try to use the energy to create a new construct of reality. Is that right? 

Manesh Girn: Yes, definitely. And part of this 

is the brain’s search for certainty and wants to be certain about how the world is.

And so once it latches onto a belief that’s being taught to you by people you trust, people you internalize knowledge from a k a parents, your family system, et cetera. And then the brain says, oh, like I don’t need to think about this anymore. It, I have this sense of certainty that this is how the world works.

I’m just gonna live from that place. 

Laura Dawn: Mm-hmm. Okay. and so what does this have to do with the five H T two A receptor? Is this tied into this conversation here? 

Manesh Girn: It is, um, this is where things can get pretty interesting ’cause this is linking together what I said about the Rebus model to what we’re saying on a more neurobiological level.

And so, so the serotonin two a receptor, as most listeners probably know, is the main receptor that’s targeted by psychedelics. And one interesting thing about this receptor is that it’s most densely located in parts of our brain that seem to underlie our ability to learn intergenerational knowledge or cultural knowledge.

And these parts of the brain are called your trans modal cortex and it overlaps with your d a mode network and also your prefrontal cortex. And, um, so the two A is most located in these parts of the brain that support these kind of complex behaviors and aspects of thinking that are unique to humans.

And psychedelics do the effects on the two-way receptor. Basically disrupt the usual patterns of activity in this area, therefore disrupting the usually encoded information. And so if usually these patterns of connections between neurons or encoding the belief that money is hard to come by. And now with the psychedelic on board.

Those patterns of activity are all jumbled up. Now. That belief is no longer holding a strong control over you. You’re able to now entertain, oh, maybe, oh, here’s an example where money did come easily to me. Oh, maybe this was wrong. And you start to remember other experiences or things you’ve read that weren’t consistent with the story that previously you just ignored or explained away ’cause you wanted to stick to your narrative.

But now that psychedelics have loosened this up by this activity via the serotonin two A receptor in transoral cortex, you’re now more willing and open to exploring new avenues of information, which then can be encoded in new neural patterns which support the new perspective afterwards. 

Laura Dawn: Right, and that’s the most fascinating part about it, is that the way that we were raised and the lens that we were given then becomes this self-reinforcing loop.

And then we keep creating stronger and stronger neural pathways. And you use the word loosen up, which really ties back to what I said in the beginning because I think that in our culture, we all want rapid transformation, but our beliefs are actually really helpful. Even if it’s not a healthy belief, we actually use it.

For stability in our lives to reduce uncertainty. And so to completely evaporate a belief and completely transform it into something else is not actually really serving us. That would be too psychologically destabilizing. So it’s this loosening up. And then you also said the term meaning making. So how can we work with psychedelics from this perspective to keep a coherent evolution of a storyline so that it’s not just this drastic change of a story or you know, a complete rewriting of a belief, but more of like this slow and steady evolution of an arc of a transformation and, and how do we work with them understanding that actually these are tools for meaning making?

Is there a way that we can apply that understanding to our integration process from your perspective? 

Manesh Girn: All right. I think a core part of this is coming from the chaos and metaphorical and dream-like character of a psychedelic experience and bringing it down into very nitty gritty. How does this relate to my life, my situation, my relationships, my patterns, and all these things.

And then deriving actionable insights. ’cause the more concrete, the better always. And in your experience, you might visit these very transcendental realms of oneness and so on, which are so far removed from your usual experience. And then I think expecting that just to continue is you can’t really expect that it’s not realistic.

Mm-hmm. It’s like, okay, what is the next incremental change I can make in my life to support a trajectory towards that? And then that’s a progressive process. Mm-hmm. And I think, you know, acknowledging, uh, that it is a progressive process, as you just described, goes hand in hand with how it actually works in the brain as well to support lasting change.

Because how the brain works is that it encodes things that are done consistently. Right. What? Fires together. Wires together. That’s like the, the term usually talked about, about the connections between neurons. Mm-hmm. And so if you have one really strong peak experience without consistent follow up, those neurons are not firing together.

And so they’re not gonna wire together even if they did wire together temporarily. And so when it’s progressive, you’re progressively encoding these neural networks deeper and deeper. So then they just become your new baseline. But that takes a lot of time and consistency. 

Laura Dawn: I was curious actually, to ask you about this in terms of the neural firing and wiring also has to do with a, like a high emotional quotient.

Especially like one time imprinting as children, we can have that, like if it’s a really negative experience and that can imprint our nervous system and stick with us for a long time, a k a trauma, uh, that the body and the brain nervous system holds onto, so, If we have a really just ecstatic peak experience, can that have a similar and, you know, and an opposite, but like a positive effect that that one super high emotional quotient experience can actually imprint and create lasting change.

Is that possible? 

Manesh Girn: It’s a fascinating question. I wouldn’t rule it out as impossible, but I wouldn’t tell people to expect that to happen. ’cause I feel like people are always chasing the magic bullet and the instant experience to transform their life. And it maybe it happens for some people in rare circumstances and it is maybe something like, you know, post-traumatic growth, right?

It’s like very intense. Experience that overwhelms your nervous system, but which sends you on a positive trajectory after that. And I think from psychological experiences can be that as well as experiences of extreme awe and so on. Mm-hmm. And so I think these things happen, but I’m wary of promoting that because then it reinforces this idea that I’m gonna have one experience and be changed forever when usually growth and healing is such an incremental journey and requires consistency.

And I think people always want a quick fix, but you know, I wouldn’t, you know, advise people to expect that. 

Laura Dawn: And it’s interesting about awe, ’cause I was recently reading about the feeling of awe can create positive affect and also negative affect that when we actually have this experience of like, wow, I’m so tiny in the vastness of the universe, it can actually also be somewhat psychologically destabilizing.

Manesh Girn: Totally. And it goes back to the psychedelic experience and how it’s neutral in and of itself. Just like neuroplasticity. Just because you’re in this very plastic and open experience and your brain is more moldable, doesn’t mean it’s gonna go in a positive direction. It’s really about what you do with it and the set and setting and all these, what we would call extra pharmacological factors, right?

Mm-hmm. Factors outside of the drug itself. Mm-hmm. And so it’s interesting that people have that with awe, but it just goes to say that essentially no experience is intrinsically good or bad. It’s about how it’s imprinting on your nervous system and your brain, and in the, the broader circumstances in which it occurs and how it’s integrated.

