Magic Mushrooms: How It Expands the Mind

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Your brain on psychedelic drugs is like your brain when you dream, a new study suggests that may also explain why people who use psychedelics feel like they’re broadening their minds.

In the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 15 people before and after they received an injection of psilocybin, the hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms.

Under psilocybin, the activity of primitive brain areas believed to be involved in emotion and memory – including the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex – becomes more synchronized, suggesting that these areas work together, the researchers said.

This pattern of brain activity is similar to that of people who dream, the researchers said. (

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“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,” said researcher Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom in a statement.

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.

In contrast, activity in brain regions involved in “high-level” thinking (such as self-awareness) was less coordinated under psilocybin, the study found.

Finally, using a new technique to analyze the brain data, the researchers found that there were more possible patterns of brain activity when participants were under the influence of psilocybin, compared to when they were not taking the drug. This may be one reason why people on psychedelic drugs feel like their minds have expanded – their brains have more possible states of activity to explore, the researchers said.

The researchers caution that because some of the techniques used in the study are new, more research is needed to confirm the findings. The study is published today (July 3) in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

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