Scientific Publications



Action and Consciousness

Cushing, D. , Gazzaley, A., & Morsella, E. (2017). Externally controlled involuntary cognitions and their relations with other representations in consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition, 55, 1-10 (lead article).

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Abstract: Percepts and action-related urges often enter consciousness insuppressibly. The Reflexive Imagery Task (RIT) was developed to investigate how high-level cognitions (e.g., subvocalizations), too, can enter consciousness in this manner. Limitations of the paradigm include (a) that no data have confirmed subjects’ introspections about the involuntary subvocalizations, and (b) that, in everyday life, adaptive responses to involuntary cognitions often depend on the nature of the other contents in consciousness. To address a and b, we developed an RIT in which subjects were presented with visual objects and instructed to not think of the object names. If a subvocalization did arise, however, subjects responded motorically only if the subvocalization rhymed with a word held in memory and if there was a visual “go” cue. Subjects successfully (on 0.83 of the trials) emitted this complex, “multi-determined” response, which provides evidence for the occurrence of the involuntary subvocalizations and illuminates the function of consciousness.

Cushing, D. , Ghafur, R. D., & Morsella, E. (2017). The interdependence between conscious and unconscious processes. In Z. Radman (Ed.), Before consciousness: In search of the fundamentals of mind (pp. 50-82). UK: Imprint Academic.

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Book Introduction: The fifteen papers collected in this volume all adress, from various viewpoints, the relationship between conscious and unconscious mind. We know, for a long time now, that the mind can often engage in perceptual and cognitive activities without the involvement of conscious awareness. In spite of this, much of the current research into mind is still distinctively consciousness-centered. The main declared aim of the present volume is to accord the unconscious a more prominent place than it usually has in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science – to study conscious experience not in isolation, but as an outgrowth of unconscious processes that give birth to it. Mind is unconscious before it becomes conscious. Conscious experience comes after unconscious activity both in terms of extremely long-term evolutionary processes and in terms of particular neural activations in the brain of a living organism. In this sense, unconscious activity is primary and conscious experience is based on it. Exploring in depth the unconscious, its distinctive mode of operation and its interplay with conscious experience is therefore a much welcome enterprise.

Cushing, D. , Velasquez, A. G., & Morsella, E. (2016). Competition between cognitive control and encapsulated, unconscious inferences: Are Aha-experiences special? Frontiers in Psychology, 7.

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Sample: If unconscious inferences engender the vast majority of conscious contents, including low-level contents (e.g., nausea) and high-level contents (e.g., automatic word reading and “earworms”), then why is the Aha-experience so special and, to the self, so startling? It seems that the Aha-experience is special for reasons other than its being involuntary and sophisticated, which are properties shared by other unconscious inferences. The findings reported by Zedelius and Schooler (2015) begin to illuminate these properties and also the underlying mechanisms and conditions responsible for them. That Aha-experiences are engendered in a manner resembling that of most other conscious contents can be appreciated in the following dream scenario, which was experienced by one of us (EM). One is dreaming that one is seated at a desk, trying to title a piece of work, but is distracted by an incessant earworm. After some time, and despite the earworm, a solution springs to mind. In this example, it is evident that, though the Aha-experience is linked to only one conscious content (the thought of the title), that content is not the only content that is generated by unconscious, sophisticated processes: The percept of the desk, the urge to title the work, and the undesired earworm all “just happen” to the self in the dream (Morsella et al., in press). In terms of the intentional nature of their creation, these contents are the same.

Phytochemistry and Medical Biology

Cushing, D. , Joseph, B. (2018). Measuring the bioactivity of phytocannabinoid cannabidiol from cannabis sources, and a novel non-cannabis source. Journal of Medical Phyto Research, 1(2), 8-23.

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Abstract Phytocannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to elicit a great many immunological benefits. It acts on the endocannabinoid system, namely through interactions with cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). CBD-CB2 affinity, which we refer to as bioactivity, is rarely tested for clinical samples. We believe that uncontrolled variation in bioactivity levels have been silently confounding many CBD experiments. In our four-part study, we validate an efficient bioactivity test that can enable greater scientific control over CBD studies. We use it to compare the bioactivity of CBD obtained from different plant organs, and we also studied whether processing methods play a role in determining bioactivity. We also examine the bioactivity and processing factors of a novel non-cannabis plant capable of producing CBD in commercial quantities, named Humulus Kriya (H. Kriya, U.S. Patent No. 15/932,529, 2018). We also test the bioactivity of some CBD isolates/extracts currently sold in the market, and compare them with a CBD product called ImmunAG, which was extracted from the inflorescence of H. Kriya. We find that the CBD from the inflorescence of the plant produces the highest bioactivity, followed by the apical buds/leaves, the petioles, and finally the stalk. We find that H. Kriya has a bioactivity profile similar to Cannabis Sativa. We find that the bioactivity levels among cannabis-based commercial CBD products are quite low, and variable. We find significantly higher bioactivity levels in ImmunAG.

