After taking the first-ever look at how the brain functions on LSD, Imperial College, London researchers sound nearly as enthusiastic about the drug as Timothy Leary. The team scanned the brains of 20 volunteers on the drug and discovered that not only did it increase connectivity between parts of the brain that usually perform specialized functions, many of those areas became involved in visual processing, leading to complex, dreamlike hallucinations and other visual effects, CNET reports. The researchers, whose study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, say the more "unified" brain they witnessed could explain why LSD users describe feeling more at one with the universe, and sometimes report increased well-being even long after the trip is over.
"This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics," senior researcher David Nutt, once the British government's drug adviser, tells the Guardian. He says scientists have "waited 50 years for this moment," but "enormous hurdles" have made it difficult to research LSD since the drug was banned in the '60s. "For the first time we can really see what's happening in the brain during the psychedelic state, and can better understand why LSD had such a profound impact on self-awareness in users and on music and art," he says. "This could have great implications for psychiatry, and helping patients overcome conditions such as depression." (The archives of the Swiss chemist who invented LSD have had a "long, strange trip.")