Lysergic acid diethylamide 25, a non-selective serotonin-receptor agonist, was first synthesized in 1938. Five years later, it was identified as a psychoactive substance. In the 1950s and 60s, its unique ability to alter consciousness—temporarily reducing the sense of self—made it a useful tool for psychological research. Today, researchers still believe LSD could help us gain important insights into the brain. LSD offers a biological explanation to the burning question of what exactly constitutes reality: Where does objective reality end and subjective reality begin? Is there a difference?
Clearly, psychedelic drugs our reality and create perceptual illusions. However, the reality we experience during ordinary wakefulness could also be considered an illusion in several regards. Our brains constantly fill gaps and alter how we perceive information through senses and emotions.
One group of researchers from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences scanned the brains of 15 healthy people after they had taken LSD. When they compared the fMRI images with those of the control group, it was revealed that LSD caused enhanced global connectivity in many higher-level brain regions, the ones which deal with association. Between the regions with higher levels of global connectivity and those housing LSD-sensitive receptors, there was a lot of overlap.
Increased levels of communication were also found between numerous other areas of the brain which are normally separate. The higher the level of global connectivity in a subject’s brain, the more they reported experiencing ego dissolution, possibly as a consequence of over-connected, high-cognition brain regions.
Authors speculate that all this increased communication in the brain could create a collapse in the brain’s “normal hierarchical organization” by blurring the boundaries between lower-level systems (which are anchored to the outside world) and higher-level systems (which operate apart from sensory information). This may be related to the blurring of ego boundaries, ego dissolution, and the sense of expanded awareness people report experiencing from psychedelics. LSD appears to strengthen the link between the self and the sense of the environment.
Psychedelics may have a place in the future for carefully controlled research projects. Neuroimaging with LSD may shed light on the mechanics and processes behind sleep, one of the greatest medical mysteries at all. Further, many psychiatrists are looking toward psychedelics as a potential aid for treating depression and anxiety. Best of all, they’re non-toxic and non-addictive.
What many recreational users call a “bad trip” is actually valued as a therapeutic tool by many psychiatrists. If someone has suppressed a memory or emotion, LSD can sometimes force it to the surface. With the help of a mental health professional, the patient can then confront that feeling and face it head-on.
Obviously, LSD isn’t for everyone. For some people, the altered state of consciousness can be too intense, even in small doses. Others enjoy it too much, too often. LSD abuse can cause severe problems in one’s personal and professional life. If you’re struggling with substance abuse of any kind, inform your physician ASAP.
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