The remarkable graphic on the right was created using fMRI imaging on 15 participants who had ingested psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms, which can cause sounds and colours to become distorted, emotions to heighten and time to appear both speeded up and slowed down.
The image, which reveals connections between neural networks, was then compared to scans of brain activity taken from the same group after taking a placebo (left).
Functional connectivity of a normal brain (left), compared to a brain on psilocybin
The spirograph-esque findings from the more colourful images on the right suggest the drug causes parts of the brain which were previously disconnected to temporarily communicate with each other.
Paul Expert, the lead author of the research which was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface told the Huffington Post: “It’s not so much that the number of connections are increased but rather the connectivity pattern is different in the psychedelic state.”
Giovanni Petri, a mathematician at Italy’s Institute for Scientific Interchange also contributed to the report.
He told Wired: “In a normal brain many things are happening. You don’t know what is going on, or what is responsible for that.
“So you try to perturb the state of consciousness a bit, and see what happens.
The report points out that the new connections being made by a brain under the influence of psilocybin are not necessarily random, rather that they retain “some organisational features.”
It added: “We can speculate on the implications of such an organisation. One possible by-product of this greater communication across the whole brain is the phenomenon of synaesthesia, which is often reported in conjunction with the psychedelic state.”
Synaesthesia is a fusion of different sensory perceptions, manifesting in taste, touch and sound. Individuals with the neurological condition are known as synaesthetes and make up at least 1% of the population.
The report concludes: “We find that the psychedelic state is associated with a less constrained and more intercommunicative mode of brain function, which is consistent with descriptions of the nature of consciousness in the psychedelic state.”
A typical magic mushroom trip tends to last between four and 10 hours, says the NHS.
Doctors plan to treat depressed patients who cannot be helped by modern drugs or behaviour-based psychotherapy with the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Psilocybin would slowly be infused into their bloodstreams while they receive a carefully tailored "talking therapy", said Professor David Nutt, from Imperial College London, who four years ago was sacked as the Government's chief drug adviser.