This 4/20, the colloquial “National Weed Day,” it’s not marijuana that’s getting the spotlight, but rather more psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms. A new study has confirmed that taking psychedelic drugs induces a heightened state of consciousness. The bad news? While this heightened state is not actually dangerous, it’s also not considered to be any better than a normal state; however, it could have some therapeutic uses.
The study, now published online in Scientific Reports, found that people who received LSD, ketamine or psilocybin, the main compound found in magic mushrooms, had more random brain activity than normal while under the influence, The Guardian reported. Researchers suggest this increased random brain activity may explain the heightened state of consciousness manys users report while under the influence of these specific drugs.
“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. The neural activity becomes more unpredictable,” said said co-author Anil Seth, The Guardian reported. “Until now, we’ve only ever seen decreases compared to the baseline of the normal waking state.”
For the study, the team from University of Sussex and Imperial College, London measured the activity of neurons in people’s brains shortly after they were administered a psychedelic drug. Results revealed most notable increases in activity in parts of the brain that are known to be important for perceptions. This may explain the “mixing of the senses” that many users explain. Areas involved with language and movement were largely unaffected — something the team had expected. Volunteers described a number of different states, ranging from more pleasurable sensations, such as floating or gaining great insight, to less desirable sensations, such as feeling that their body is disintegrating, The Guardian reported.
While the results may seem as a vindication for advocates of psychedelic drugs, Seth told The Independent that this heightened consciousness really only exists in a mathematical sense, as neural activity in certain areas of the brain is higher than normal. The team do not consider this drug-induced consciousness to be “better” than our normal state, but that’s not to say it’s completely useless. They explain that this state is “distinctive” and perhaps could be used to our advantage, Medical Xpress reported. The team hope their findings may add to research currently looking into using these drugs (in moderation and under supervision) as possible treatments for severe depression and other mental health conditions.
“The present study's findings help us understand what happens in people’s brains when they experience an expansion of their consciousness under psychedelics,” explained study co-author Robin Carhart-Harris, The Independent reported.
This is not the first scientific study delving into the possible effects and uses for psychedelic drugs, and the idea of using these substances for mental health treatment has existed for years. For example a previous study from Imperial College London found that psilocybin reduced blood flow to the cingulate, a region of the brain which, in some individuals, can be overstimulated causing extreme thoughts or behavior.
Source: Schartner MM, Carhart-Harris RL, Barrett AB, Seth AK, Muthukumaraswamy SD. Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin. Scientific Reports. 2017