According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, there may be evidence for a “higher” state of consciousness related to greater neural signal diversity—a measurement of complex activity in the brain.
Practitioners of meditation, a range of spiritual pursuits, and users of some drugs have long claimed to reach a higher level of consciousness. The study linked alterations in consciousness to the use of three psychedelic drugs—psilocybin (the active compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms), ketamine, and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Can Psychedelic Drugs Elevate Consciousness?
The study involved the re-analysis of three previous studies in which healthy volunteers took psilocybin, ketamine, or LSD. Fifteen participants took LSD, 19 took ketamine, and 14 took psilocybin. Each study compared those who took the drugs to those who took a placebo.
Researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure neural signal diversity. People who took the psychedelic drugs had higher neural signal diversity, suggesting an altered state of consciousness. Brain electrical activity was also less predictable and less integrated. Those who took the placebo did not experience any significant changes.
This points to predictable changes in consciousness level with the use of psychedelic drugs. It may help explain why some people who take psychedelics experience hallucinations or intense emotions. The researchers say this altered level of consciousness is not necessarily a more desirable state, but it is distinctive from a regular state of consciousness.
Other Research on Psychedelic Drugs and Mental Health
The role of psychedelic drugs in mental health, and especially in mental health treatment, continues to be controversial. Previous research suggests some psychedelic drugs may protect against thoughts of suicide. Another study found men with a history of substance abuse were less likely to engage in domestic violence if they used psychedelic drugs.
Evidence that psychedelic drugs may offer some benefit has caused some psychiatrists to call for a reclassification of the drugs. A reclassification would make it easier to research potential benefits of these drugs.
- First evidence for higher state of consciousness found. (2017, April 19). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-04/uos-fef041817.php
- Schartner, M. M., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Barrett, A. B., Seth, A. K., & Muthukumaraswamy, S. D. (2017). Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin. Scientific Reports, 7, 46421. doi:10.1038/srep46421
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