All these things are important. 

Laura Dawn: Right. Which makes me think of. Perception and the self referential loop that we get into where it’s like, okay, we’re exposed to raw sensory data and our brain essentially makes meaning of it based on what our past experiences. And then we keep creating more of that loop in our lives. 

Manesh Girn: Definitely. I think more and more I of the opinion that a lot of our mental health issues originate as nervous system dysregulation, which then feeds up and feeds into these narratives we have about ourselves and beliefs about ourselves, right?

We might have an overactive stress system such that when we’re in social environments, we are just. Highly stressed out and anxious. And then we have the belief that, oh, people don’t like me. I don’t belong. I’m not good at being social. And then that belief reinforces it and then feeds into more anxiety and it’s loop.

Right? And I think there’s so many loops like that. And so there’s this bidirectional communication between the autonomic nervous system and the body and the central nervous system. And I think, we’ll, always to bring it back to psychedelics. But I think they can help undercut that cycle by working on both aspects of it, potentially, you know, releasing pent up energy in the nervous system through, uh, spontaneous movements or shaking in things like this, which commonly do occur.

Mm-hmm. These more somatic type effects. But then also on the level of beliefs that we’ve been talking about, we’re able to see that these beliefs actually don’t hold up to scrutiny when we look at them, which then will help us feel more calmly in our nervous system. So I think both bottom up and top down are always happening.

And, uh, both should be paid attention to. 

Laura Dawn: Okay, let’s go to your third point that you opened with. Can we put a working definition of a critical period on the table for people? Because there is more and more talk about critical periods these days, and is it true that psychedelics definitively do open up critical periods?

Manesh Girn: So there’s several things in this question. So let me just start with the definition of critical periods. So a critical period is a time in the development of your brain and nervous system when it’s really, really sensitive to particular stimuli and that stimuli and information is critical for it to develop in a particular way.

And, uh, a great example of this is in vision. So there’s some really famous experiments from the 1950s and sixties by, um, these two research researchers, last names Hubert and Weasel. They both got the Nobel Prize, for example, for their work on the visual system. And, um, they ran some kind of terrible experiments where they, for example, put cats in a box.

Where in their right after they were born and they only ever saw vertical lines, they never saw hor horizontal lines in the first, I’m not sure how long, but few months after being born. And then when they took ’em out of there, they literally could not perceive horizontal lines. They didn’t, they, the critical period where they had to perceive horizontal lines was over.

So now they would bump into any table or flat object that didn’t have vertical vertical lines. So that’s an example of a critical period where they needed to receive that stimuli or to develop it. And there are a variety of these critical periods in the human brain as well, on slightly different timelines, but mostly in the first, let’s say year to few years of, um, you know, after birth.

And, uh, it was recently has been a couple papers both published in Nature, very high profile papers, uh, by Gold Dolan’s Lab at Johns Hopkins. And they, this is rodent studies in mice. And they found evidence that psychedelics open a particular type of critical period called a social reward learning Critical period.

A social, say that again? Social reward Learning Critical period. Got it. And so, it’s studied through this paradigm called the, the social conditioned place preference paradigm. Basically what they do, uh, rodents are put in this cage where there’s two boxes, right?

And they can choose whether they go into room one or room two. And in room one, they’re always by themself, right? This is a social isolation part of it. And then the other one, they get to play with their friends. They get to hang out with other rods. And , when you do this and you put a rodent in there and you teach it to associate one box with social interaction, one box with being alone, usually when there’s, even when there’s no rodents in the social side, they’ll spend more time in that box.

They’ll just hang out there ’cause they have positive experiences of it. Mm-hmm. But after a certain point in development, they become unable to learn that association. So their ability to then prefer this place in the box based on positive social stimulation is gone. So there’s a critical period for it, I think in the first something like 40 to 60 days after birth.

And, you can track this, how does their preference for the social side and their ability to learn that preference change over time? And it really just goes to zero. It goes really low after 60 days of being born, but you give it some M D M A or psilocybin or ketamine or L S D, um, or Ibogaine. Those are all the drugs they put in the study and all of a sudden they’re back at learning that preference more than they ever have.

And so the idea is it’s opening this critical period to, learn the, the rewarding properties of social interaction in a particular location. And so, yeah, that was a particularly striking finding recently. 

Laura Dawn: Interesting. How could I apply that to better my life? 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, totally. It opens the door to greater understandings of the importance of, um, potential social, uh, effects of psychedelics in the context of therapy.

Mm-hmm. For example, um, when you’re in a psychedelic psychotherapy session, we all know that the rapport with therapist is very important. The therapeutic alliances is called. And one way to construe that is that through the example of that therapist, you’re learning what a healthy, positive, affirming social relationship is like.

And psychedelics by opening this critical period, make you more sensitive to learning new, Social norms or like understandings of how nice and loving a social interaction can be. So it’s facilitating this positive interpersonal learning, which then can support behaviors later on which are helpful and, and you know, pro-social behaviors that it’ll also make you feel better and social interactions and will make you feel better about yourself.

And so, although that’s speculative and we’re going from this rodent study to humans, it could suggest a role for enhanced social learning in the effects of psychedelics, which then highlights the importance of the people you surround yourself with, um, during the experience and immediately after. ’cause you’re gonna be very sensitive to learning these things.

Okay. Yeah, that was my next question because, you know, I really like to emphasize that people working with psychedelic assisted therapy and people seeking out psychedelic experiences because they are actually struggling with clinical depression is a very small percentage compared to all the healthy normals who are like, I just wanna get.

Better at doing the life thing. And so for someone like me and my partner, we drank medicine together this weekend, just the two of us. How can I take that information into us? Just, you know, wanting to cultivate a more loving, kind relationship with each other. It’s like, okay, after the medicine journey, just be extra, extra loving and kind to each other, which kind of happens anyway, you know?

But how do I take that information? Is there anything that I could additionally take away from that besides like, oh, we apply, you know, authentic relating and non violent communication and, you know, we listen to each other more. But anything else? I mean, it is interesting to see that that’s the kind of critical period that opens and so much of our healing is relational.

Um, but if there’s, I know I’m prying you here to go deeper, but I’m just curious mm-hmm. How can I apply that in my own life? 

