The psychedelic drug Lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD has been the focus of some brain research over the years, but it’s difficult to research something that is an illegal substance in most areas.
A recent study that used fMRI imaging shows that LSD changes the way the brain is wired. The connectome is like the structural scaffolding of all the neural activity in the brain. The team in Spain wanted to look at how or if that structure changed when patients took LSD. The study was led by Selen Atasoy, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Brain and Cognition at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
In an interview with the PsyPost, Atasoy explained, “We applied a new analysis, a harmonic decoding of fMRI data, which looks at neural activity in a new way; as a combination of harmonic waves in the brain that we call ‘connectome harmonics’The connectome harmonics we used to decode brain activity, which was first introduced in a Nature Communication publication in 2016, are universal harmonic waves, such as sound waves emerging within a musical instrument, but adapted to the anatomy of the brain, i.e., to the human connectome.”
The researchers analyzed fMRI data from 12 participants whose brain activity was recorded while they were under the influence of LSD and a placebo. Using a mathematical model, the team could look at the harmonics when patients were taking LSD or taking a placebo. Those results were then translated, much like a piece of music would be separated out into notes or bars. When a patient was using LSD there was a higher level of activity in the brain and much more “harmonizing” according to Atasoy, “The connectome-harmonic decoding of the fMRI data under LSD showed that LSD not only increases the total energy of the brain but also enriches the repertoire of connectome harmonics – the basic elements of this harmonic language.” The results of the study are encouraging, but there is still much more that is not well understood about harmonics in the brain.
Researchers are primarily interested in knowing if these rewiring and restructuring effects of LSD can heal the brain. Specifically, psychological trauma, PTSD, or anxiety. LSD often gives users a feeling that they can try new things and take more risks, so for patients who need to heal from their experiences, this could be a way to help them let go. For now, the study was too small to say for sure that LSD could be a drug to treat the brain, but being able to see the changes it causes, is the first step. The video below talks about the work in Spain and in other labs on the impact of LSD on the brain.