The brain connectivity of LSD and “ego dissolution”

When individuals take the psychedelic drug Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), they may feel as though the limits that isolate them from everything have disintegrated, as though they are connected with the rest of the world. A study has discovered a neural mechanism behind this occurrence, called “ego dissolution.”

According to the researchers, the study’s results, published April 13 in the journal Current Biology, suggest that further research on LSD and other psychedelic drugs could provide important insight into how the human brain works.

Ego dissolution is not a universally positive or negative experience, said Enzo Tagliazucchi. Tagliazucchi is  a neuroscientist at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam and co-author of the story. According to Tagliazucchi, depending on the experience of the trip and ego dissolution, it can be too overwhelming and lead to anxiety, panic and what is normally dubbed a “bad trip”.

Ego dissolution is at the core of the treatment of anxiety related to the fear of death in such patients. According to Tagliazucchi, for terminal-stage cancer patients, ego dissolution “can be a positive and transformative experience, leading to peace, acceptance, a new perspective on things.”

According to Tagliazucchi, the findings additionally propose that taking LSD may cause an improved sharing of data among various brain regions that reinforces a more powerful connection between an individual’s sense of self and their sense of everything else.

This is your brain on LSD.
This is your brain on LSD. Graphic from Imperial College London.

In the study, the researchers examined the brains, through scanning, of 15 healthy individuals twice — once after they took a placebo, and once after the individuals took LSD.

The researchers discovered that, when the individuals were high on LSD, different regions of their brains had a stronger link to each other, when compared with the placebo’s effect on the individuals. The more connected these brain regions were in these individuals, the higher their sense of ego dissolution was.

According to the researchers, the results of the study suggest that individuals on LSD can experience ego dissolution because these brain regions become heavily interconnected.

According to Tagliazucchi, ego dissolution does not automatically occur every time someone takes LSD. The experience of this phenomenon may depend on the dose of the drug they take. When ego dissolution happens, it doesn’t last longer than the other effects of LSD, which typically last about 10 hours.

According to Tagliazucchi, he is planning to investigate how other psychedelic drugs modify consciousness by using neuroimaging and other methods.

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