Groundbreaking Study Shows Your Brain (Though Perhaps Not Your Ego) on LSD
"We are finally unveiling the brain mechanisms underlying the potential of LSD, not only to heal, but also to deepen our understanding of consciousness itself."
Groundbreaking Study Shows Your Brain (Though Perhaps Not Your Ego) on LSD
Under the influence of LSD, the brain's visual cortex has increased connectivity with other brain regions (right) than when imaged under placebo (left). (Image: Imperial College London)
By Jon Queally / commondreams.org

You may or may not know what it feels like for your ego "to dissolve" under the effects of LSD, but now—with a brain-imaging study described as a historic breakthrough—you can at least know what it looks like.

"In many ways, the brain in the LSD state resembles the state our brains were in when we were infants: free and unconstrained. This also makes sense when we consider the hyper-emotional and imaginative nature of an infant's mind." —Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, lead researcher

In a study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Imperial College London, in partnership with the Beckley Foundation, have for the first time visualized the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly called LSD, on the brain of users.

The study, according to a statement by the researchers, 

reveals what happens in the brain when people experience the complex visual hallucinations that are often associated with LSD state. They also shed light on the brain changes that underlie the profound altered state of consciousness the drug can produce.

A major finding of the research is the discovery of what happens in the brain when people experience complex dreamlike hallucinations under LSD. Under normal conditions, information from our eyes is processed in a part of the brain at the back of the head called the visual cortex. However, when the volunteers took LSD, many additional brain areas - not just the visual cortex - contributed to visual processing.

As the Guardian described the phenomenon, "trippers experienced images through information drawn from many parts of their brains, and not just the visual cortex at the back of the head that normally processes visual information. Under the drug, regions once segregated spoke to one another."

Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation, said: "We are finally unveiling the brain mechanisms underlying the potential of LSD, not only to heal, but also to deepen our understanding of consciousness itself."

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the team, explained their findings this way:

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. However, under LSD the separateness of these networks breaks down and instead you see a more integrated or unified brain.

Our results suggest that this effect underlies the profound altered state of consciousness that people often describe during an LSD experience. It is also related to what people sometimes call 'ego-dissolution', which means the normal sense of self is broken down and replaced by a sense of reconnection with themselves, others and the natural world. This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way - and seems to be associated with improvements in well-being after the drug's effects have subsided.

Our brains become more constrained and compartmentalised 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. This also makes sense when we consider the hyper-emotional and imaginative nature of an infant's mind.

Professor David Nutt, another of the study's lead researchers, championed the groundbreaking nature of the work. "Scientists have waited 50 years for this moment," Nutt said in a statement. "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."

In a separate conversation with the Guardian, Nutt added, "This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics. We didn’t know how these profound effects were produced. It was too difficult to do. Scientists were either scared or couldn’t be bothered to overcome the enormous hurdles to get this done."

Though government- and university-sponsored research was pervasive in the 1940's and 50's, further study of psychedelics was greatly curbed after the 1960's following the prohibition and criminalization of LSD and other hallucinogenics like magic mushrooms and MDMA.

On the methodology of this study, Gizmodo reports:

The researchers used several different imaging techniques, including fMRI and magnetoencephalography (MEG). Each participant was injected with either 75 micrograms of LSD (a standard “hit”) or a placebo consisting of a saline solution (the control group). As the volunteers tripped out in the brain scanners with their eyes closed, the machines recorded the inner workings of their acid-addled brains. Afterwards, each participant rated their visual hallucinations and altered states of consciousness.

These brain scans were done back in 2014. Since that time, Carhart-Harris and his colleagues have been pouring over this unprecedented trove of data.

brain_lsd.jpg

The areas that contributed to vision were more active under LSD, which was linked to hallucinations. (Imperial College London)

Despite all the demonizing of psychedelics over the decades, a renewed scientific interest and a batch of a new research, as the Washington Post reported earlier this month, is showing that the possible upsides of such substances should not be ignored.

In addition to what the research on Monday revealed about how LSD users visualize,Gizmodo noted how another key finding "had to do with the phenomenon of ego dissolution, or what some LSD users refer to as 'ego death.'"

"Psychedelics are a stark reminder that the sense of self that we have is kind of precarious,” Carhart-Harris told Gizmodo. "Under LSD, consciousness is still intact—but what’s missing is this sense of self, a sense of having an ego."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 9,328 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
Van Jones: Only a 'Love Army' Will Conquer Trump
Tim Dickinson · 7,943 views today · Though it's important to fight Trump's policies, "it's at the values level that we need to do a reset," says Jones
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 6,865 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 6,602 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 5,986 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 5,824 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 5,401 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 5,329 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
David Graeber: We Need a Revolution in the Way We Think about "Work"
4 min · 2,632 views today · David Graeber on the Value of Work. Does the world really need neuroadvertisers, PR researchers and branding consultants? Renowned academic and coiner of the ‘we are the 99%’...
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 2,340 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
A New History for Humanity - the Human Era
8 min · 2,065 views today · It is time to reframe how we think about our past. We need a new year 0 for humanity. But which one should we choose and why?
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 1,947 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 1,693 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,395 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,358 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 1,353 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
Asylum-Seeker Faces a Dangerous Deportation Back to Afghanistan
3 min · 1,270 views today · After an EU deal with Afghanistan, more than 80,000 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers are facing deportation back to that country. Alim says being sent back to Afghanistan could...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,218 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
It's The Damn Police
Walter Fields · 1,152 views today · From an early age Blacks are socialized to live defensively and to absorb the mental body blows that come from the day-to-day indignities that are hoisted upon us by the very...
There Is No One Right Way to Be an Activist
Tim Hjersted · 761 views today · There is no one right way to be an activist. There is no one right way to change the world. There is no one right philosophy of leftist politics. There is no one right reaction...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Groundbreaking Study Shows Your Brain (Though Perhaps Not Your Ego) on LSD