Cushing, D. , Goakar, D., Joseph, B. (2018). Synthetic cannabinoids severely elevate amino transferase levels. Natural cannabidiol does not. Journal of Medical Phyto Research, 2(1), 1-13.

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Abstract Cannabidiol (CBD) is a promising and well-studied medicinal compound found in cannabis. While CBD has a favorable safety profile, the deleterious health effects of synthetic cannabinoids are well documented. The human body is not equipped with the tools needed to catabolize synthetic cannabinoids. Among the enzymes recruited to removing them from the body are Alanine Amino Transferase (ALT) and Aspartate Amino Transferase (AST). The present article is broken into one naturalistic medical observation, and two studies. Each of these is concerned with the ALT and AST levels of patients exposed to cannabinoids. The medical observation is of four patients who mistakenly consumed a dangerous synthetic cannabinoid, JWH-018. Their ALT and AST levels were recorded once. The first experimental study is of six patients that consumed a synthetic CBD derivative, H4-CBD. ALT and AST levels were recorded over 22 weeks. The second experimental study is of 184 patients that consumed natural CBD. ALT and AST levels were recorded over 6 months. Taken together, these studies demonstrate clear differences between consumption of natural CBD, and two synthetic derivatives on ALT and AST levels.

Cushing, D. , Joseph, B. (2018). A low osmolarity rehydration solution that helps chemo patients. Journal of Medical Phyto Research, 1(2), 1-7.

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Abstract Prior research using oral rehydration solutions (ORS) have focused primarily on diarrhea secondary to infectious diseases such as cholera. We evaluated the efficacy of supplying oral rehydration solution (ORS) to patients undergoing chemotherapy. Patients undergoing one of four chemotherapy treatments (CAF, EC, FOLFIRI, or IFL), in one of eleven hospitals, with HDI scores largely representative of the global population (Range: 0.48-0.89), were divided semirandomly into two groups. Patients in the test group received a low-osmolarity oral rehydration solution powder, and instructed to consume it with water. Patients in the control group did not get the rehydration solution. Return hospital visits were tallied for both groups during the first three months of treatment. Mean return visits per hospital, per treatment, were calculated for each group. A t-test for independent samples was conducted on these data points. Welch’s t was used to make corrected group comparisons between the groups. It found a significant difference in monthly return visit rate between the control group (M = 4.35, SD = 0.61) and the test group (M = 0.94, SD = 0.18), t(23.386) = 24.5, p < .001, d = 7.58. The effect size of this difference was remarkably large. Patients who had access to the ORS had return visit rates that were less than 25% of those who did not. This reduction in hospital visits demonstrates that the medical use of appropriate ORS can be used as a supplement treatment for chemotherapy patients.

Cushing, D. , Joseph, B. (2018). Towards systematically assessing bioactivity of natural compounds or bio-ligands: Cannabidiol as an example. Journal of Medical Phyto Research, 1(3), 8-23

Abstract It is estimated that 75-78% of all modern medicines are directly or indirectly derived from higher plants (Samuelsson, 2004). Less than 5% of all plant species have been explored for their medical potential (Chin, Balunas, Chai, & Kinghorn, 2006). Natural plant compounds rarely have side effects. This makes them a potent alternative to pharmaceutical drugs for chronic use. A three-step process for measuring bioactivity of all samples from natural plant-based sources will is outlined, using CBD as an example. This process is paramount for the application of natural plant-based compounds in western medicine.

Cushing, D. , Goakar, D., Joseph, B. (2018). Higher bioactivity cannabidiol in greater concentration more greatly reduces valvular interstitial cell calcification. Journal of Medical Phyto Research, 2(2), 14-26.

Abstract: Valvular interstitial cells (VICs) are integral to heart valve homeostasis and structural leaflet integrity. Aberrant calcification of VICs leads to dangerous diseases including calcific aortic valve disease. VIC calcification can be reduced through modulation of the MAPK/ERK cascade by selective antagonism of the CB2 receptor. This is a well-studied target of Cannabidiol (CBD). Recently, it has become increasingly understood that not all CBD samples have the same degree of bioactive potential (bioactivity). The present study seeks to determine whether levels of CBD bioactivity have different effects on VIC calcification reduction. VICs were isolated from porcine aortic valve leaflets, induced to calcify, and treated with CBD or left untreated. CBD of varying bioactivity was clustered into 8 different levels (.20, .30, .50, .60, .70, .80, .90, and .95.) by rounding. Concentrations of 5, 10, 25, 40, and 100 mg were examined. Means, standard deviations, minimum, and maximum calcification reduction values for each combination of bioactivity and mg concentration are provided. Two 1x5 repeated measures ANOVAs on mg concentrations, holding bioactivity at .20, and at .95 , respectively, were performed. A 2x2 robust mixed ANOVA confirmed an interaction between bioactivity and mg concentration (psihat = -36.5, p < .001). Calcification was most reduced by the .95 bioactivity, 100 mg concentration treatment (M = 55%, SD = 6.66%). These results indicate that bioactivity is of central importance when considering CBD as a treatment for VIC calcification reduction.

