A new study has found evidence that taking psychedelic drugs can induce different levels of consciousness.
Researchers used brain imaging technology to study the effects experienced by volunteers who’d been given either LSD, ketamine or psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms.
On measuring the magnetic fields produced in the brain scientists found that, across all three drugs, the neural signal diversity was reliably higher.
“This finding shows that the brain-on-psychedelics behaves very differently from normal,” said Professor Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, who led the research.
“During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness – as measured by global signal diversity.
“Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of ‘conscious level’, we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal, but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.”
The study was published in Nature Scientific Reports.
Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, from the University of Auckland, who was involved in the studies’ preliminary stages, said: “That similar changes in signal diversity were found for all three drugs, despite their quite different pharmacology, is both very striking and also reassuring that the results are robust and repeatable.”
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “Rigorous research into psychedelics is gaining increasing attention, not least because of the therapeutic potential that these drugs may have when used sensibly and under medical supervision.
“The present study’s findings help us understand what happens in people’s brains when they experience an expansion of their consciousness under psychedelics.
"People often say they experience insight under these drugs – and when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes. The present findings may help us understand how this can happen.”
“People tend to associate phrases like ‘a higher state of consciousness’ with hippy speak and mystical nonsense. This is potentially the beginning of the demystification, showing its physiological and biological underpinnings,” he added, telling the Guardian: “Maybe this is a neural signature of the mind opening.”