Psychedelic substances are among the least understood drugs that are around today, and often have some of the most negative stigmas surrounding them. However these substances could help us better understand the human consciousness, and potentially treat things like addiction and even help reduce domestic violence.
More commonly referred to as acid, LSD has a rocky history. Being made completely illegal in America in 1970, it is now widely agreed that it is not addictive and does not incur feelings of withdrawal when usage is stopped. Unfortunately there are only a handful of studies using LSD, but have shown that its use can help to relieve depression, especially in people with terminal illness. In a study run byet al. it was found that under the effects of LSD many parts of the brain contributed to the process of producing a visual image in the brain, with some connections in the brain becoming far more stronger while others losing strength of connection (see below). On an acid trip, there is decreased blood flow and electrical activity in part of the brain known as the default node network. This is the part of the brain responsible for our ego and sense of individuality, and also for things like obsession and repetitive thinking, and has been shown that it can actually break the connections responsible for addictions, and make us calmer and more relaxed. A study done at the Imperial College London on 20 people found that 2 weeks after using LSD, participants were more “optimistic, open-minded and intellectually curious”. In Silicon Valley some employees are reportedly taking micro-doses of the drug to increase productivity and creativity. Steve Jobs is also quoted saying LSD “was one of the most important things in my life”.
Image credit: cnn.com
Psilocybin is the active ingredient in “Magic Mushrooms”. This drug has been around for almost as long as humans have, and can affect the brain in a similar way to LSD. Psilocybin works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as the neurotransmitter serotonin. It can make new connections between neurons, and studies have shown an increased “openness” in people that have used the drug, and had more of an interest in creative arts, for up to 14 months. Similar to LSD, a study done by Charles S. Grob, MD et al. found that psilocybin can reduced anxiety in patients that were terminal.
These substances have negative associations with them, there’s no doubt about that. There are reports and studies on these drugs causing psychosis and schizophrenia, and in contrast to what was mentioned earlier in this post, temporary depression and anxiety can result after use. A ‘bad trip’ can potentially occur depending on the scenario a person uses these substances, and the ability to judge situations rationally is inhibited. Some of these things can be put down to the quality and dosage of use, and how often a person uses these drugs. It is a touchy subject as to whether we should continue research into these drugs, but studies done in the lab, where all aspects are controlled and safety is at the highest of importance, have interesting prospects into the future of using these medicinally, and to help better understand the human brain, and the consciousness that we all experience.
R. L. Carhart-Harris, M. Kaelen, M. Bolstridge, T. M. Williams, L. T. Williams, R. Underwood, A. Feilding and D. J. Nutt (2016). The paradoxical psychological effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Psychological Medicine, 46, pp 1379-1390. doi:10.1017/S0033291715002901.