Drugs like LSD still have a lot to teach us about the way the brain works , and they may shed light on the mysterious interface between consciousness and neural physiology, as a new study suggests.
The combination of pharmacological interventions with non-invasive brain imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), can provide information on normal and abnormal brain function.
In the study, a group of 20 healthy volunteers underwent brain scans in two separate sessions, fifteen days apart. In one session, participants took a placebo before entering the fMRI scan, while in the other they were given an active dose of LSD .
Comparing the results of the two sessions, the researchers found that LSD separates functional connectivity from structural connectivity limitations, while altering the way the brain manages the balancing act between integration and segregation of information. In particular, the well-known LSD-induced ‘ego dissolution’ sensation correlates with the reorganization of brain networks during a state of high global integration .
The drug-altered state of consciousness could be seen as an abnormal increase in the functional complexity of the brain, and the data show times when the brain reveals predominantly segregated patterns of functional connectivity.
According to the first author and researcher in neuroscience Andrea Luppi , from the University of Cambridge, this study is part of the elucidation of dynamic functional connectivity , the theory that brain phenomena demonstrate states of functional connectivity that change over time, from the In the same way that our stream of consciousness is dynamic and always flowing.
While this is taking place, and the human brain processes the information, it must integrate that information into an amalgamated form of understanding, but at the same time segregate information, keeping different sensory streams separate from each other, so that they can be managed by particular neural systems .
In other words, the ‘dissolution of the ego’ of a psychedelic trip could be the subjective experience of the brain increasing its dynamics of segregation, decoupling the structure of the brain from its functioning, that is, its ability to integrate and amalgamate separate flows of information into a unified whole.
This distinction, the dynamics of brain integration and segregation , is something that is affected by psychedelic drugs, and with the advent of brain imaging technology, we can observe what happens when our regular functional connectivity is disrupted.