This Is Your Brain on Drugs
Scans show that each substance has supremely different effects on your brain.This article originally appeared on Inverse
In 1987, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America went on the air across America to spread a simple image — an egg cracked open into a pan of hot, sizzling oil. “This is your brain on drugs,” the tagline went. The ad campaign was catchy, effective, and terribly unscientific.
Three decades later, we know a lot more about what brains actually look like on drugs, thanks to advanced imaging techniques, curious researchers, and study participants willing to take a dose and sit in an MRI machine while they ride the high.
To put it bluntly: Taking drugs is nothing like frying an egg. Addictions have devastating consequences, and some substances certainly have long-term toxic effects. But different brains handle different drugs in different ways. The most striking thing about this avenue of research is how well drug experiences line up with what is physically happening in the brain: You take a hit of acid and feel like the world has lit up; meanwhile, your brain is actually lighting up with new and strange connections that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. That’s pretty neat.
The brain on LSD shows higher resting state functional connectivity between the visual cortex and the rest of the brain.
This Is Your Brain on LSD
Last year a team of researchers published the first brain scans of people on LSD that use modern neuroimaging techniques. The results showed a surprisingly strong connection between how people experience an acid trip, and what is physically going on in their brains. Compared to a placebo group, participants on LSD had more blood flow to their visual cortex — the visual processing center — and way more connectivity between the visual cortex and the rest of the brain. The times when this activity was strongest was when people said they were experiencing visual hallucinations.
The study also found a correlation between people’s experience of ego-dissolution — being at one with the universe — and decreased connectivity between two brain regions, the parahippocampus and the retrosplenial cortex.
There has been a resurgence of interest in recent years in the potential therapeutic benefits of LSD. When taken in controlled circumstances, the drug appears to help people overcome anxiety and addictions.