Help Crowdfund A Brain On Acid

Illustrated by Isabelle Rancier.
Now's your chance to support some pretty awesome (and just pretty) scientific research: This week, researchers at the Beckley Foundation set up a crowdfunding campaign to help publish the results of "the first imaging study of a brain on LSD."

Due to restrictive scheduling laws here and in the U.K., drugs like LSD have been "banned effectively from research for 50 years," says researcher David Nutt in the team's video. But, recently, we've seen a resurgence in research involving these drugs, partly thanks to work with MDMA for the treatment of PTSD.

In this experiment, volunteers were given LSD intravenously. Then, the researchers asked them a series of questions about their experiences (e.g. "Have you experienced ego death?"). While all of this was happening, the participants' brain activity was monitored using fMRI and MEG. With these technologies, researchers can see different ways the drug affects brain responses. Note that this won't give us a photo of a brain on acid, but rather a representation of one created using indirect measures of activity.

As is often the case with any good idea, another lab has been working on the neuroscience of hallucinogens since the '90s. They've also been able to get fMRI images of brains on psilocybin (the psychoactive compound in shrooms). The crowdfunding lab expects the LSD results to look pretty similar to their own psilocybin ones: The two drugs act on the same serotonin receptors, work in similar brain areas, and produce similar (though not identical) psychological effects.

Now, with the help of the new campaign, the researchers want to perform the necessary analyses and get their results published. The first benefit to all of this would obviously be figuring out what the heck is really going on in the brain when someone is on these substances. But, researchers also hope their work can help people dealing with mental illnesses. In particular, Nutt says psychedelic drugs' ability to break us out of our repetitive thought patterns has a lot of therapeutic potential.

We'll be watching for the results.
Video: Courtesy of The Beckley Foundation.
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