Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Neuroscientists measure 'higher' state of consciousness

Neuroscientists measure 'higher' state of consciousness

Now, on the 74th anniversary of the world's first acid trip, scientists have confirmed, to an extent, what hippies have long claimed - psychoactive drugs do induce an "elevated" level of consciousness, as measured by a metric known as neural signal diversity. So the results are early evidence that there might be a whole new state of mind our brains could be capable of reaching. "The neural activity becomes more unpredictable", said said co-author Anil Seth, The Guardian reported.

The experts hope, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports, that the discovery could be used help treat conditions such as depression. Research released this week, however, goes some way to demystifying the effects of psychedelics.Scientists from the University of Sussex and Imperial College London have begun to classify the nature of the state of consciousness induced by three psychedelic drugs: LSD, psilocybin and ketamine.

The diversity of brain signals provides a mathematical index of the level of consciousness.

"During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less integrated than during normal conscious, wakefulness", said Anil Seth, one of the researchers from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.

"For all three", - they're referring to the aforementioned trio of psychedelics - "we find reliably higher spontaneous signal diversity, even when controlling for spectral changes", the researchers write in the paper, noting that this is the first time that these measurements have been applied to these drugs and "yielded values exceeding those of normal waking consciousness". All three psychedelics were therefore found to increase signal diversity in the brain.

In a study led by neuroscientists at the University of Sussex, subjects were given controlled doses of either psilocybin, ketamine or LSD. From wakefulness down to a deep coma, consciousness is on a sliding scale measured by the diversity of brain signals, and the researchers found that when under the influence of psychedelic drugs, that diversity jumps to new heights above the everyday baseline.

Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, from the University of Auckland, said: "That similar changes in signal diversity were found for all three drugs, despite their quite different pharmacology, is both very striking and also reassuring that the results are robust and repeatable".

These findings might also improve understanding of how hallucinations appear to those who take psychedelic drugs, and why such drugs are often associated with sudden bursts in creativity.

Most people would agree that they are more conscious when fully awake, less conscious at various stages of sleep, and least conscious when under forms of anesthesia that suppress brain activity.

However, it should be noted that the neural activity did not, in any way, indicate that the psychedelic state is a better or more desirable state of consciousness, only that it is something distinct and worth studying further using more sophisticated and varied techniques.

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