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Psychedelic drugs may be used to treat depression

For years, there has been an assumption among many and a strong disbelief among others around the idea that using psychedelic drugs creates a higher level of consciousness.

Well a new study released in mid-April 2017 shows that it is in fact, true and it's the first study of its kind.

<who> Photo Credit: University of Sussex

Using brain imagery, neuroscientists from the University of Sussex were able to determine that psychedelic drugs do stimulate a higher level of consciousness than the normal waking state of the brain.

With this new knowledge, researchers are testing if psychedelic drugs can be used therapeutically in cases like treating depression.

The study looked at the diversity of the brain signals.

The more diverse the brain signals, the higher waking state of the brain.

With the use of LSD, ketamine and psilocybin, all three drugs showed an increase in brain signal diversity, which showed a higher state of consciousness than normal waking state.

"This is the first study to show brain-signal diversity that is higher than baseline, that is higher than in someone who is simply ‘awake and aware’," said a spokesperson for the University of Sussex.

"Previous studies have tended to focus on lowered states of consciousness, such as sleep, anaesthesia, or the so-called ‘vegetative’ state."

In the study, Michael Schartner, Dr Adam Barrett and Professor Seth of the Sackler Centre tested data that had already been collected by the Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff.

In that study, healthy volunteers were given one of three drugs known to induce a psychedelic state: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD.

The fact that all three drugs produced the same results - that the neural signal diversity was higher than normal, makes the team "cautiously excited" to move forward and look at therapeutic use.

"That similar changes in signal diversity were found for all three drugs, despite their quite different pharmacology, is both very striking and also reassuring that the results are robust and repeatable," said Dr Muthukumaraswamy, who was involved in all three initial studies.

However, the University of Sussex also states that this psychedelic state is not necessarily a "more desirable state of consciousness," and should not be considered a healthier state, but in the future, it could possibly be used to treat severe depression.

"Rigorous research into psychedelics is gaining increasing attention, not least because of the therapeutic potential that these drugs may have when used sensibly and under medical supervision," said Dr Robin Cahart-Harris of Imperial College London.

“The present study’s findings help us understand what happens in people’s brains when they experience an expansion of their consciousness under psychedelics. People often say they experience insight under these drugs – and when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes. The present findings may help us understand how this can happen,” said Cahart-Harris.

The research team is continuing to study the specific changes in information in the brain how its impacted by specific aspects of the psychedelic experience, like hallucinations.

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