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First evidence that LSD produces a ‘higher’ level of consciousness is revealed in brain scans

First evidence that LSD produces a ‘higher’ level of consciousness is revealed in brain scans

First evidence that LSD produces a ‘higher’ level of consciousness is revealed in brain scans
April 20
19:35 2017

First evidence that LSD produces a ‘higher’ level of consciousness is revealed in brain scans

 

Scientists say this does not mean that the state is a ‘better’ or more desirable

Electrical activity of the brain is less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious

Researchers gave healthy volunteers three drugs: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD

By Phoebe Weston For Mailonline

Published: 05:05 EDT, 19 April 2017

The first scientific evidence of a ‘higher’ state of consciousness has been found in people tripping on acid.

Increased brain activity was recorded in scans of people who had taken magic mushrooms and ketamine, psilocybin and LSD, in a new study.

However, scientists stress that the higher state does not mean it is a ‘better’ or more desirable.

The researchers said the findings could help inform discussions gathering momentum about the carefully-controlled medical use of such drugs, for example in treating severe depression.

Images created using brain imaging technology show changes in neural signal diversity while under the influence of LSD. The red areas indicate higher levels of random brain activity than normal which happens when people take psychedelic drugs

LSD gurus have always claimed taking psychedelic drugs led users to a fabled ‘higher state of consciousness.’

The claims were regarded as a myth by the mainstream scientific community during the ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out’ era of the 1960s when LSD was popularised by the likes of Timothy Leary, described as ‘the most dangerous man in America’ by then US President Richard Nixon.

But now scientists at Sussex University have observed a ‘sustained increase’ in neural signal diversity – a measure of the complexity of brain activity – in people under the influence of psychedelic drugs, compared with when they were in a normal waking state.

Previous studies have found decreases in signal diversity when consciousness fades, for instance in sleep, anesthesia or in the vegetative state.

But this is the first study into brain-signals that allow people to reach a higher state of consciousness .

‘This finding shows that the brain-on-psychedelics behaves very differently from normal’, said Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex.

‘During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness – as measured by ‘global signal diversity’,’ he said.

Neuroscientists re-analysed data previously collected by Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff in which healthy volunteers were given one of three drugs known to induce a psychedelic state: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD.

Image created using brain imaging technology, showing changes in neural signal diversity while under the influence of (left to right) psilocybin, ketamine and LSD. Researchers measured the activity of neurons in people’s brains as the drugs took hold

Using brain imaging technology they measured the tiny magnetic fields produced in the brain.

They found that across all three drugs their measure of consciousness was reliably higher.

This does not mean that the psychedelic state is a ‘better’ or more desirable state of consciousness, the researchers stress.

Instead, it shows that the psychedelic brain state is distinctive.

Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy from the University of Auckland who was involved in all three initial studies commented: ‘That similar changes in signal diversity were found for all three drugs, despite their quite different pharmacology, is both very striking and also reassuring that the results are robust and repeatable.’

The findings could help inform discussions gathering momentum about the carefully-controlled medical use of such drugs, for example in treating severe depression.

‘The present study’s findings help us understand what happens in people’s brains when they experience an expansion of their consciousness under psychedelics’, said Dr Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London.

‘People often say they experience insight under these drugs – and when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes’, he said.

‘The present findings may help us understand how this can happen.’

The research team are now working to identify how specific changes in information flow in the brain underlie specific aspects of psychedelic experience, like hallucinations.

‘We found correlations between the intensity of the psychedelic experience, as reported by volunteers, and changes in signal diversity’, said Professor Seth.

‘This suggests that our measure has close links not only to global brain changes induced by the drugs, but to those aspects of brain dynamics that underlie specific aspects of conscious experience’, he said.

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