For centuries, people have been using substances to alter their state of mind. For the first time in history, scientists have developed a way to visualize the effects of LSD on the brain.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), also recognized by its street name “acid,” is known to make users feel disconnected from their bodies, allowing us a different perception of reality. An experience often framed under religious or spiritual contexts, scientists delve into unveiling the potential underlying brain mechanisms of LSD, as well as the possible medicinal functions of the drug.
Under momentous technological advances, researchers at Imperial College London were able to visually illustrate exactly what goes on in our brain when we take the popularly illegal psychedelic, perhaps providing an explanation for how the drug is able to produce the uniquely elaborate visual hallucinations associated with it.
A group of volunteers injected themselves with a dose of the substance for the purpose of this research. Monitored closely by brain scans and neural imaging, these images depicted how those on the drug saw things not only through the visual cortex of the brain, but through an amalgamation of brain regions, interconnecting the senses and obscuring how we perceive them.
This perceived senselessness was defined by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, who led the study, as an “explosion of communication,” in which those given the drug were able to “see with their eyes shut.”
The more prominent the visual effects of LSD were, the more intensely the participants rated their dreamlike hallucinations.
Where regions that were once separated bound together, regions that were originally part of a consolidated formation began to detach. This distinct reconfiguration of brain activity is what scientists believe to be the source of one’s feelings of attachment to the abstract world, accompanied by a degradation of personal identity known as “ego dissolution.”
Synthesized in the early 1940s, LSD had a profound effect on both psychological and psychiatric research. However, the popularization of it throughout the ’50s and ’60s as an abused recreational drug called for its outlaw and subsequent criminalization.
In both the United States and the United Kingdom, LSD is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which are illegal due to their high abuse potential, lack of medical use and severe safety concerns.
Scientists believe that this altered state of consciousness and the system of unified brain processing may be useful in its treatment for psychiatric disorders, alcoholism and depression.
While the medical team at Imperial College have clinical trials underway isolating psilocybin, a chemical found in magic mushrooms, in their treatment for depression, they believe LSD to hold answers to disorders more difficult to treat, both physiological and psychological, such as addiction.