For the first time, a new study conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Sussex has found a clear evidence of how psychedelic drugs impact on brain activity. Drugs such as LSD, or psilocybin and ketamine cause the brain to enter a higher state of consciousness.

Neuroscientists observed a sustained increase in neural signal diversity of people under the influence of psychedelic drugs, compared with when they were in a normal waking state. By the way, neural signal diversity is a sign of how complex the activity going on in our brain.

This is the first scientific evidence of such a psychedelic impact on the brain that has ever been found. These findings could lead to new treatments for mental health conditions.

The image on the right shows how active the brain is when taking LSD. Image credit: Imperial College

Scientific Testing Of Psychedelic Drugs

Ever since the 60’s when the psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, began to be widely used, scientists have investigated the potential therapeutic benefits of these drugs. However, declaring these drugs illegal, stop the further scientific testing.

In 2016, Imperial College London conducted the first study on LSD impact on neural activity. In this study, scientists gave participants doses of LSD, ketamine, and psilocybin. They then looked at the participants’ brain activity, providing the first image showing what happens to people’s brains on psychedelic drugs.

The latest study conducted by Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex went one step further to show not only that brain activity changes but how it does. They used data from the previous study in which healthy volunteers were given LSD, ketamine, and psilocybin.

Using brain imaging technology, they measured the tiny magnetic fields produced in the brain and found that, across all three drugs, the neural signal diversity (a measure of conscious level) was reliably higher.

The red areas indicate higher levels of random brain activity than normal which happens when people take psychedelic drugs. Image credit: Suresh Muthukumaraswamy

During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness, explains Professor Anil Seth. He also pointed out that this doesn’t mean that the psychedelic state is a better or more desirable state of consciousness. It just proves the distinctive state of the brain during the use of psychedelic drugs.

Developing Treatments To Control Mental Conditions

The results from this study could help to develop new treatment methods for mental conditions. It is already proven that psychedelic drugs provide some significant benefits to people with depression. Also, LSD works on the same chemical system in the brain that antidepressants work—the serotonin system.

The research team is now working hard to identify how specific changes in information flow in the brain underlie specific aspects of psychedelic experience, like hallucinations. A better understanding of hallucinations will lead to better insight into psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia.