Psychedelic trips may open the mind, as some have suggested

Modesto Morganelli
Aprile 20, 2017

Those differences offer scientists a workable measure of consciousness that can be studied in a lab: brain signal diversity.

"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, who led the research.

Previously, Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff collected data of healthy volunteers who are administered with one of three drugs: psilocybin, ketamine, and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) that are known to stimulate a psychedelic state.

"What we find is that under each of these psychedelic compounds, this specific measure of global conscious level goes up, so it moves in the other direction".

Neural signal diversity is a sign of how complex the activity going on in our brain is - when we're awake the diversity is greater than when we're asleep. They suggest that these findings could give a bit of credence to the hippy notion that psychedelics open up "a higher state of consciousness" in the mind.

Neuroscientists don't have a good working definition of it, and there isn't a clear scientific distinction between a being with consciousness and a being without it. Consciousness doesn't have an obvious role in the brain, though most people are pretty sure it's there, and it's wildly hard to measure.

The neural signal diversity of the participants was consistently higher across all three psychedelic drugs, according to the latest research, which used brain imaging technology to measure the tiny magnetic fields generated by the brain. It is believed that studying drugs like LSD could help us not only find new ways to tackle conditions such as PTSD and depression, but also enable us to design better drugs overall.

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

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".

"Rigorous research into psychedelics is gaining increasing attention, not least because of the therapeutic potential that these drugs may have when used sensibly and under medical supervision", says Robin Cahart-Harris, another author of the study.

Professor Seth added: "We found correlations between the intensity of the psychedelic experience, as reported by volunteers, and changes in signal diversity. The present findings may help us understand how this can happen".

Specifically, 100 percent of all participants who took ketamine had a stronger state of consciousness than those who did not - along with similarly high scores of 86 and 93 percent respectively for psilocybin and LSD. "The present findings may help us understand how this can happen".

This article is adapted from materials from the University of Sussex.

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