For the first time, researchers have scanned the brains of people using hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD to understand what it does to the brain. We have known for years that psychedelic drugs make people lose their sense of self and see complex visions. In a series of experiments, researchers at the Imperial College London tested the drug on 20 healthy volunteers to gain a glimpse into how it affects brain activity.
The drug makes your brain less compartmentalized
Findings of the study were published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists found that the psychedelic drug frees the users’ brain to become less compartmentalized, and more like that of a baby. Normally, human brain consists of independent networks that perform specialized functions such as vision, hearing, and movement.
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Researchers found that the LSD breaks down the separateness of these networks to create a more unified or integrated brain. Robin Cahart-Harris, the lead author of the study, said the brain under the LSD resembles our childhood brains – free and unconstrained. Under normal conditions, information from our eyes is processed by the visual cortex. But when volunteers took LSD, several additional brain areas also contributed to the visual processing.
These effects help explain the religious feelings that people report after having taken the drug. It is also related to “ego-dissolution,” which means the normal sense of self is replaced by a sense of reconnection with themselves, others, and the natural world. Carhart-Harris added that the experience was also linked to “improvements in well-being” after the effects of the drug subside. It means psychedelic compounds may potentially be used for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Beckley Foundation was also involved in the study.
The study involved 20 psychologically and physically healthy volunteers. All of them had previously taken some kind of psychedelic drug. During the study, each volunteer was given an injection of 75mg of LSD or a placebo. Scientists then scanned their brains using the magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).