Scientists Reveal How LSD Flattens the Brain's 'Energy Landscape'

This psychedelic drug could "rewind" our brains, allowing for more dynamic thinking.
Sarah Marquart

A group of researchers has found evidence that LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) lowers the mental barriers that constrain our thoughts. 

"Normally, our thoughts and incoming information are filtered by our prior experience,” said Parker Singleton, a PhD candidate at Cornell University in New York who was involved in the study. “But if you take that filtering and suppression away, you are looking at the world with new eyes. You get a totally new perspective.”

In order to come to this conclusion, Singleton and his colleagues analyzed fMRI brain scans of people on both placebos and LSD. They observed four distinct patterns of activity that the brains switched between. Half of these patterns occurred in the part of the brain devoted to sensory-driven activities, and the other half in the top-down processing part of the brain. The scientists found that, while on LSD, the brain spent more time on sensory-driven activities, and required less energy to switch between states. 

In the new paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, the researchers further explain how a particular receptor called 5-HT2a, enables the drug to have this effect. According to the Rebus model of psychedelics, tested during the research, the brain acts as a prediction engine. It interprets new information based on prior experiences and beliefs. Under LSD though, that changes. 

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As reported by The GuardianDavid Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the research, said that this effect from LSD allows you to "go back to a state where bits of the brain that haven’t spoken since you were a baby can cross-talk," allowing users to get new insight into old problems. 

This research could have future implications on the way psychedelics can help people with mental illnesses“In depression, people get locked into a way of thinking that is repetitive and ruminative. It’s like tramline thinking,” said Nutt. “Psychedelics disrupt those kinds of processes so people can escape from it.”

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