Nearly 80 years since LSD-25 was first synthesized in Switzerland in 1938, and half a century after being criminalized in California, detailed images of the powerful hallucinogen’s effect on the human brain are available, and the results are astounding.
Scientists from the Imperial College London Department of Medicine Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology published the results of their groundbreaking study in a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to Science Daily, the brain imaging study involved 20 volunteers, all of whom had previous experience with psychedelic drugs. During the course of the study, each volunteer was injected twice; one time with a placebo and one time with 75 micrograms of pharmaceutical grade LSD-25.
Subjective effects noted by study participants included “seeing geometric patterns,” “vivid imagination,” “distorted sense of size, space and time,” “feelings of floating,” and “profound inner peace.”
Multi-modal brain mapping via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), arterial spin labeling (ASL), and magnetoencephalography (MEG) proved what experienced trippers have known for a long time: even a small dose of acid causes increased activity in the visual cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for translating signals from the eyes into vision. In addition, scientists now know that a dose of LSD triggers closed-eye visual stimulation in parts of the brain not usually used for seeing.
The study, conducted in concert with the Beckley Foundation, provided scientists new insight into the ways that Lysergic acid diethylamide profoundly alters consciousness. Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the coordinators of the Imperial-Beckley study, said the following.
“We observed brain changes under LSD that suggested our volunteers were ‘seeing with their eyes shut’ — albeit they were seeing things from their imagination rather than from the outside world. We saw that many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD — even though the volunteers’ eyes were closed. Furthermore, the size of this effect correlated with volunteers’ ratings of complex, dreamlike visions. “
Dr. Carhart-Harris further explained how a dose of LSD may contribute to feelings of “oneness” experienced by persons who have experimented with the mind-expanding, hallucinogenic substance.
“Our results suggest that this effect underlies the profound altered state of consciousness that people often describe during an LSD experience. It is also related to what people sometimes call ‘ego-dissolution’, which means the normal sense of self is broken down and replaced by a sense of reconnection with themselves, others and the natural world. This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way — and seems to be associated with improvements in well-being after the drug’s effects have subsided.”
The study, formally called the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme, also noted the effects on the brain when an LSD trip is enhanced with music. Mendel Kaelen, a doctoral candidate at Imperial College Department of Medicine, noted the following.
“A major focus for future research is how we can use the knowledge gained from our current research to develop more effective therapeutic approaches for treatments such as depression; for example, music-listening and LSD may be a powerful therapeutic combination if provided in the right way.
Researchers intent on finding a cure for depression are excited by the now-scientific revelation that LSD taken in while listening to music triggers a part of the brain known as the parahippocampus. This part of the brain is associated with deep-seated memory and mental imagery. Will psychiatrists someday prescribe a dose of LSD and a CD to treat depression and addiction? It’s too soon to say, but senior researchers certainly seem to hope so.
“Scientists have waited 50 years for this moment — the revealing of how LSD alters our brain biology. For the first time we can really see what’s happening in the brain during the psychedelic state, and can better understand why LSD had such a profound impact on self-awareness in users and on music and art. This could have great implications for psychiatry, and helping patients overcome conditions such as depression.”
For now, research into the positive psychological effects of LSD is virtually forbidden in the United States. Although the drug showed promise as a psychiatric medication in the 1950s and 1960s, it was outlawed in California in 1966 and criminalized throughout the U.S. two years later.
[Photo by Mark Terrill/AP Images]