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Mind-blowing new images show how LSD transforms brain activity in unprecedented detail

Published by Business Insider on Sat, 16 Apr 2016

Tripping on psychedelics may actually free the mind, anew study suggests.The new research, complete with the first modern brain scans of volunteers who gothigh on (illegal)LSD, shed lighton how the drugs affect brain activity in order to produce their mind-blowing effects.The findings build on previous studiesthat looked atthe effects of other psychedelics like magic mushrooms, whose psychoactive ingredient is a compound called psylocibin.For their new paper, researchers had 20 healthy volunteers visitaclinic on two differentdays. On one day,theygota 75-microgram LSD injection (considered a "common" oral dose from the non-profit psychoactive drug database Erowid);on the second day, theygot a placebo.Then, they usedthree different brain imaging techniquestomeasure and compareblood flow, brainwaves, and functional connections within and between brain networksin peopleon the placebo and under the influence ofthe drug.'Seeing sounds' and 'hearing colors'Their scans were illuminating: People high on the drug appeared to processtheir visual world in fundamentally different ways from people who were notusing. Thissuggests that ' rather than simply getting their data on images from the visual cortex ' the users were pulling datafrom multipleparts of their brains.In other words, regions of the brain that normally don't exchange information were chatting it up with one another, creating patterns of activity unseen in people who aren't using the drugs.Here's an image from the new study showingactivity indifferent areasof the brainfor people either on the placebo orafter being dosed withLSD:Both of these observations build onprevious studies looking at magic mushrooms, which appear to encourage the brain to virtuallysprout new links across previously disconnected areas, temporarily altering the brain's entire organizational framework.This is markedly different from the way our brains normally work ' typically, theactivity in our noggins flows alongspecific information highways calledneural networks. Inthoseinjected with psilocybin, cross-brain activity showed distinctly different patters, as if freed from its normal, rigid framework.Here's a data visualizationfrom a2014magic mushroom studycomparingthe brain connections in the brain of a person on psilocybin (right) and the brain of a person not given the drug:"The brain does not simply become a random system after psilocybin injection," the authors ofthe magic mushroom (psilocybin) study wrote, "but instead retains some organizational features, albeit different from the normal state."These new connectionsare likely responsible for psychedelic users' descriptions of things like "seeing sounds" or "hearing colors."Psychedelics, depression, and anxietyThe new patterns also provide some insight into what mayinfluence some of theantidepressant and anti-anxiety effectssome users have described experiencingduring and after their trips.In a 2012 study, Imperial College London neuroscientist David Nutt, one of the authors ofthe newest LSD study,found that in people drugged with psilocybin, brain chatter across traditional areas of the brain was muted, including in a region thought to play a role in maintaining our sense of self. In depressed people, Nutt believes, the connections between brain circuits in this sense-of-self region have becomeoverpowering. "People who get into depressive thinking, their brains are overconnected," Nutt told Psychology Today. Negative thoughts and feelings of self-criticism become obsessive and overwhelming.Loosening those connections and creating new ones, Nutt thinks, could provide intense relief forsome.READ MORE:How tripping on mushrooms changes the brainDON'T MISS:What 9 common drugs including caffeine, weed, and booze do to your brainJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Here's what happens to the human brain on LSD
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