Study shows that psychedelic drugs really do lead to a higher state of consciousness
MEG detects variations in the brain’s magnetic field during various types of cerebral activity. It studies normal and abnormal brain function. Recording the magnetic field produced by neuronal currents requires ultra sensitive sensors called SQUIDs (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device). The 306 sensors spread over 102 areas allow both near and far magnetic fields to be measured, and the brain’s deep structures to be ‘seen’. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
When psychedelic guru Timothy Leary invited the world to drop everything they’re doing and take drugs, he lost his job at Harvard University. It was a rejection he took in stride since, as he saw it, he was building a better world. Leary and his followers believed that they were experimenting with a higher state of consciousness. Of course, to the general public, this sounds crazy. The natural response to a college professor inviting you to quit your job to live on a compound might be, ‘go home Tim, you’re high.’ But a recent study led by the University of Sussex discovered that there is, in fact, such thing as being woke as fuck and psychedelics can get you there.
The study tested the effects of three substances on brain activity: LSD, Psilocybin (the main active chemical in magic mushrooms) and Ketamine.
What makes this study unique is that it’s the first to measure a higher level of brain activity than what is considered the baseline of a state of sober wakefulness and awareness. In the past, studies have only ever examined lower levels of consciousness associated with sleep and medical conditions like comas.
Researchers analyzed data from previous studies on psychedelics that had been conducted by Imperial College in London and the University of Cardiff, measuring the results against baseline levels of consciousness.
With the use of MEG, a technology which records neural activity, it was proven that higher signal diversity existed in the brains of subjects who had taken one of the three substances. This means that the brain had made more connections and across networks that don’t normally communicate.
In previous tests conducted by Imperial College, this was attributed to the inhibition of something called the Default Mode Network, or the programming of the brain which essentially establishes barriers to communication between neurons.
“During the psychedelic state,” said Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, “The electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness.”
But researchers insist that this doesn’t necessarily mean a psychedelic state of consciousness is better, only that it exists as a distinct level on the spectrum. “[W]e can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal,” Seth said in a statement, “but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.”
In 2015, the Beckley Foundation and Imperial College produced the world’s first fMRI images of the brain on LSD. Those images showed the brain lighting up like a Christmas tree when compared to a placebo, hinting at a similar effect to the results of the current study.
“People often say they experience insight under these drugs,” Dr. Robin Cahart-Harris of Imperial College said in a statement, “when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes.”
All three substances were administered at a moderate level that was slightly below what might be considered a typical recreational dose. LSD was administered at 75 micrograms and psilocybin at 2 mg. While Ketamine was administered by infusion at an initial dose of 0.25 mg/kg over one minute and a consistent drip of 0.375 mg/h over a 40-minute period.
What really caught the attention of others in the psychedelic science community was the consistency across all three substances despite the differences in their chemical makeup. As always, the team encouraged further research to attempt to replicate the results and prove that a higher level of consciousness truly exists, yet some believe that the current results show significant promise on their own.
“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,” said Dr. Muthukumaraswamy, a member of the original testing team.
Of the three, LSD was found to be the most effective with tests showing significant increases in brain activity across 100% of participants.
Beyond the scientific world, the discovery is a slap in the face to the stigma around these substances. When LSD was first synthesized and used in the lab, it was thought to be able to mimic the effects of psychosis. As a result, these substances were originally called psychotomimetics. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that this would change when Dr. Humphry Osmond decided that ‘psychedelic’ – meaning mind manifesting – was a more appropriate name to describe a higher level of consciousness.