May 282012

I’m trying to understand GABA, specifically I’m trying to understand how I can induce GABA secretion in my brain so as to replicate an astonishing experience I had with a research drug, a GABA analogue.

I started thinking, no, wondering if or how brain waves and neurotransmitters are linked. GABA is a neurotransmitter, and I wondered if induction of a specific brain wave would thus increase GABA secretion. I knew about alpha, beta, theta, and delta waves. I knew that because of my brain injury I produced too much delta and theta, specifically delta waves in particular regions of my brain. As Dr. Michael Thompson of the ADD Centre had said, wherever a statistically significant number of delta waves were being produced in my awake brain, that was where my brain was snoozing. The biggest snoozer, from what I recall, was a spot in the right frontal cortex. I had also learnt that alpha waves are associated with imagination, with my brain being able to process and synthesize new material, especially if stimulated in my left frontal cortex.

I looked up brain waves in wikipedia to begin my search. I stopped reading when I came across “GABA.” I went to read the citation. I gotta tell you, online research is so much easier than old-fashioned library research, and it’s an absolute boon to humanity that more and more research articles are reproduced in whole online or at least enough to be useful. I got hung up on the word “oscillations.” After a pancake snack, the penny dropped: oscillations are the precise, technical jargon for brain waves. This article was suggesting that GABA was associated with gamma brain waves.

“There is also increasing evidence that the most plausible mechanism for the generation of gamma oscillations is a neuronal network containing a mixture of interconnected pyramidal cells and GABAergic inhibitory interneurons.”

I looked up gamma waves, a kind of brain wave I hadn’t heard about before. Probably because my head felt like it was imploding at this point and because I hadn’t heard of them before, I kept thinking gamma waves were gamma rays, coming from the machine, not being emitted by the brains of the subjects. According to the wikipedia article, there are gamma brain waves:

“… when all these neuronal clusters oscillate together during these transient periods of synchronized firing, they help bring up memories and associations from the visual precept to other notions. This brings a distributed matrix of cognitive processes together to generate a coherent, concerted cognitive act, such as perception.”

The word that stands out here for me is “coherent.” My father used the word “coherent” when describing how I’d changed when on the GABA analogue. Now I understand: my cognitions were coming together so that I could think, speak, and act coherently.

Also from wikipedia: “gamma waves were most apparent at a frequency of 40 Hz.

Back to the article. From the figures, the highest peak frequency associated with increased levels of GABA were in the 40Hz range, that is, gamma.

I had been told several years ago that the higher frequency Beta waves, that is, those above 20Hz, were not good to stimulate or entrain in me because of my tendency to ruminate, a non-scientific way of saying my thoughts go round and round and round and round … Well, you get the drift. Lately, my ruminations seem to be diminishing, and certainly when I was on the research drug I did not ruminate at all. Another reason perhaps that I seemed coherent to others for the first time since my brain injury. I gotta say it’s a much easier way of being, to have one’s brain work effortlessly towards one goal or to keep attention on one thing while being able to execute another or switch to another then back to the original without freaking out or skewing all over the place.

Anyway, the researchers induced gamma waves and thereby increased GABA in the visual cortex, which is at the back of the brain. I suppose it’s the visual cortex because they stimulate gamma waves through a visual illusion technique (as near as I can understand). Another set of researchers suggest that because this visual technique induces nausea, dizziness, discomfort, etc., that gamma waves may play a role in the onset of seizures. I think the correlation is slim but worthy to keep in mind.

Another way to stimulate gamma waves is through Tibetan Buddhist meditation:

“As hinted above, gamma waves have been observed in Tibetan Buddhist monks. A 2004 study took eight long-term Tibetan Buddhist practitioners of meditation and, using electrodes, monitored the patterns of electrical activity produced by their brains as they meditated. The researchers compared the brain activity of the monks to a group of novice meditators (the study had these subjects meditate an hour a day for one week prior to empirical observation). In a normal meditative state, both groups were shown to have similar brain activity. However, when the monks were told to generate an objective feeling of compassion during meditation, their brain activity began to fire in a rhythmic, coherent manner, suggesting neuronal structures were firing in harmony. This was observed at a frequency of 25–40 Hz, the rhythm of gamma waves. These gamma-band oscillations in the monk’s brain signals were the largest seen in humans (apart from those in states such as seizures). Conversely, these gamma-band oscillations were scant in novice meditators.”

However, it takes the Dalai Lama four hours of meditation every morning to achieve such a state. Note also the reference to seizures.

So if increasing GABA increases gamma brain waves and if gamma waves are associated with coherent thought and harmonic brain activity and since the research GABA analogue induced a whole host of improvements in me, then if I cannot obtain the drug, perhaps stimulating gamma waves may reproduce my experience while on the controlled release GABA analogue.

I see two problems: I don’t want to use the visual technique or train for four hours of daily meditation; stimulating gamma waves could have the potential to create seizures. I think I’m with Kirk on the far edges of the galaxy on this one.