Right. I think. Kind of what you said is the most important part, right? Like the importance of being very, very intentional with what you’re doing and how you’re thinking and how you’re relating afterwards and being mindful of who you surround yourself with.

I think those are the essential things, and I think a lot of people in everyday life take it in the absence of community. And this kind of stuff really highlights how important community is and having a kind of network of people who mutually reinforce a particular healthy worldview and way of relating that supports who you want to become.

Mm-hmm. Like, that’s so, so important and this really emphasizes that. Mm-hmm. And, um, I think beyond this, like slight sidebar, we know that this is a critical period opened, but this is the only one that’s been studied. So I think we never know what other aspects of critical periods are opened. There might be critical periods related that are more cognitive and less social.

Mm-hmm. More related to our beliefs about ourselves. Mm-hmm. Um, like self-belief, critical periods I’m sure, um, can be somehow, um, Uh, assessed in humans, maybe not in rodents. ’cause that makes it difficult. You don’t know what their beliefs about themselves are, if they have any. But I think, um, there’s a probably other quote unquote critical periods that are open, which then have other implications for types of behaviors that might be ideal.

Mm-hmm. Um, but in terms of the social one, all I can say is what you said really aligns and it’s like being intentional about how you interact and who you surround yourself with. 

Laura Dawn: Right. And this is why combining it with other tools is so helpful. You know, like authentic relating. That’s a great framework for being better in relationships with other people around you.

And also, It’s true. It’s like the, our environment and people are in our environment too. And as we’re evolving, sometimes we actually have to let go of the people who are not supporting the vision of who we are becoming. And it can be hard to let go.

And I, I encourage people to not make any huge drastic, you know, ditch all of your friends kind of thing. Because again, that can be really destabilizing, but starting to inquire about, okay, is this relationship still really serving me? Or is it time that I actually start gravitating towards healthier reflections and healthier relationships?

Manesh Girn: Definitely. Um, this is a bit less scientific, but I believe it. You know, as an individual we operate within a range of, you can say, um, Levels of where we feel connected to ourself, let’s say, let’s frame it in terms of connection. We feel varying levels of how we’re connected to ourselves and our highest vision.

And people can either support or not support that. And so I think if you come out of an experience and you’re very open and you’re at a higher level of connection to your higher self and you feel very integrated, um, you’re gonna wanna keep pushing that upper ceiling. And if you’re like going up and down too much and you’re not brushing against that ceiling, you’re not gonna break through the ceiling.

So it’s like, how can you find ways to live your life in such a way where you’re always hitting that ceiling? So eventually you break through into a new range, a new dynamic range of experiences. And so I think a lot of the time, a lot people have people in their lives who are from earlier stages of their development, who now are just serving them to keep them in the lower end of that range.

And so then it comes down to listening really to your intuition and how you feel around them. And, uh, listening to what that’s saying of whether that person is serving you or not, and then making the difficult decisions that go along with that. ’cause in the end, that could be a huge thing that gets people stuck is, um, being grounded in a social environment that doesn’t support who they’re trying to be or who they’re evolving into.

Mm-hmm. Like, that’s so, so critical. 

Laura Dawn: Yeah. And that’s the hard thing with relationships, especially when you’re in a relationship for so long and the person that you’re living with is relating to your old self and you’re like, wait, can you please update your model of who I am so that we can totally know, get current, because I’m evolving inside my mind.

But you keep reflecting back the old version of me, and I’m still now staying stuck. And this is, you know, 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, classic. Yeah, of course. I’ve, a lot of friends I’m still in touch with who know me from high school and their conception of me is completely different than people who’ve led me, known me in the last three years.

Right. It’s like, to what extent is it serving me to, to be in context where I’m being projected on as something I was fif, you know, 15 years ago or whatever it is. Yeah. And it’s like something to navigate, but it kind of, you know, being in tune with yourself is very important to this process. For sure.

Laura Dawn: Yeah. I lovingly and jokingly call it the people purge. After you go through the purge, you’re like, okay, actually there are relationships I need to let go of. Okay. Mm-hmm. I think we’ve covered the relationship. Piece. How do I take the Rebus model and the understanding that there are windows of heightened cognitive flexibility after a psychedelic journey or a sacred plant medicine ceremony?

And how do I leverage that loosening of my identity, of my belief system? And do you have any recommendations on practical tools, thinking, skills reframing? How do I leverage that as just an average everyday person who is not necessarily working with a therapist? Are there any frameworks, practices, tools that you wanna put on the table so we can like get the most out of that cognitive flexibility that we experience in that afterglow?

Manesh Girn: Right. The best I can speak to this is in terms of what I’ve done for myself and what I’ve seen work. I think a core part of it is like taking care to articulate what you want to do and change. And, because even the concept like, okay, my mind is a bit more flexible and so on, it’s still quite abstract.

It’s like, okay, the question is what new thoughts am I having? How am I viewing myself differently? And really just journaling to making that, um, as concrete as possible, as specific as possible. And then asking yourself, in what ways do these show up in my life? How does it relate to my behavior? And then really on a case by case basis, like what would a new behavior look like in that context?

Mm-hmm. And then keeping track of that. You know, there’s this idea that, um, what is measured can be managed, right? And so if you’re not measuring it, and if you’re not taking a close look at it, it’s super airy fairy and you won’t even know if you’re making progress or not. So it’s like get clear on where you’re at currently, what your habits were and what the habits you’re moving into are, and what are the concrete steps to actualizing that in your life.

And then going hand in hand with that is cultivating deeper mindfulness. ’cause if you’re not aware of your habitual reactions to things, how you relate to difficult emotions, how you show up in particular situations, if you’re not able to have real time, present moment awareness in those contexts, it’s very hard to escape patterns.

So I think having a clear or clearly articulated conception of how you wanna change, and then I. Cultivating this, the presence of mind and mindfulness to be able to implement that in your day-to-day. Those are essential no matter what you’re doing. Mm-hmm. And I think hand in hand, like I also, I’m, I’m a big fan of visualizations and affirmation.

Mm-hmm. And so, um, you might think about what is, what would it feel like to be this, uh, ideal self that I’m moving towards? You know, uh, how would I feel in my body? How would I feel in different contexts in my life? And just getting into that feeling state as strong as possible. And then even tying that feeling state to affirmations, to lines, like even just one to three lines.

