Personal Beliefs About Drugs Influence Brain Activity

Research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai revealed that human beliefs can modulate brain activity in a dose-dependent manner, akin to drugs. The study, which specifically examined beliefs about nicotine, carries implications ranging from understanding addiction’s neural mechanisms to enhancing treatment strategies by harnessing the power of beliefs. For the study, nicotine-dependent participants believed that an electronic cigarette they were about to vape contained either low, medium, or high strengths of nicotine, when in fact the level remained constant. Functional neuroimaging showed that the thalamus, a key nicotine-binding site in the brain, responded in a dose-dependent manner relative to the participants’ beliefs about nicotine strength. According to the researchers, this suggests that subjective beliefs could be targeted for substance use disorder treatment, and may enhance responses to pharmacological treatments for health disorders. The researchers plan next to study how drug potency interacts with drug-related beliefs about cannabis, alcohol, antidepressants, and psychedelics. The study was published in Nature Mental Health.

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UHN Staff

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