‘Higher State of Consciousness’ From Psychedelics Is Not Just A Hippie Idea—It’s Biological

By Victoria Kim 04/25/17

Researchers examined people on psychedelic drugs to see if their brain activity would become unpredictable.

A colorful illustration of a person tripping on mushrooms.

Anyone who’s had a spiritual experience on psychedelic drugs—be it magic mushrooms, acid, mescaline, etc.—can relate to the feeling of “breaking through,” and transcending one’s ego and the pettiness that we tend to get caught up with in day-to-day life. 

Some call it a “higher state of consciousness”—which, to those those who aren’t familiar with this experience, may sound like a load of hippy-dippy BS. 

But it’s more than that—psychedelic substances really do cause the brain to enter this “higher” state, according to a new study by a team of UK scientists. 

“[A higher state of consciousness] has a very specific meaning in terms of this study, and that meaning can get a little conflated with the hippy idea of a higher state of consciousness and psychedelic drugs,” study author Anil Seth of the University of Sussex told Newsweek.

In their study, Seth and his team sought to measure the mathematical diversity of brain activity—in other words, “how unpredictable the activity of the brain is,” Seth explained.

Researchers studied the brain activity of people given LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and ketamine.

When someone is unconscious—whether they’re asleep or sedated—this is thought of as a lower state of consciousness. Seth and his team guessed that brain activity would become more diverse, or unpredictable, in someone experiencing the opposite of that—and they were right.

This study brings psychedelic research a step closer to understanding just how substances like these can have a therapeutic effect for people struggling with depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues.

“If we can understand the brain basis of hallucinations then we’ll understand a lot more about hallucinations—and not just about psychedelia but also schizophrenia and other conditions,” said Seth. “We’ll also understand a lot more about how our visual experiences in the normal world happen.”

Some doctors already use ketamine in a psychotherapeutic setting. The drug has been shown to be effective in treating depression, PTSD, and other conditions, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

As for psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, research from scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University have found it to be an effective tool for treating depression and anxiety in terminally ill individuals.

By studying the changes in brain activity caused by these drugs, we are gaining a better understanding of what exactly is happening in a person’s brain as their consciousness is expanding.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr