Mystery Behind How Psychedelic Drugs Alter the Brain Solved


Brain exhibits a similar pattern during a mind-expanding drug trip as it does while dreaming, according to an Imperial College London study.

Researchers were certain that psychedelic drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms changed how one perceives the world. But until now, they could not determine the physical alterations that take place in the brain.

For the study, researchers observed the brain effects of the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms, called "psilocybin." Psychedelic drugs make users experience "expanded consciousness" including enhanced associations, vivid imagination and dream-like states.

They studied the brain imaging data from 15 participants who had been administered psilocybin intravenously, while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan. Participants were scanned under the influence of psilocybin and when they had been administered with a placebo.

Researchers found that under the influence of psilocybin, there was an increased activity in the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex at the same time. This pattern of activity is also noticed in people who are dreaming.

Plus, participants who were injected with psilocybin were associated with more fragmented and uncoordinated activity in the brain network - which is connected to high-level thinking including self-consciousness.

"What we have done in this research is begin to identify the biological basis of the reported mind expansion associated with psychedelic drugs," said Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris from the Department of Medicine, in a press release. "I was fascinated to see similarities between the pattern of brain activity in a psychedelic state and the pattern of brain activity during dream sleep, especially as both involve the primitive areas of the brain linked to emotions and memory.

Carhart-Harris said that psilocybin creates a dream-like state and for the first time, the findings have provided a physical evidence of the experience in the brain.

The finding is published in the Human Brain Mapping Journal.

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