Researchers Are Now Giving Neural Networks Virtual Drugs

The research hopes to find answers to the many questions still lingering about psychedelics and the brain.
Loukia Papadopoulos
M. Schartner et al. 2020  with attribution to Karras et al. 2019

A team of researchers has come up with a new way to test psychedelic drugs that does not require any human participation, as reported by PsyPostThey plan on administering virtual drugs to neural networks and studying their effects.


Virtual psychedelics

This is not completely unusual if you think about it. Indeed, it has been reported that neural networks perform somewhat similarly to the human brain so why would they not have the same reaction to virtual psychedelics?

“For me, the most interesting property of brains is that they bring about experiences. Brains contain an internal model of the world which is constantly updated via sensory information, and some parts of this model are consciously perceived, i.e. experienced,” Michael Schartner, a member of the International Brain Laboratory at Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, told PsyPost.

“If this process of model-updating is perturbed — e.g. via psychedelics — the internal model can go off the rails and may have very little to do with the actual world. Such a perturbation is thus an important case in the study of how the internal model is updated, as it can be directly experienced by the perturbed brain – and verbally reported.”

A Model for visual systems

Scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Geneva were able to successfully recreate drug-related hallucinations by playing around with image-generating neural nets. The end results were published in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness last month and were true to how humans described their visual experiences with drugs.

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“Deep neural networks — the work horse of many impressive engineering feats of machine learning — are the state-of-the-art model for parts of the visual system in humans,” Schartner told PsyPost.

“They can help illustrate how psychedelics perturb perception and can be used to guide hypotheses on how sensory information is prevented from updating the brain’s model of the world.”