LSD and other psychedelic drugs heighten consciousness

LSD and other psychedelic drugs heighten consciousness


shrooms magic mushrooms psilocybinShutterstock

Many people who have used psychedelic drugs will tell you that
the substances expanded their consciousness.

That might sound like mystical garbage, but a new paper
published in the journal Scientific
 suggests it might be more true than anyone
realized. For the first time, science has demonstrated that
psychedelic drugs induce a state of “heightened consciousness”
that researchers can measure.

The new paper is rooted in some of the strangest and
most exciting research at the frontier of neuroscience: the
exploration of consciousness.

A ghost in the brain

Consciousness is mysterious.

Neuroscientists don’t have a good working definition of
it, and there isn’t a clear scientific distinction between a
being with consciousness and a being without
it. Consciousness doesn’t have an obvious role in the brain,
though most people are pretty sure it’s there, and
it’s wildly difficult to measure.

In the new paper, the team of neuroscientists simply
consider consciousness that which “vanishes every night when
we fall into dreamless sleep.” Which is to say, consciousness is
the thing you don’t have when you’re passed out. 

A person undergoing an


Most people would agree that they are more conscious when fully
awake, less conscious at various stages of sleep, and least
conscious when under forms of anesthesia that suppress brain

Existing research has found measurable patterns of
activity in the brain that track neatly along that scale.
When people are more conscious, their brains exhibit complex,
unpredictable patterns of electrical activity, which can be
measured using a technique
called magnetoencephalography (MEG). A
less conscious mind is more sedate, and appears less
disorganized in its behavior.

Those differences offer scientists a workable measure of
consciousness that can be studied in a lab: brain signal

Amping up consciousness

In the study, the researchers administered doses of LSD,
ketamine, and psilocybin (an active ingredient in
psychedelic mushrooms) to participants, and measured their
brain activity using an MEG machine.

The subjects had all tried psychedelics in the past, and
reported experiences during the study that likely
sound familiar to other users (seeing geometric patterns,
experiencing vivid imaginations, having feelings of merging with
the surroundings, and getting senses mixed). 

While the participants were feeling
those effects, the MEG recorded brain activity that was
more complex and apparently random, especially in regions of the
brain related to perception. All three psychedelics were
therefore found to increase signal diversity in the brain.

According to the measure of consciousness that’s based on
sleep and wakefulness, the subjects seemed to have reached a
higher level of consciousness than people who are simply
sober and awake. This finding offers a new window into the nature
of consciousness itself, and what it means to be a conscious
being. It could also help researchers better target future
therapies based on psychedelics.