Earlier this year, scientists found that LSD helped to reduce stress and anxiety in patients with terminal illnesses – but it's only now that they're beginning to understand just how psychedelics physically work on the brain to produce those mind-expanding trips. And it turns out that tripping your balls off on magic mushrooms actually has a lot in common with a much more prosaic brain function: dreaming.
In a study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, scientists examined the brain effects of psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, using data from the MRI scans of volunteers who had been injected with the chemical.
As anyone who's ever tried to walk from one place to another on shrooms knows, activity in parts of the brain responsible for high-level thinking such as planning were found to be "disjointed and uncoordinated". But more interestingly, scientists discovered that activity in areas associated with emotional thinking became much more pronounced and bore "fascinating" similarities to the pattern of brain activity observed in people who are dreaming.
"People often describe taking psilocybin as producing a dream-like state and our findings have, for the first time, provided a physical representation for the experience in the brain," said Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who led the study at Imperial College London. "Learning about the mechanisms that underlie what happens under the influence of psychedelic drugs can also help to understand their possible uses."
He also told the Independent that psychedelics could promote a "more exploratory kind of thinking", adding that "there may be something in the loosening of the mind that occurs both in dreaming and in the psychedelic state that could be useful in terms of facilitating creative insight".
Don't run to your nearest shroom-sprouting field just yet, though – magic mushrooms are still classified as a Class A drug in the UK, in both their raw and dried forms.
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