Here’s what LSD actually does inside your brain, according to science

Rob Waugh
·Contributor
·2-min read
Manipulated image of bare trees in winter against a cloudy sky
What does LSD actually do inside your brain? (Getty)

The psychedelic drug LSD can profoundly alter people’s state of consciousness – causing everything from strange thoughts to visual hallucinations.

But a new study where volunteers took LSD before having an MRI scan taken of their brain has offered insight into what the drug actually does inside the organ.

Researchers found that LSD seems to disrupt the way different parts of the brain communicate – in effect, “freeing” the mind from the anatomy of the brain, according to ScienceAlert.

The findings could offer an insight into one of the common effects of the drug: “ego dissolution” or “ego death”, where users lose a part of their sense of self.

The research was published in the journal NeuroImage.

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Lead author Andrea Luppi of the University of Cambridge said: “The psychedelic compound LSD induces a profoundly altered state of consciousness.

“Combining pharmacological interventions with non-invasive brain imaging techniques such as functional MRI can provide insight into normal and abnormal brain function.

“From introspection, we know that the subjective stream of consciousness is a constant ebb and flow – so we explored the dynamic effects of LSD on human brain function, focusing on two key properties: integration and segregation of information in the brain.

“Our main finding is that the effects of LSD on brain function and subjective experience are not uniform in time. In particular, the well-known feeling of ‘ego dissolution’ induced by LSD correlates with reorganisation of brain networks during a state of high global integration.

“These results reveal a new, dynamic dimension of psychedelic action on the human brain.”

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The researchers said the “freedom” from brain anatomy may help to explain the unusual thoughts and experiences of the psychedelic state.

The authors write: "Due to the effects of LSD, the brain is free to explore a variety of functional connectivity patterns that go beyond those dictated by anatomy – presumably resulting in the unusual beliefs and experiences reported during the psychedelic state."

Research in 2019 suggested that “microdosing” LSD – as advocated by some Silicon Valley business leaders – could be linked to beneficial effects.

Canadian scientists investigated people who microdose, and found they actually score higher on mental health and well-being measures.

Thomas Anderson of the University of Toronto and Rotem Petranker of York University, Canada, said: “We found that microdosers scored higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness and creativity.”

They added: “Microdosers also scored lower on measures of dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality, which is very promising.”

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