Keeping it simple that you can just repeat in your head in the day, in the moment. ’cause. Rewiring habitual patterns is very difficult, and our mind is our enemy a lot of times. Mm-hmm. It’s really about connecting to feeling and connecting to presence and new actions and not listening to our minds, being skeptical of our minds.

Mm-hmm. Um, so yeah, that was still kind of abstract, but that’s as practical as, uh, I get with myself. So. 

Laura Dawn: Okay. I wanna put you on a little bit of a hot seat. I’m curious, where are you meeting your own growth edge right now? I know you’re doing some of your own work with medicines. We won’t get into all of those very personal details, but where are you applying what you just said to your own life?

Manesh Girn: Hmm. Um, I think a part of what’s most present for me these days is, connecting to what I feel like is my purpose and how do I prioritize what I do.

’cause uh, you might relate, many might relate. There’s like a million things that are cool and interesting and that seem to be worthwhile. It’s like how do we navigate that as finite human beings? And so, something I often repeat is, basically affirmations aimed at. The realization and knowledge that I’m inherently complete as I am in this moment.

Everything is an outflow of the abundance I feel inside. And that, uh, that leads me to be totally internally directed. Like I’m not doing something because I feel like some pressure to do it or it’s some status ego play or what have you. It’s like I’m intrinsically complete and from that completeness, what am I naturally drawn to do?

Mm-hmm. And so I’ll repeat during the day, you know, um, I am unconditionally complete the way I am. Or, um, just being manesh enough and I’ll repeat that kind of thing to me, uh, myself, and also sit in meditation and cultivate. What would it feel like to be completely finished all of my work on this earth?

You know, how would I feel when it’s this, this moment? Is it I’ve reached the pinnacle? It’s all being done. I am this total peace and contentness and I try to cultivate that experience and, um, become familiar with something like it. And I think that allows me then to be, to like fine tune my sort of discrimination of is this gonna serve me?

Is this truly aligned with myself and my mission, or am I just doing it because I think it’s cool or I’ll look cool by doing it? Or something like that. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And, and so yeah, that’s how I use affirmations and visualizations in my life. And I also write out a lot in terms of what my values and priorities are and what serves me towards my mission and this kind of thing.

Laura Dawn: Perfect. I love all of that. That’s all part of the resilience framework. There’s a few things that I want to, uh, come back to, and let’s just give a shout out to all of our multi-passionate, multimodal, entrepreneurial friends who just are so passionate about so many things. I resonate with that so completely.

And so I also have to be so discerning about where I put my energy and attention. And attention is the core word here. I’m going somewhere with this self-directed adaptive neuroplasticity. I wanna talk about this. And my understanding is that after 25, when we’re not as plastic as when we’re, you know, in our critical period growing up, and I’ve heard Andrew Huberman talk a lot about this lately on his podcast around the focus and attention required.

 It’s an essential part of actually opening up, , a gateway to neuroplasticity. So I wanna tie this all together here. Um, can we definitively say that psychedelics enhance neuroplasticity? Like, do we know that for fact at this point? Yeah, I could say yes. Yeah. Okay. So we, we absolutely know that to be true.

And so given that, what do we understand about this term and this concept of self-directed adaptive neuroplasticity? How do we tie that with these windows of heightened flexibility so that we can bring in this awareness of, okay, if I focus my attention in specific ways, then I’m actually combining that and leveraging that so that I’m working towards the change that I wanna see.

And in your case, you’re really focusing on this example. What if I lead from a place of not proving, but just centered alignment with I’m already inherently complete. That’s what you’re focusing on and that’s a way that you’re, you know, bringing your attention to leading from that place in your life.

I wanna bring in this, this concept of self-directed adaptive neuroplasticity and how do we leverage that to enhance the effects that we’re seeing in our lives? 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, this is great. And I actually recently gave a talk at a psychedelic leadership summit and like a Canadian Psychedelic Leadership Summit.

And the title of my talk was Psychedelics as Pharmacologically Enhanced, self-Directed Adaptive Neuroplasticity. So exactly what you’re saying. So it’s exactly that, 

and I think that’s really what psychedelic psychotherapy is. It’s using psychedelics to enhance a neuroplasticity, um, and also psychological plasticity to then.

In a self-directed way, encode that into lasting insights. Mm-hmm. And I think it’s important to highlight that everything we do is molding our brain. We’re always engaged in self-directed neuroplasticity in some way, shape or form. It’s just not intentional, not necessarily adaptive. That’s why adaptive is an important term here.

And so the question is, how are we deciding to mold our brains? Mm-hmm. And when we bring psychedelics into the picture, it’s how are we, you know, using this enhanced ability to mold our brains kinda s the ante of it, because you can easily use it to encode negative habits in a deeper way.

Mm-hmm. And so I think by emphasizing this self-directed neuroplasticity piece, you’re really, um, emphasizing how every action makes an impact. And it just underscores the importance of being intentional and conscious about what you’re doing and using our attention to selectively focus on what serves us and what brings us towards the path we want to go into.

Mm-hmm. Um, because as you said, attention does amplify neuroplasticity. Mm-hmm. Attention is, can be understood as a way that our brain selectively amplifies certain activity patterns. Mm-hmm. If, if there’s an activity pattern related to what you’re seeing in front of you and it’s not being amplified, we’re not gonna really notice it.

But when you’re amplifying it through retention now, it’s that it becomes more supercharged, you could say. And there’s more neuroplasticity through glutamate and so on. And so literally our intention is the amplifier of our neuroplastic changes in our brain. Um mm-hmm. And so, yeah, it’s, again, it’s all so important.

And these are useful frameworks to understand how to, um, leverage psychedelic states for lasting change. 

Laura Dawn: It’s interesting because there’s all this sort of talk about, you know, the best way for intention setting, but if you look at the word intention, it just, it comes from the root word in which means where you place your attention, and that’s how I teach it.

It’s this really simple, your intention is where you place your attention and it’s using that. Okay. I’m intending to focus on this. I’m intending to focus on that. Is there another way that you think about intention in relation to all of this conversation around self-directed adaptive neuroplasticity?

Manesh Girn: Hmm. I see it in this kind of like hierarchical way where intention is the overall frame that’s moving you forward. Right. My intention is to connect more to my purpose, but then within that is so many different, many intentions. You know, , the mini attention could be to focus more at work or like not be so, uh, influenced by external perceptions.

