DANIELLE POPE: The battle of trying ‘new’

Studies tell us trying new things is good for the brain...

Studies tell us trying new things is good for the brain.

A few years ago, European researchers Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel performed what they called an “oddball” experiment to find out how our brains responded to novelty. They showed a variety of subjects general images of indoor and outdoor scenes as well as faces, with a few unexpected novel images (oddballs) thrown in. Using radio signals and magnetic fields to measure blood flow to the brain regions, the two discovered something fantastic: a distinct emotional arousal according to how novel the image was.

After seeing this pattern repeated throughout their willing test subject, the two scientists concluded in their finding that particular parts of our brains are more activated by greater novelty, and that this finding even supported models of brain function that see novelty as a motivating factor in searching our environment for a “reward,” rather than the reward itself being what we are seeking.

Translation: even when we don’t know it, our brains like weird, new things.

Interesting, then, that experimental quests into the human condition are so fraught with resistance. Only weeks ago, a number of Victoria and Vancouver researchers published their report on the drastic outcome of what Canada terms an “experimental” and exploratory drug study — using psychedelic medications as a way out of addiction, substance abuse, even, in some cases, mental illness. (See the story here.) But while this new form of “risky” healing might give a shudder to many Westerners, aboriginal cultures in South and North America have been using these methods — namely, the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca — for hundreds of years to treat what ails their friends and families.

As I asked people about their views on experimental drug treatments for this week’s StreetSmarts, it struck me the number of residents who outright said ‘bad’ and ‘no way’ before even hearing the end of the question. For those who stayed to chat a moment, there was this look of wonder, even shared fascination as we talked about the researchers’ projects. By the end, those willing to have their photos next to anything with “drug” in the sentence had come to the conclusion that both sides were valid — maybe even useful.

Unfortunately, the government of Canada doesn’t agree. When Health Canada heard about the ayahuasca retreats back in 2011, it ordered a stop to them, even when all participants showed notable quality-of-life improvements and the ability to walk away from their addictions when all the conventional recovery programs couldn’t help them. This treatment, which shamans and participants say strikes straight at the source of the problem, was just too “new” and unstable for our country to, legally, get a handle on.

With any luck, many people will at least consider taking the advice of project leader and world-renowned addictions specialist Dr. Gabor Maté, and, instead of being allergic to evidence, will accept the possibility that their own curiosity will lead them in the right direction. Now that’s a novel idea. M

Just Posted

‘The system has fallen apart:’ Victoria woman’s son died a day after being accepted to treatment centre

Victoria man’s body went undiscovered in Victoria parking lot for five days after overdose

Every situation is different, jurors hear at coroners inquest into Oak Bay teen’s overdose death

Pediatrician says involuntary treatment necessary following overdose, opioid use

CRD tickets cyclists who ignore stop signs at Lochside trail, Saanich Road intersection

Many cyclists don’t heed the stop signs, use pedestrian-activated crosswalk light

Inaugural Sarah Beckett memorial Run raises $20,000 for law enforcement scholarship

Widow calls run, community playground fitting tributes to fallen mom and Mountie

VIDEO: Victoria airport guests see dinosaur surprise

Two boys dressed as raptors get a shock when their grandmother comes to greet them

POLL: Do you think the penalty should be increased for tossing a burning cigarette from a vehicle?

With grasslands and forests around Vancouver Island and across B.C. reaching tinder… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of June 25

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Weather Canada issues thunderstorm alert for coastal Vancouver Island

Severe thunderstorm watch issued around 4:15 p.m. as storms developed over sections of the Island

North Island thrift store robbed at knifepoint, say RCMP

Suspect fled on bicycle following Tuesday stick-up

RCMP across Canada to soon unionize, according to B.C. mayor

A spokeswoman for RCMP headquarters in Ottawa says it’s not yet a done deal

Explicit sex-ed guide for adults mistakenly given to Creston elementary students

The booklet clearly states online and inside that the guide contains sexually explicit information

Most Read