applied Neural PLasticity & dynamics

The brain has the amazing ability to change and rewire itself.

Lets use that as a tool and basis for treatment.

Plasticity as an answer

The medical field is already using the brain’s plasticity in the fields of trauma, stroke, and diseases such as Parkinson’s, we need to extend these approaches to addiction and addiction-like disorders!

While all organs in the body have differences at various levels, the brain has one amazing ability that no other organ has — plasticity. The ability to change and adapt, and learn, and sometimes more importantly, even to forget. No other organ can so readily alter itself to the demands placed on it. Your brain is physically changing right now just processing this sentence. Our brains are constantly rewiring and altering how all the neurons are connected every moment of every day. That is both good and bad... 

This is one of the problems with psychoactive drug therapies. After a drug is given for a short period, the brain starts to rapidly alter itself to try and re-attain normal operation, or homeostasis as it is called. Drug therapy then allows the brain to readjust, see if the system you are trying to impact has gotten enough added help, without causing too much of an impact on all the other systems. If not enough help, the dose is increased, and the process repeated. So while the plan relies on the rest of the brain adapting, it also relies on driving the plasticity in the target structure to a point where it can no longer change enough to compensate for the drug, and the drug dosage therefore determines how that system now works. This is called a ceiling or floor effect—depending on which way the drug acts. In addiction this process often targets the rigid habitual system, and tries to weaken it to where the flexible and adaptive part can now compete for control.

The point is, therefore, why not try and get the system to adjust ITSELF back to where it should it be? If you add a pharmaceutical that drives a system to the extreme where the dosage is the determine factor, you can’t easily then ever stop taking the drug. This is actually the most common hypothesis behind drug addiction—drugs of abuse drive the systems in one direction until the brain needs the drug to be able to attain a semblance of normal levels. But the prescription treatment drugs do the same thing, so have we really changed anything?

This is where we need focused researched, and research that goes against the typical disease model, and against the medical dogma. Use the most powerful characteristic of the brain — its plasticity — as a cure, instead of as a confound that we have to eliminate in the target system, and hope other systems do not get affected to badly (i.e.: side effects).

Am I saying all drugs are bad? No. There are times when anything is needed to just stabilize a person. But we have gotten into the trap of just working to find better stabilizers at the cost of developing cures. We can and should be working to develop drugs that will work with the brain and promote it in recovering full functionality, and instead of weakening one system, try to strengthen the other system. An approach that can help people will all aspects of their life!    

Henry Markram from EPFL showing complex neuronal visualizations and movies from the BlueBrain project. This is a single neuron with a color-coded map of synaptic connections to other neurons.

(Photo: Steve Jurvetson)

Reading this page has caused your brain to change, But that is perfectly normal!