Um, but I think intention for me is usually the overarching guiding impulse towards something. And then your attention will be dictated by your intention. ’cause you wanna be consistent with your intention, with your attention, right? Mm-hmm. And so I think intention is like your, your North star, in essence.

That’s how I see it. 

Laura Dawn: I really appreciate that, and especially because there’s so much talk about, you know, these times of accelerating change. And I mentioned, that , we’re moving into the fourth industrial revolution. It’s disruptive technology this time in the economy. And it’s like, okay, on one level we can have the narrative that like psychedelics can help us adapt.

We need to adapt in times of change. But then on a much deeper, more significant level, we need to ask ourselves, well what are we adapting to? If we keep adapting to a more dysfunctional culture in society, then we’re just keeping up with something that is highly dysfunctional. So it’s like adaptive towards what you know.

And so for me, I think of it in terms of rooted in meaning. Fulfilled with purpose and expanded through meaningful connections in our lives. And to me it’s like that’s what we’re intending towards, like growth in a positive way in our lives. And I’m curious how you think of it in terms of that.

Manesh Girn: Yeah. This is really interesting.

What’s coming up for me is this distinction between, um, accommodating and assimilating. And so I think accommodating means you’re adapting to, to match the environment. Whereas assimilating is you’re, you’re internalizing the environment within yourself. So it’s either you’re changing how you perceive based on the environment.

 Either you’re adapting yourself to more mirror or be similar to the environment, or you’re adapting who you are. You’re staying true to who you are, but changing that image to more match the environment.

Mm-hmm. It’s like one, the environment is leading who you are, the other one you are leading who you are. Mm-hmm. But it’s a mutual exchange between you and the environment. Mm-hmm. Does that make sense? 

Laura Dawn: Yeah. And, and it’s also a sort of self reiterating process because I think when we go through these experiences and then we wanna change our lives, we change our environment, and then our environment shapes us and then we make more decisions about how we shape our environment, and then we put ourselves in new situations that then shape us in return.

And it’s really remarkably mind blowing to think about it in that way. 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, definitely. I think a core part of this is staying true to your values. Because you can adapt to a, you know, quote unquote adapt to a dysfunctional society while maintaining values, which are fundamentally opposite to that society.

Mm-hmm. And it’s like, it is, there’s so much nuance in the word adapt here mm-hmm. And varying degrees of it. Mm-hmm. And it’s like, the question is how much do you lose yourself in that, that adaptation process for it’s maintain it while also being sensitive to it. Mm-hmm. So it’s like this very complex dance.

Laura Dawn: Definitely. Yeah. It’s so interesting and you use the word visualization. I’m a huge advocate for mental imagery and some of the research that Robin. Carl Harris did was um, I read this quote that he put out in this paper quite a while ago about closed eye visions, the power of psychedelics to enhance our inner visual landscape.

And do you think that there is something to that, to leveraging that time to cultivate a new vision for our lives and that we’re in this , heightened feeling state, we have this internal enhanced mental imagery landscape and we know that that actually is really helpful for firing and wiring, allowing us to connect new pathways in our brain.

 What’s your understanding? Is that something that you’re looking at

Manesh Girn: I think there’s something definitely to it and it’s very understudied. ’cause as you’re saying, um, I. All psychedelics effects seem to go hand in hand with visualization, increased vividness, increased emotional impact, and just amplifying all the processes that make visualization effective for self-image updating for behavior change.

But it hasn’t really been looked at any studies, which is very interesting. But I do think there’s something to it, and maybe you do this in your program combining it with visualization practices. And I can see that being very powerful.

Mm-hmm. Um, but yeah, very much understudied. Somebody’s gotta do it. Maybe. Maybe one day I will. 

Laura Dawn: Yeah. I mean, it’s so interesting because even from an indigenous perspective, I mean, many of these medicines have been called visionary medicines, you know, that they enhance that capacity to see with our inner eye.

And that oftentimes that that’s actually the pathway to constructing, a new vision for ourselves so that we can break free from the past. And in that way, I actually do think that that’s a way that we end this self-referential loop of our past, continuing to create our future, coming back to predictive coding.

And that if we can really anchor a vision that’s rooted in values and what we really care about, and we can feel that in our body very deeply, that that actually is a very powerful catalyst for breaking cycles. It’s the essence of how I work with medicines, truly. And it’s really the, the framework for how I’ve transformed my own life.

And the science of mental imagery is there. And I actually referenced that one quote from Robin Cart Harris. And there’s one other study that talked about ayahuasca and these inner visions that we experience that, you know, it’s so visionary, but there’s no one else talking about it. So I’d love for you to do those studies.

Manesh Girn: For sure. And actually there was a great paper by a friend and colleague of mine, Leo Roseman at Imperial, and a guy named, I think it’s Marco Akil. They wrote a paper basically arguing how the visual aspects of psychedelics have been, um, really under-emphasized in the therapeutic benefits and wrongly so, and they’re really making this argument that the visionary effects are very central.

It’s not dismissal effects. It’s not just the emotional breakthroughs, it’s the actual imagery, the visual experiences people go through that are also important. And so people are making this argument in literature, which is really great because I agree it is a major part. I’ll include that link in the show notes if you have access to that paper.

Um, for sure. I’d love to include that. 

Laura Dawn: Okay. Just as a sidebar, this is just for. Pure enjoyment purposes. But it is interesting to contemplate if we were to take this one step further and see that our visions are highly intricate fractualize visions, we could potentially make an argument that there is this sense of high frequency coherence happening.

Because when we look at these studies that have been done with sound frequencies if you look up cymatics on YouTube and you see that when it’s higher frequency, it’s more intricate patterns. And when we go into L S D, psilocybin ayahuasca journeys, we’re seeing very like immaculately intricate patterns.

Manesh Girn: It’s really, it’s really interesting. I, I know Joe Dispenza talks about this stuff a lot. That’s my, where you’re partially drawing it from as well. And in some sense, you know, the link between high frequencies and complexity makes sense because high frequency, um, high frequencies suggest a rapid propagation of information ’cause it’s fluctuating so fast.

And it could be, um, sharing information at timescales very rapidly. And that supports complexity in the emergence of complex patterns. Mm-hmm. But bringing it back to psychedelics, what’s interesting is that this research does suggest that all the different frequencies are reduced in their synchrony and Right.