Cushing, D. , Goakar, D., Joseph, B. (2018). Bioactive cannabidiol more greatly reduces valvular interstitial cell calcification when combined with ß-Caryophyllene, and α-Humulene. Journal of Medical Phyto Research, 2(2), 27-34.

Abstract: Valvular interstitial cells (VICs) are integral to heart valve homeostasis and structural leaflet integrity. Aberrant calcification of VICs leads to dangerous diseases including calcific aortic valve disease. VIC calcification can be reduced by cannabidiol (CBD) through modulation of the ERK cascade by selective antagonism of the CB2 receptor, and possible involvement of the GPR55 receptor. ß-Caryophyllene (BCP) and α-Humulene (HMU) are sequiterpenes that produce their own effects on calcification. The present study aimed to see whether a combination of CBD, BCP, and HMU (ImmunAG) could reduce calcification to a greater extent than CBD alone. VICs were isolated from porcine aortic valve leaflets, induced to calcify, and treated with CBD or ImmunAG. Treatment concentrations of 5, 10, 25, 40, and 100 mg were examined. Means, standard deviations, minimum, and maximum calcification reduction values for each treatment and mg concentration are provided. 5 t-tests revealed that ImmunAG reduced calcification more than CBD at every concentration.

Poster Presentations

Cushing, D. , & Morsella, E. (2017). Involuntary mental rotation and visuospatial imagery from external control: Implications for frontal control mechanisms. Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the Society for Cognitive Neuroscience, San Francisco..

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Abstract: The Reflexive Imagery Task (RIT) was developed to investigate the entry into consciousness of high-level, involuntary thoughts and imagery (Allen et al., 2013). In the basic version of the task (Allen et al., 2013), participants are presented with visual objects and instructed to not think of the names of the objects. Involuntary subvocalizations arise on roughly 80% of the trials. Can mental rotation and visuospatial imagery, too, arise in this involuntary manner? If so, it would be noteworthy, for these processes involve symbol manipulation and frontal control mechanisms. In Task 1, subjects were first taught to mentally rotate (30°, 60°, or 90°) two-dimensional nonsense objects. After training, participants were instructed to not mentally rotate in these ways a different set of objects. In Task 2, subjects were taught how to move in their minds (i.e., visuopatial imagery) objects in specified ways, much as one could imagine how, in the game of chess, a given piece can navigate the chessboard. Each object was associated with a unique pattern of potential movement on a chessboard-like grid. After training, subjects were instructed to not think of where each object could move on the grid. Systematic, involuntary imagery occurred on a substantial proportion of trials for Task 1 (M = .xx, SE = .xx) and Task 2 (M = .xx, SE = .xx). The order of presentation of the two tasks was fully counterbalanced across subjects. Of import, RIT effects arose even though the involuntary processes required symbol manipulation and frontal control mechanisms.

Cushing, D. , & Morsella, E. (2016). The polymodal role of consciousness in adaptive action selection: A paradigm for neuroimaging. Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the Society for Cognitive Neuroscience, New York..

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Abstract: Recent developments have led to the proposal that the primary function of conscious processing is to render adaptive what in everyday life is called “voluntary” action, a complex form of action involving skeletal muscle. From this standpoint, the conscious field permits otherwise independent outputs engendered by “encapsulated,” modularized systems (e.g., color perception versus olfactory perception) to influence (skeletomotor) action selection collectively. This occurs in “integrated actions” (e.g., holding one’s breath while underwater). The outputs, which come from a wide variety of systems including low-level systems (e.g., smoke detection) and high-level systems (e.g., subvocalization), could be memory-based or perception-based, or be intentional or unintentional. We designed a task that allows one to investigate this polymodal, multifaceted phenomenon in a manner amenable to neuroimaging technologies. Participants (n = 9) were presented with visual objects and instructed to not think of the names of these objects. If an unintentional subvocalization of the object name arose (which occurred on 88.7% of the trials), participants were instructed to make a special button press if the subvocalization rhymed with a word held in prospective memory and if there was a visual “go” cue onscreen. Despite the many contingencies and modalities involved, participants were accurate in carrying out this special button press: Accuracy was 83.1%, which is higher than what would be expected by chance, t(8) = 12.11, p < .001. Coupled with neuroimaging technologies, this paradigm could illuminate the neural bases of the polymodal role of conscious states in action selection.