Brain and Body

LSD Strengthens the Mind’s Semantic Network, Study Finds

August 23, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Photo credit: Public Domain image

This is the first study to explore LSD and language since the 1960s, and the findings could have implications for psychedelic psychotherapy.

Consuming lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD, is known to trigger altered states of consciousness in the brain, blurring the boundaries between the self and the environment.

Now, for the first time since the 1960s, a team of researchers has conducted a study to explore the effects of LSD on the mind’s semantic network, which governs the brain’s understanding of language and relationships between concepts.

The scientists rounded up ten participants who were willing to get high on LSD in the name of science, and they were studied in two experiments — one in which they were given LSD, and the other a placebo. During both experiments, they were asked to name a sequence of pictures.

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"Results showed that while LSD does not affect reaction times, people under LSD made more mistakes that were similar in meaning to the pictures they saw." lead author Neiloufar Family explains in a press release.

For instance, LSD-dosed study participants might accidentally say “bus” or “train” when they saw a picture of a car. While LSD strengthens the activation of the semantic network, this also means that more words from the same family of meanings can flood the mind.

The study authors say that these results can lead to a better understanding of the neurological basis of semantic network activation, and they also may have implications for psychedelic psychotherapy.

“The effects of LSD on language can result in a cascade of associations that allow quicker access to far away concepts stored in the mind,” says Family. “These findings are relevant for the renewed exploration of psychedelic psychotherapy, which are being developed for depression and other mental illnesses.”

Interestingly, a recent study found that LSD may lift depression by mediating “mental time travel” — essentially enabling LSD users to project themselves backwards and forwards in time and deal with their regrets, fears, and issues.

In addition to LSD’s potential in psychedelic psychotherapy, its increased activation of the semantic network could incite distant or subconscious thoughts and concepts to surface. "Inducing a hyper-associative state may have implications for the enhancement of creativity," Family says.

The article, "Semantic activation in LSD: evidence from picture naming,” appears in the journal Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.

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