Laura Dawn: I saw that. Which was like, oh, that’s interesting. It’s opposite. 

Manesh Girn: Yeah. Yeah. And, and in fact, and reductions in the alpha frequency band mm-hmm. In the visual cortex are very strongly correlated with, uh, complex visuals. And so there’s a, there’s a more complex picture here, and it’s. Because like another thing that Alpha, for example, is involved in is, um, inhibition of activity and also, um, more of a reliance on past experience.

And so things get very complex, but Gamma Gamma is involved in the tying together of perceptual elements and the creation of a unified experience of consciousness. Mm-hmm. And so Gamma is involved in that and there’s research with meditators who were able to up upregulate their gamma. Mm-hmm. But yeah, how this relates to psychedelic experience, like it’s very complex and unclear and Yeah.

Laura Dawn: Yeah. When I was in 2019 in Gerona at the World Ayahuasca Conference, I saw a researcher talk about a study that they did with gamma brainwaves and ayahuasca and I thought, oh, that’s interesting.

Manesh Girn: Yeah, these are interesting. I’d have to look at what’s, yeah. What the research literature is on there. ’cause there’s a lot, I hear these kind of claims all the time, of course. But I haven’t gone into a deep dive into them myself. And I think a lot of researchers are quite dismissive and skeptical. Right.

But Right. I’m usually not one of those researchers. I’m pretty open. So yeah. Something to explore. It’s definitely interesting. 

Laura Dawn: Yeah, I think, I think it’s good to have a balance, you know, and, and, Something that I like to remind people is that there’s so many ways of knowing and so trust your own knowing.

 I just talked about this and actually a recent solo episode on psychedelics and creativity is like we have this huge hidden assumption in Western culture that, you know, we live in a monophasic culture. Indigenous cultures are polyphasic, which values different modes of consciousness and the information received in like a dream state, for example, or an altered state of consciousness, in western culture, in a monophasic culture, we have this hierarchy of okay, waking consciousness that’s valid, nothing else is valid, but actually I have learned otherwise in my own life that altered states is a way of knowing that is also just as valid as knowing that transpires in waking consciousness.

Manesh Girn: Yeah, I agree. We need more flexibility there. It’s just another prior, this is just another cultural prior that’s deeply embedded and there are so many that we inherit from the Western tradition, you know, going through the enlightenment and all of that in terms of hyper rationalist, material reductionist, um, kinda like scientist views of reality, which kind of.

View animism as some primitive belief. And, um, if you, you know, live through a knowledge system that’s not based in empirical scientific investigation, then you’re just out for lunch. You’re not, you know, you’re not a reliable person. Mm-hmm. The, the word that Terrance McKenna used to use was EPIs.

Epistemologically naive. Yeah. It’s like, okay, are we are like shamans and all these traditions, epi EPIs. Epistemologically EPIs. Yeah. Epistemologically naive. Or are we in our kind of glorification and presumptuousness that our mode of reality is the best, even though when it clearly has limitations on the phenomena, it includes, mm-hmm.

Laura Dawn: Okay. I, I wanna ask you another Andrew Huberman related question because I have been hearing him talk about neurogenesis and that the capacity for our brain to make new brain cells is actually very, very low, and that people talk about neurogenesis, but that when you look at the actual science and literature, that it’s a very infinitesimal small amount of brain cells.

What’s your take on psychedelics and neurogenesis, specifically different than neuroplasticity? 

Manesh Girn: Totally. So neurogenesis, as far as I know, only really happens in the hippocampus and maybe in the gustatory cortex. So the, the taste, the part of her brain involved in taste. And these, according to some models, there’s some, they’re very, very original parts of the brain when you go back to little, um, oh, is the word for ’em.

Like these chemical, like amoeba, like things in the primeval soup. Mm-hmm. They. Live through detecting chemical gradients in the water, just basically taste, and also being able to encode things in memory, which is hippocampus. So these are very, very early, you know, post Cambrian explosion like 500 million years ago type structures.

And these are the only two that are able to create new neurons and for very specific purposes. And so I think people conflate neuroplasticity and neurogenesis a lot. Mm-hmm. I think they’re the same thing. In reality. They serve very different functions and different roles and I think, um, What’s more interesting is neuroplasticity in a lot of cases because this is like our brain has something on the order of a thousand trillion synapses or, or connections.

And so these are the complex weightings that encode our experience of the world. Mm-hmm. And so those are what’s doing the heavy lifting, if you get another a hundred thousand neurons, is that gonna really make a massive, massive difference in a a hundred billion connected to up to a thousand connections each.

And so, That said, there might be important, interesting things that might happen in the hippocampus, for example. Mm-hmm. Related to our ability to reconsolidate memories. Mm-hmm. To change how we remember certain things. And um, also in terms of our sense of self, because our memories are involved in that.

And there is some evidence suggesting increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus, but there’s research that’s inconsistent. Mm-hmm. There’s the, it’s most reliably found in rodents with five M O D M T and N N D M T. Mm-hmm. With psilocybin. I think there was one study that showed an increase and another study actually found a decrease.

Mm-hmm. Whereas with LSS D it was something similar. So it’s like quite messy and unclear. Mm-hmm. For sure. 

Laura Dawn: Do you think a really healthy part of the integration process is assigning new meaning to past memories to help upgrade our identity construct. 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, a hundred percent. And it’s, it’s highlighted a lot M D M A research.

So using M D M A for P T SS D memory, reconsolidation, as it’s called, is a major mechanism. This is the process by which person will remember a traumatic memory that has an extremely high emotional charge, but they’re recalling it in a context where they feel safe, supported, and resourced. So then when they re-encode it after remembering it, it’s encoded with less of a strong emotional charge.

And that kind of reconsolidation process is central to the effects, and I think it happens in a variety of ways. That’s another way of describing what a different perspective is. A different perspective is reconstructing a, a memory with a different framework around it and a different emotional charge.

Mm-hmm. Um, so yeah, I think that’s definitely central. 

Laura Dawn: Do you think we can apply that to people working with psilocybin or L S D, for example, and in an aftermath, integrative way and what would that look like? Just encouraging someone to go back to a memory when you’re in that more flexible state and remember it from a different perspective or tell a new story around it.

Like how would we encourage people to do that? 

