Everyone knows that psychedelic substances such as LSD and ‘magic’ mushrooms can intensely alter one’s perception of the world and themselves, but not so much is known about what processes take place in the brain on a physical and chemical level.
According to a new study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, the state in which the brain finds itself under the influence of psychedelic drugs is approximately the same as when we are dreaming.
“The similarity of brain activity in the psychedelic state with the processes that occur during dreams is striking. People often describe their experience after taking psilocybin as a dream-like state. For the first time we managed to get a physical confirmation of the similarity of these states,” said Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London who took part in the research.
Scientists led by Dr Enzo Tagliazucchi of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, scanned the brain activity of 15 people before and after a psilocybin injection, a hallucinogenic substance that is contained in “magic” mushrooms.
The researchers found that under the influence of psilocybin, the activity of certain brain areas, in particular, the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex, which are responsible for emotions and memory, becomes more synchronized, suggesting that these areas are working together.
The researchers also note that the activity in the areas of the brain responsible for higher-level thinking (including consciousness) becomes much less coordinated under the influence of psilocybin.
Moreover, using a new technique for analyzing the brain data, the researchers found that brain activity becomes much more diverse under the influence of hallucinogenic substances than in the normal state.
Most likely, that is why many people who take psychedelics refer to the experience of expanded consciousness, because their brain indeed gets additional states of activity compared to its function in the normal state.