The First-Ever Brain Scans Of LSD’s Mind-Altering Effects

Source: Huffington Post
LSD, once a demonized hippie drug, has been evolving toward a clinically validated psychotherapy tool for years now. And this week, it hit a major milestone.
In a landmark study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the first modern brain scans of people tripping on LSD illustrate the neural bases of the psychedelic drug’s powerful consciousness-altering effects. The research, conducted in the U.K., showed that LSD reduces connectivity within brain networks and boosts connectivity between brain networks that don’t normally interact.
“Normally our brain consists of independent networks that perform separate specialized functions, such as vision, movement and hearing — as well as more complex things like attention,” Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychedelic researcher at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “However, under LSD, the separateness of these networks breaks down and instead you see a more integrated or unified brain.”
Carhart-Harris and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 healthy volunteers over the course of a six-hour LSD session after they’d been injected with a high dose of the drug and performed a variety of cognitive tests. The scans of the LSD recipients revealed a brain state “not entirely dissimilar” to psychosis, in which brain networks that are normally separate instead communicate with each other. In particular, the visual cortex communicated much more with other parts of the brain, explaining the vivid and often emotionally charged hallucinations experienced by many LSD users.
What does a more “unified” brain feel like? According to Carhart-Harris, it involves more fluid, flexible thinking, unusual associations and perceptions, vivid visions and perhaps enhanced creativity. Our thinking in childhood starts out being more fluid and flexible, and tends to get more rigid and focused as we age, the researchers said. LSD, then, might help some users return to a childlike sense of wonder and imagination.
The enhanced brain connectivity observed by the researchers also offers clues into the brain changes associated with “ego dissolution” — the feeling of losing one’s normal sense of self and reconnecting with oneself, others and the world in a deeper way. To help trippers navigate the experience of ego death, renowned American psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary, along with Ralph Metzner and Ram Dass, in 1964 published a guide for psychedelic journeyers modeled after the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The study adds heft to a growing body of research on the neurological effects and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. While most of the existing research has been conducted on animals and more human trials are needed, studies have shown that LSD-assisted psychotherapy holds promise for treating depression, addiction and end-of-life anxiety. More broadly, the new study offers a lens through which to better understand consciousness as a whole.

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