Manesh Girn: Yeah. Basically what you’ve said, and I think it happens spontaneously, a lot of times people might have an experience of going back to when they were six years old and their parents are fighting or something, but they’re able to see it as their adult self.

And so then you’re internalizing in this very deep way. Uh, you know, more of a compassionate view of themselves. They maybe had shame. They maybe felt like they were responsible for their parents fighting, but now you see, of course, that’s not the case. And having this self-compassion mm-hmm. You know, it can be incredibly healing and happens spontaneously.

Mm-hmm. Um, but I think also directed by a therapist in the integration process or a guide during the experience can also help just be like, when you had this memory, what, you know, what beliefs were coming up for you? What emotions were coming up? Do you think those are valid? What would you as an adult say to that version of you and how would you perceive it?

Mm-hmm. And I think being in that highly plastic state, that can really shift things as well. Yeah. And definitely I think it’s a core part of it. Mm-hmm. 

Laura Dawn: Could we say that discomfort is a prerequisite for transformation? That learning to sit with discomfort, that we have to by default go through some threshold. Even when we look at learning, for example, that when we’re learning information that’s really challenging us and we’re kind of hitting our threshold of cognitive load, that the brain releases epinephrine and that we’re, we actually have this like agitated feeling.

So even learning can be inherently uncomfortable when we’re re-patterning or changing a habit or evolving into a new version of ourselves. Do you think that discomfort is really part of that equation? 

Manesh Girn: I think it definitely is, and I think so many people get trapped within their comfort zone and being secure and even settle for a suboptimal ways of living because of the discomfort of moving into something better.

Mm-hmm. And so I think it’s a very core part of it and comes down to the power of stress to facilitate transformation. Right? I think stress can be highly adaptive, of course, in certain contexts, in pushing us to make certain changes and adaptively cope with what’s going on. And so I think, um, specifically in psychedelic therapy too, like a major aspect of it is moving from avoidance to approach with respect to difficult emotions, memory sensations, thoughts, and so on.

And so that often requires stepping and leaning into the discomfort and the difficult emotions in order to feel them and move through them, right? Like in and through. So I think. Operating from a place of avoiding comfort is just a way to stay the same way you are and not really change. And I do believe that 

Laura Dawn: that also gives us sort of a new take on stress.

And is this, could we tie this to the tale of two receptors and what, what was Carhartt Harris really trying to get at where he was talking about, I mean, that it isn’t actually a stressful experience on the body to go through a psychedelic journey. And when I first read it, I was like, oh, that’s so interesting.

But it could we tie that to this conversation of discomfort. 

Manesh Girn: Definitely. So that paper was highlighting Serotonin’s role in regulating our stress responses. And it separated two receptors, the serotonin one A and the two A, where the one A is the receptor that’s most implicated in things like SSRIs and standard antidepressants.

And as we know, these kind of reduce our emotional range, numb ourselves out, so we’re able to passively cope with the difficulties in our life and just function. Whereas the serotonin two A, which is activated by psychedelics, seems to activate this plastic, um, more flexible state where we can create real changes and face our challenges head on to make real lasting change in our life.

And so the idea is that psychedelics are tapping into this inbuilt mechanism. That helps us face high periods of high stress in an active, dynamic way. Which makes a lot of sense because when would we most need to transform and change what we’re doing, when what we’re doing is not working? ’cause we’re being overwhelmed and stressed.

Mm-hmm. And so I think there is an intimate link between, uh, our brain body’s ability to adapt and respond to stress and the psychedelic experience for sure. 

Laura Dawn: Mm-hmm. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dr. Aaliyah Crumb’s work on the stress as enhancing mindset. Oh, it’s such interesting research.

Okay. I am really happy I asked you about that because I’ve been wondering about that paper and how that relates to the one A versus the two A, and it kind of comes back to this whole notion of stability versus adaptability. Right? , and I think when we understand that, I know it’s been helpful for me because sometimes I’m like, oh, right, my brain just wants to cling to stability because it was designed that way.

So it’s okay. I can have the courage to take the leap and go for it, even though there’s fear there, because that’s my biological evolutionary hard wiring. 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, but I do think there’s a lot of relearning that can happen too, right? You can associate fear with excitement and with something like, oh, I’m scared here.

I’m gonna go towards that. I have a curiosity towards it. I think people naturally have different responses to how they deal with fear, but I think in adulthood you can relearn the relationship to it. And, um, you know, many people have, and I’m sure the most successful people have learned to treat fear as something to be curious about and to potentially push through.

As long as it doesn’t threaten your life in any serious way, which a lot of the fear we, we experience in modern society is not that we’re not scared of being killed, we’re scared of, uh, embarrassment or shame or what have you, right? Mm-hmm. I think you could relearn that that fear is healthy, fear that can be pushed through and we can keep pushing our edge, and I do think that’s central to growing and expanding as an individual.

Laura Dawn: Yeah, I love all of that. And it ties so much into growth mindset and falling in love with the journey. Mm-hmm. And I think of Brene Brown’s quote, that’s one of my favorite quotes is like, I don’t leap to stick the landing. I leap for the act of flying through the air. It’s like, enjoy. Mm-hmm. The journey.

It’s not about the outcome of sticking the landing all the time. Although it’s nice when we do, you know, when we like take a big leap and you land on your feet, rather than like, oh, okay, that was, you know, not so great. Mm-hmm. You know, so it’s nice when we have the successes.

Mm-hmm. But it’s not always gonna be that, that way. So enjoying the ride, enjoying the journey of life. Totally. Okay. 

Manesh Girn: Is there anything that you feel like sharing about the science of imagination and how that can play a therapeutic role in transformation?

Is there anything that’s in the psychedelic sphere? I’d be curious because I do feel like that that is a really essential part of the therapeutic process is that we can, it’s kind of linking to mental imagery, but it is distinctly different.

There’s like the atmosphere of the psychedelic experience is enhanced. Imagination. Actually. Think about it in terms of our internal setting. It’s like the atmosphere of it. There’s like this more vibrant, more vivid aspect to it. Is there anything in this psychedelic literature that points to that from your understanding?

You know, there isn’t much explicit work using the word imagination in relation to psychedelic effects. And there should be, but I think it’s a lot of the time it’s implicit. For example, in the studies using psilocybin for tobacco addiction, a lot of the people who become abstinent and stop smoking afterwards had a very strong.

