Dreaming like being on a drug trip: Study

London: Do you know that sweet dreams are like as if you are on a drug trip? According to new research, our brain displays a similar pattern of activity during dreams as it does during a mind-expanding drug trip.

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and "magic mushrooms" can profoundly alter the way we experience the world but little is known about what physically happens in the brain.

Now, researchers have examined the brain effects of the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms, called "psilocybin", using data from brain scans of volunteers who had been injected with the drug.

"What we have done in this research is begin to identify the biological basis of the reported mind expansion associated with psychedelic drugs," said Dr Robin Carhart-Harris from department of medicine at Imperial College, London.

"I was fascinated to see similarities between the pattern of brain activity in a psychedelic state and the pattern of brain activity during dream sleep, especially as both involve the primitive areas of the brain linked to emotions and memory," he noted.

People often describe taking psilocybin as producing a dreamlike state and our findings have, for the first time, provided a physical representation for the experience in the brain.

The study found that under psilocybin, activity in the more primitive brain network linked to emotional thinking became more pronounced, with several different areas in this network - such as the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex - active at the same time.

This pattern of activity is similar to the pattern observed in people who are dreaming.

Psychedelic drugs are unique among other psychoactive chemicals in that users often describe "expanded consciousness", including enhanced associations, vivid imagination and dream-like states.

To explore the biological basis for this experience, researchers analysed brain imaging data from 15 volunteers who were given psilocybin intravenously while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

"Psychedelic drugs are powerful tools for exploring what happens in the brain when consciousness is profoundly altered. It really provides a window through which to study the doors of perception," explained lead study author Dr Enzo Tagliazucchi from Goethe University, Germany.

The findings are published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.


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