Dr Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, first found the effects of LSD or lysergic acid diethylamide or “acid” on the psyche. It has been 75 years since his invention. Now new research finds deeper understanding of how this psychedelic chemical alters the perception and affects the brain.
The team of researchers found that even lower doses of LSD can reduce and disintegrate a person’s sense of self. The study appeared yesterday (19th of March 2018) in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
The team of researchers from the University of Zurich included healthy volunteers for their study and gave them 100 micrograms of LSD. The original dose described by Hofmann was 250 micrograms. Then they looked at the interactions these participants had with computer avatars. They noted that LSD successfully dampened the brain activity that aids a person to identify themselves from others.
There were 24 volunteers for the study. They were given in turns, 100 micrograms of LSD, placebo and LSD and ketanserin. Ketanserin can block the receptor on the brain where LSD acts and thus renders LSD ineffective. The sense of loss of self and visual hallucinations was seen when they were given LSD alone.
All the volunteers had to undergo brain scans and interact with simulated experiments. They needed to make eye contact with computer avatars and lead or follow the gaze of the avatar on screen. The avatar got it wrong some times and the participants were also asked to get their gaze wrong at times.
Results revealed that the part of the brain that harbors the sense of self was more active as the participants were leading the avatars with their gaze and when they did what the avatars were doing. When they differed, the area of the brain did not show a clear cut demarcation on the scans.
Katrin Preller, a psychologist and co-author of this study said that LSD “reduces your sense of integrated self.” She explained that this drug “blurs the boundary between what is you and what is another person.” This is described by some as “feeling one with the cosmos”, she explains. The sense of self or ego is damaged and the sense of where oneself ends and another starts is lost.
Preller and her colleagues looked at the effects of LSD on the brain with the hope of trying to find treatments for some psychiatric conditions such as depression and schizophrenia that can also alter the sense of self significantly. She explained that till date researchers do not understand how social interactions work and how this sense of self is important in psychiatric disorders.