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Unleashing the Potential of Psychedelic Science with Kernel Flow

Psychedelics made their official debut in the Western world over half a century ago. However, there are still a lot of unknowns. The large gap in the legal…



Psychedelics made their official debut in the Western world over half a century ago. However, there are still a lot of unknowns. The large gap in the legal research of psychedelics and the lack of optimal tools to measure their effects has left the field of psychedelic science in its infancy stage. Scientists are rushing to catch up, and there is a powerful new tool in their arsenal.

Kernel Flow is a novel technology that could allow scientists to conduct research in a new way. One of the most challenging issues that researchers studying mental health and central nervous system disorders face is the lack of appropriate technology to track changes in the brain. This applies particularly to studying psychedelics. 

Last week, neuroimaging company Kernel released the results from a study using its novel technology to track changes in the body and brain during a ketamine treatment. The results are promising for the future of psychedelic science.

Kernel Flow & Its’ Psychedelic Study 

Kernel Flow is a portable neuroimaging technology. Neuroimaging tools use advanced, non-invasive techniques to gain quantitative data on the central nervous system. There are several different types of neuroimaging technologies— Kenal Flow uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to gather quantitative data on brain activity. 

This study is the first ever to use neuroimaging to measure the acute effects of ketamine. The goal of the study: “Quantifying neural activity in natural conditions (i.e. conditions comparable to the standard clinical patient experience) during the administration of psychedelics may further our scientific understanding of the effects and mechanisms of action.”

They were able actually to measure acute changes in the brain during a psychedelic experience for the first time in history. The technology measured changes in the body and brain to help improve scientific understanding of what actually happens during a psychedelic experience. Each participant had two dosing sessions— one with a placebo and the other with ketamine. This way, they were able to see the changes in the brain that are specific to ketamine. 

According to the company’s press release, “Flow1 recorded that ketamine administration induced an altered state of consciousness and systemic physiological changes… Additionally, the data showed a brain-wide reduction in the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (fALFF), coupled with a decrease in global brain connectivity within the prefrontal region. Preliminary evidence suggests that a combination of neural and physiological metrics may serve as predictors of subjective mystical experiences and reductions in depressive symptomatology.”

This new ability to test central nervous system changes while under the influence of a psychedelic could help scientists develop an understanding of what goes on in the brain in a way that was never before possible. This could be a huge step for drug development, especially psychedelics.

The clinical trials designed to test the safety and efficacy of novel treatments require scientists to track changes through biomarkers. Biomarkers are characteristics in the body that can be measured by tools such as blood tests, x-rays, and neuroimaging technology— to name just a few. Kernel Flow measures multiple biomarkers, making it a unique tool for assessing the effects of drugs. 

This novel technology is, however, still novel. And this study was minimal. Only 15 healthy participants were tested, and the study was not randomized. Larger studies are needed to fully validate the efficacy of this new tool. Nevertheless, it does offer great promise for the future of psychedelic science.

Overcoming the Challenges in Psychedelic Science with Novel Technology

PET scans, fMRI, and EGG are the most commonly used and effective methods of neuroimaging for psychedelic studies. They are useful for measuring changes in the brain after treatment takes place, however, keeping track of changes in the brain and body during the psychedelic experience is a bit trickier. 

These tools are also quite costly and require test subjects to go to the location of the difficult-to-move machine. Having a tool like the Kernel Flow headset— which can be taken anywhere— is a huge asset to the industry, and psychedelic company Cybin agrees. 

Cybin sponsored this study. CEO Doug Drysdale said: “We are excited about the potential for this technology in expanding our understanding of the mechanisms and effects of psychedelic-based therapeutics on the brain and applications to research and clinical trials” Kernal Flow can provide never-before-available data capabilities, but it can do more than just for the psychedelic industry.

Another issue that this technology could potentially solve is the problem of set and setting. Currently, it is difficult to measure the effects of psychedelic compounds because testing often alters the set and setting of the experience, which is believed to have a significant effect on psychedelic treatment. Scientists know this because of what have long been called ‘bad trips.’

Not much is known about what goes on in the brain during a psychedelic trip. The current data available is primarily subjective information gathered from test subjects. What that data does show is that the content and effects of a psychedelic experience vary greatly from person to person. It also tells us that set and setting have a big impact on the outcome of psychedelic treatment. This new technology may allow scientists to start understanding why. 

Kernel flow can measure brain activity and other physical markers while allowing test subjects to move around naturally. This will allow scientists to gather data on the psychedelic experience without poking, prodding, or keeping their test subjects hooked up to excessive wires and large machinery.

The company said that the study “showcased the seamless integration of Flow1 into everyday clinical settings, highlighting its user-friendly nature for neuroimaging in real-world environments.” This more natural setting may ultimately improve patient outcomes while allowing researchers to obtain valuable information on best practices for psychedelic therapy. 

As said before, the field of psychedelic science is still in its infancy. So are the fields of psychiatry and neuropharmacology. There is still so much that is unknown, and a big reason for that is a lack of adequate technology to properly test many of the hypotheses that make up these fields. In fact, it was only recently that scientists were able to prove the long-held belief that serotonin deficiency plays a role in depression.

This study marks an important step in the right direction for the advancement of psychedelic sciences. Kernel Flow is a technology to keep an eye on in the coming years. New technology is needed to advance scientific understanding of mental health disorders and how psychedelics can treat them, and that is exactly what is being done. 

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