Experienced as that’s visual and emotional where they just were totally disgusted with the concept of smoking. Like that experience was so strong it imprinted in them so deeply that they just never touched a cigarette again. And I think that is a form of kinda spontaneous imagination, right? It’s this image is emerging.

Maybe they saw some metaphorical representation of the effects that smoking was having on their nervous system and their lungs and their body, um, and you know, setting them up for cancer and all these things. And they had a visionary experience around that, which was tied to emotion and that was the main mover for them.

And so stuff like that does happen in the substance use, uh, studies. And so it’d be really interesting to have studies specifically looking at that and prompting and queuing people to do certain types of imagination and how all that would work as well. So, so much we don’t know so much to look at. Yeah.

So fascinating. And it’s so interesting. I’m very curious about that too. And about the role that imagination has specifically in relation to its therapeutic effects. I mean, totally. Yeah.

Laura Dawn: So you are moving to San Francisco, you are gonna be working at U C S F with Robin Cart Harris, what are some of the things that you’re excited about? What are you gonna be working on there? 

Manesh Girn: So, a variety of projects. So Robin and the team down there have two large projects that we’re getting off the ground.

So very quickly, the first is, Looking deeply into individual specific responses to psychedelics. We’re taking, I think something like seven seasoned psycho knots and taking them through four high dose psilocybin sessions alongside brain imaging to see how each of them uniquely responds to it and diving deep into their phenomenology of their experiences and relaying that to the brain.

And this is different than other studies which have taken, let’s say, 20 to 30 people and look at the averages. Now we’re this deep individual specific look, which can be really relevant for the future. And personalizing responses to psychedelics and seeing individual variability ’cause we know people response so differently.

Um, so that’s one study I’m pretty excited about. And then the other study is systematically investigating the effect of setting on psychedelic effects. We take it for granted. Set and setting, you know, it’s been around since Leary, but it hasn’t really been systematically studied. And in this, in this study, we’re basically have, there’s four conditions.

So it’s like, Psilocybin, placebo and then enriched set setting and unenriched and enriched. Set setting is your standard, comfortable living room, eye shades, recliner. They’re even gonna have like, um, projectors with nature scenes, natural like oils and scents in the air and just making as comfortable as possible.

And then unenriched is kind of more of a sterile room, not that warm and aesthetically pleasing. I’m not sure what we’re doing about music, but it won’t be a curated playlist like the other one just to see really how is this affecting, um, psychological measures, you know, when measured before and after.

And also there’s gonna be brain scans before and after. And so I’m gonna be heavily involved in those two projects to bring some analysis. I proposed and leading some of the brain imaging stuff, um, which I’m pretty excited about. And then on top of that, I have like a lot of cool collaborations with other researchers, some with Robin, some with others, uh, just, you know, pushing psychedelic research and forward in ways that I think are important.

Something I am really excited about and I’m gonna be working on in collaboration, um, with other researchers, including, uh, women named Devvin Christie, who is a MD psychiatrist, I believe we are gonna write a, me and a couple others and her are gonna write papers highlighting the somatic side of psychedelic therapy.

And I’m gonna be leading a paper, making a mechanistic argument on why somatic. Autonomic nervous system type effects are very important with psychedelics and why psychedelic brain effects would likely influence that because a lot of psychedelic therapy frameworks are very cognitive, they’re very beliefs, everything we’ve been talking about, but we all know what’s in the body is often the most powerful mover of change, and that’s where a lot of these things originate.

Right. So that’s also something I’m really interested about. 

Laura Dawn: That’s incredible. I love all the directions that you’re going in and we’ll have to have you back on when some of the studies that are underway and you have some of , the results and the findings.

 And I’m so grateful that you’re gonna be joining us for resilience and teaching about neuroscience and going deeper into what we’ve been talking about today. And is there anything else that you feel like sharing that you’re inspired by 

Manesh Girn: Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve explored a wide range of things. 

I think this theme of stability versus change and the mechanisms and requirements of transformation really close to my heart as well, and I think is so important. And it’s also moving , beyond an excessive medicalized model where you have to have a diagnosis to be eligible for these things.

cause there’s so much potential for expanding people beyond just a baseline quote unquote healthy functioning, whatever that means in the first place. Right. And I’m really excited to see. Psychedelics as tools for greater self-actualization and growth beyond just being a functioning member of this capitalist society and being able to go to work and et cetera.

Mm-hmm. And so that’s something I wanna spearhead moving forward as well. 

Uh, are you picking up your YouTube channel again? The psychedelic scientist? Hi. I am I’m gonna be launching weekly videos again, uh, covering the latest in psychedelic science. And I’m excited. I have a new editor, I have a new strategy, and I’m just gonna be, try to be as consistent as possible, so look for that in the near future.

Awesome. And it’s hard to be consistent, you know, as I’m a content creator as well, so we’d be gentle on ourselves. I like to go at the pace of my nervous system with this podcast, and I just tell people, you know, I’m not putting out an episode every week because it’s. A lot, so. Mm-hmm. I encourage you to go at that pace too.

And you know what, one other thing I wanted to share with you, Manesh, I’ve been making a really big transition in my life from time management to energy management to attention management. This links to what we were talking about attention earlier, but it’s such a game changer and there’s some great books about this, this paradigm shift from time management to energy management, and it’s actually been having a really big impact in how I, you know, create content where I direct my energy and my focus and my attention, and just giving myself more grace around all of it, because it’s a lot.

Mm-hmm. You know, uh, yeah, definitely. Yeah, I’d love to hear any recommendations. And energy management is so core, like in central, especially when I think you resonate doing so many things that we’re excited about, but it can be take its toll very easily. So it’s so important to be conscious of that. 

And thank you for all the work that you have done already on the Psychedelic Scientist, uh, YouTube channel because you’ve really put out a lot of great content and I know the effort that that takes.

So thank you so much for that wonderful service to other people Yeah. Who get to learn from you. Truly my pleasure. Yeah, thank you so much. Okay, wonderful. 

What a great conversation. 

Thank you so much, Manesh. Take care. 


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About Laura Dawn

Through her signature Mastermind Programs and Plant Medicine Retreats, Laura Dawn weaves together science with ancient wisdom. She teaches business and thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals how to mindfully explore psychedelics and sacred plant medicines as powerful visionary tools for inner transformation, fostering emotional resiliency and unlocking new depths to our creative potential.