Groundbreaking Study Reveals The Brain On LSD

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Groundbreaking Study Reveals The Brain On LSD

One of the biggest scientific mysteries surround psychedelics was understanding what they actually do to the brain. Well, it is a mystery that has just been solved.

Last year, a group of UK-based scientists started down a path to study the brain while it is under the influence of LSD. It was the first study of its kind, and one of the first forays back into the field of psychedelic research in over 50 years. The final phases of this research have now been completed, and the group has published some highly comprehensive and ground-breaking results.

Using a range of brain imaging techniques, the research team, which includes the renowned Professor David Nutt and Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, have fully mapped out the brain while it is under the influence of LSD. For a while now, science has been investigating the potential application of psychedelics as a medicine to treat various psychiatric disorders, such as depression and addiction. The thing is, while initial results have shown they are effective, it is not fully understood why these effects come about. This imaging study will give scientists across the globe insight into exactly what is going on in the brain while under the influence of hallucinogens, giving them a road map of interactions.

As very eloquently put by Professor Nutt, “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.”


In order to obtain these images, 20 healthy participants were subjected to various brain imaging techniques, including spin labelling, fMRI, and MEG – allowing the researchers to monitor blood flow, brain activity and brain waves. Some of the participants were given 75mcg of LSD while others were given a placebo. The differences in the imaging obtained were profound.

One of the most astounding findings was just how much the brain lights up! An incredible level of connectivity is established throughout the brain, with regions that never communicate linking up. Researchers found that visuals seen by participants were drawn from many parts of the brain, not just the visual cortex, helping explain where the hallucinations come from while under the influence of the drug.

Conversely, some areas of the brain that normally communicate put up barriers, and communicated much less. It is thought this could explain the feelings of oneness we get on LSD, as the usual thinking patterns of human thought process are disrupted. It is known as “ego dissolution.”

Dr. Carhart-Harris told reporters, "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."


How does this all help? It certainly has no immediate practical implication for the normal person. However, the way we are wired determines how we think, and it is very hard to get outside of this process. For some, it can be destructive. Psychedelics like LSD have the power to break and mould these thought patterns, allowing users to think differently. For those suffering from conditions like psychological addiction or depression – conditions that tend to be a spiral of unbreakable thought processes – the implications are staggering. With structured therapy, it would allow reflection and analysis rarely seen. This images will give scientists a map and manual as to what psychedelics are doing, and how they could be further harnessed for our cause.

Before they were made illegal many decades ago, psychedelics like LSD were being researched for just these purposes. It is a crying shame that it has taken so long for research to start up again, but now that it has, who knows what we will find. Psychedelics could very well be the future of psychiatric medicine.



Written by: Josh
Writer, psychonaut and cannabis aficionado, Josh is Zamnesia’s in-house expert. He spends his days nestled out in the countryside, delving into the hidden depths of all things psychoactive in nature.

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