The Beckley/Imperial Research Programme has released the world’s first images of the human brain on LSD. The images are part of the first ever brain imaging study to examine the effects of LSD on the human brain; the findings have been published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Neural Correlates of the LSD Experience Revealed by Multi-Modal Neuroimaging by Carhart-Harris R, Feilding A, Nutt D et al”. Programme co-directors Amanda Feilding, David Nutt, together with lead-investigator Robin Cathart-Harris, held a press conference at the Royal Society to herald the publication of the paper.
These first findings from the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme give invaluable insight into how LSD may be used, firstly to help treat some of society’s most intractable illnesses, such as depression, addiction and OCD, and secondly, to further our understanding of the nature of consciousness itself.
The findings illustrate the principles of psychedelic action, i.e., the destabilisation and disintegration of normally well-organised independent brain networks, accompanied by reduced segregation between brain networks, resulting in much greater connectivity and communication between the different networks. Altered activity and communication patterns involving high-level brain networks correlates with experiencing fundamental changes in consciousness, such as ego-dissolution, altered meaning and a more fluid state of consciousness. In addition, our results provide invaluable insight into how LSD changes how the visual system functions and gives a scientific basis for the common psychedelic experience of ‘seeing with the eyes shut’.
This pioneering LSD research is the culmination of over 40 years of Amanda Feilding working towards her aim of establishing a scientific understanding of how psychedelic drugs work in the brain and how they can be used beneficially. This study builds on the previous work of the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme into psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) which identified the Default Mode Network as being particularly affected by psychedelic drugs. This network of highly inter-connected brain regions plays an extremely important function as a top-down control mechanism, which reduces and co-ordinates the activity of other brain areas. It is also responsible for the maintenance of a stable sense of self, daydreaming and self-reflection. By reducing the influence of the Default Mode Network, a more fluid and disorganised state of consciousness is brought about where new associations are made, and rigid patterns of behaviour may be broken down.