New study reveals how the brain works when someone takes the psychedelic drug called LSD.
For the first time, researchers have been able to visualize the effects of LSD on the human brain.
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LSD is a popular drug known for altering the state of consciousness and the thinking processes in order to create positive emotions and feelings. Using brain scanning and other cutting edge techniques, researchers from Imperial College London have found a way to show what happens when someone takes this psychedelic drug.
Researchers found that drug produces the complex dreamlike visual hallucinations and alters the way the brain works. Normally, whatever we see from our eyes is processed in a part of brain called visual cortex located in the back if the head. But under LSD influence, many other areas of the brain also start contributing in visual processing.
To replicate the whole process in visuals, researchers involved 20 healthy volunteers and gave each of them doses of LSD and placebo. Then, their brains were scanned using various techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG). The image revealed stunning brain changes which are commonly associated with the use of the drug.
“We observed brain changes under LSD that suggested that our volunteers were ‘seeing their eyes shut’ – albeit they were seeing things from their imagination rather than from the outside world,” lead researcher Dr Robin Carhart-Harris explained.
“We saw that many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD - even though the volunteers' eyes were closed. Furthermore, the size of this effect correlated with volunteers' ratings of complex, dreamlike visions.”
Researchers say that normally brain has separate networks to perform each specialized function like hearing, walking and seeing but under LSD, the networks appear to break down and brain becomes more unified or less compartmentalized.
In the LSD state, brain looks more like the brain of an infant instead of an adult.
“Our brains become more constrained and compartmentalized as we develop from infancy into adulthood and we may become more focused and rigid in our thinking as we mature. In many ways, the brain in the LSD state resembles the state our brains were in when we were infants: free and unconstrained.” Dr. Carhart-Harris said.
“Our results suggest that this effect underlies the profound altered state of consciousness that people often describe during an LSD experience.”
Professor David Nutt, one of the researchers involved in the study declared it a groundbreaking finding which holds promise for treating various psychiatric conditions and problems like depression, fear and anxiety.
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“Scientists have waited 50 years for the moment – the revealing of how LSD alters our brain biology. For the first time we can really see what’s happening in the brain during the psychedelic state, and can better understand why LSD had such a profound impact on self-awareness in users and on music and art. This could have great implications for psychiatry and helping patients overcome conditions such as depression.”