First ever look at the brain on LSD: MRI study

In the 1950s and 60s, researchers at the forefront of neuroscience and psychology experimented with LSD for PTSD and depression. Despite the positive effects of treatments (which came in small doses in controlled environments) the drug and corresponding research on its therapeutic benefits were banned in North America in the late sixties.

Newly published research which used MRI for the first time to look at the brains of subjects on LSD is being called a milestone study by neuroscience and consciousness researchers around the world. “This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics,” says David Nutt, lead author of the study. Nutt is professor of neuropsychopharmocology at the Imperial College of London, and is also the former drugs advisor to the UK government.


For the study 20 healthy volunteers were recruited, having their brains scanned once after receiving a placebo, and once after receiving a 75 mcg dose of LSD. The latter scans showed a decrease in coordination in the brain’s default mode network regions which corresponded with the participants’ own ratings of their sense of ego dissolution. Furthermore, the LSD scans showed greater connectivity and between different brain regions which normally don’t communicate, as seen in the image.

“This is why psychedelics in general but also LSD are special,” said Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, another author of the study. “They really alter consciousness in this fundamental way and therefore they are very powerful tools to understand the nature of consciousness.”