Psychedelics may trigger a "higher" level of consciousness.
It follows from previous Imperial College London research using brain imaging, which showed that the tiny magnetic fields produced in the brain were consistently higher while on psychedelics.
This measure of the complexity of brain activity - called neural signal diversity - provides an index of the level of someone's consciousness. Their brains were scanned about an hour after dosage, and researchers were able to observe an increase in brain activity, one were the neural activity becomes less predictable and therefore indicates a greater degree of consciousness.
The latest study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is the first to show levels above baseline.
"This finding shows that the brain-on-psychedelics behaves very differently from normal", said Professor Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, who led the research.
Neuroscientists don't have a good working definition of it, and there isn't a clear scientific distinction between a being with consciousness and a being without it. Consciousness doesn't have an obvious role in the brain, though most people are pretty sure it's there, and it's wildly hard to measure.
'We found that the psychedelic state induces increased brain-wide signal diversity as compared to placebo, across a range of measures and three different psychedelic compounds'.
A group of tripped out volunteers just helped scientists better understand what's going on in the brain when people take psychedelic drugs such as LSD, ketamine, or the magic mushroom molecule, psilocybin, The Guardian reports. "Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of "conscious level, ' we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher 'level" of consciousness than normal - but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure".
People often say they experience insight under these drugs - and when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes.
"We found correlations between the intensity of the psychedelic experience, as reported by volunteers, and changes in signal diversity", says Seth. "The present findings may help us understand how this can happen".
When experienced users describe a higher state of consciousness, they're often describing a quasi-religious experience or, at least, using religious terminology to suggest a mystical aspect to the experience.
Can we really elevate our brains to some kind of higher state of consciousness?
Researchers are now working diligently to discover how specific changes in the flow of information in the brain triggers specific aspects of psychedelic experience like hallucinations.
It is hoped the findings of the study could help develop new treatments for severe depression and other mental conditions using psychedelic substances.
This article is adapted from materials from the University of Sussex.