LSD unifies brain function, makes it ‘free’ – study

14 Apr 2016

When people take LSD their brain syncs up an awful lot more than usual, according to research coming out of London, which took images of the neurological effects of LSD for the first time.

The human brain is firing off signals all the time, sending commands throughout the body. However, most of this is made up of independent networks that don’t sync up.

A way to combine your brain functions might be a bit of a surprise, though: LSD. It’s also a way of reconnecting with how your infant brain worked, according to new research.

First-ever scans of LSD effect

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris of the Imperial College of London has led an amazing piece of research that mapped and imaged the effect the hallucinogen has on the human brain, capturing pictures for the first time.

The findings are quite extraordinary, and go some way to explain why anecdotal stories of LSD users often revolve around connecting with the universe in some way.

Under normal conditions, information from our eyes is processed in the visual cortex, at the very back of the brain. However, when volunteers were given an injection of LSD, more parts of the brain got involved, syncing up, essentially.

Carhart-Harris explained: “Normally our brain consists of independent networks that perform separate specialised functions, such as vision, movement and hearing, as well as more complex things like attention.

“However, under LSD, the separateness of these networks breaks down and instead you see a more integrated or unified brain.”

This, according to Carhart-Harris, is what underlies the “profound altered state of consciousness” that hallucinogen users often describe.


The effect LSD has on the brain, in comparison to volunteers who were on placebos (top)

Young at heart

The team behind the study suggested that, as we mature, our brain functions compartmentalise and become more rigid – essentially, our brain gets stubborn. However, when on LSD, the brain resembles our brain’s capabilities when we were infants, “free and unconstrained”.

Another finding made by the team was that a combination of LSD and music greatly increases the amount of information sent from an area of the brain called the parahippocampus to the visual cortex.

The parahippocampus is involved in mental imagery and personal memory, and the more it communicated with the visual cortex, the more people reported experiencing complex visions, such as seeing scenes from their lives.

The researchers hope the findings can help with treatment of future illnesses.

Colourful psychedelic image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic