Our species has been obsessed with it since the beginning of time, and our understanding of how it contributes to thinking, speaking, breathing, walking, behaving, informs our understanding of ourselves. Problems with the brain can be debilitating and studying it in all its wonders makes us realize how little we know about its care.
The Anatomy of the Brain
People have been studying the human brain for centuries. In fact, Italian physician Mondino de Luzzi conducted the first brain dissection in 1315, but he probably didn’t notice everything mentioned below. Much of our visual understanding of the brain comes from Leonardo da Vinci, whose vivid sketches of the brain more than 500 years ago are still accurate today.
- The cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, is kind of the major dome of grey matter. Like a sergeant leading troops, it’s responsible for many critical things like motion, speech, movement, and learning. This heavy burden also may explain why the cerebrum is the largest part of the brain.
- The cerebellum is positioned just under the cerebrum. Its main job is helping with muscle movements throughout the body, ensuring you sit up straight, can balance on one foot, and have good posture.
- The brainstem is kind of the fuse box for your brain, connecting the cerebrum and cerebellum to that thing called your spinal cord. It’s got the uber-important chore of looking after many human body functions like digestion, body temperature, heart rate, and even physical reactions like coughing and sneezing.
Being the largest part of the brain means the cerebrum does much of the heavy lifting, containing four lobes: the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. The Frontal lobe is in charge of very important cognitive skills including language, problem-solving, judgment, speech, emotions, and reading, and writing. The Parietal lobe assists with sensory information – interpreting words and language, and signs from our ears and eyes. The Occipital lobe is critical to vision, taking data from the retina, and helping us understand color, light, and movement. The Temporal lobe has responsibility for hearing, memory, organization, and interpreting language.
Other critical parts of the brain include the following:
- Medial prefrontal cortex. It’s here that decision-making, self-control, processing risk and fear, regulation of emotions, and controlling amygdala activity come into play. It’s located in the frontal lobe.
- Anterior cingulate cortex also is located in the frontal part of the cingulate cortex. It’s responsible or co-responsible for: autonomic functions, attention allocation, morality, and ethics, anticipating rewards, decision-making, emotion, controlling impulses, and recognizing physical pain.
- Located in the medial temporal lobe, it controls brain functions like navigation, spatial orientation, emotion, consolidation of memories, and learning. It’s a member of the limbic system, where changes can result from the brain’s perception of chronic pain.
How Ketamine Affects the Brain
Ketamine’s effect on the human brain – how it interacts with the Medial prefrontal cortex and Hippocampus in regard to chronic pain, for instance – is open to debate. We know that ketamine, its derivative Esketamine, and ketamine-like drugs, have been shown to reduce some of the symptoms associated with mental disorders like anxiety and depression, and the aforementioned chronic pain, but many scientists who question its advocacy also encourage more rigorous testing because of its potential benefits.
The amygdala, that part of the brain which handles fear and emotion and is more active in people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may benefit from ketamine infusion therapy. The drug has been approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the treatment of military veterans suffering from symptoms of PTSD. That part of the brain is also vital in how we deal with anxiety and depression, two mental health disorders whose symptoms have received much attention due to ketamine-related studies.
What else do we know about the amygdala? It’s located in close proximity to the hippocampus. It’s here that our subconscious makes decisions, metes out punishment versus rewards, controls emotional responses, memory, and gives rise to many affective disorders potentially treatable by ketamine.
Thanks to its complexity and its veil of mystery, we may never fully uncover the secrets lurking within the human brain. Physical and psychological trauma take their toll on the brain, leading doctors, and researchers to repeatedly test different treatments and drugs, like ketamine, to repair the damage, soothe disturbing moods and behavior, and even boost intelligence. Albert Einstein shared his brain with science after death, and the world still grapples with what it all means.
If you or a loved one is dealing with the symptoms of a mood or pain disorder we can help. Contact us today to learn more about the clinical use of ketamine.