Nation & World

LSD is 'harmonizing' for the brain — and can change your personality for years, studies find

Two recently released studies show how LSD can affect the brain.
Two recently released studies show how LSD can affect the brain. Wikimedia Commons

Your brain on LSD is kind of like jazz improvisation.

That’s according to Selen Atasoy, a research fellow at the Center for Brain and Cognition at the Pompeu Fabra University in Spain. She was among the authors of a study published in the journal Scientific Reports that found the psychedelic drug can reorganize your brain in a “harmonizing” way.

“Just like improvising jazz musicians use many more musical notes in a spontaneous and non-random fashion,” she told PsyPost in an interview, “your brain combines many more of the harmonic waves (connectome harmonics) spontaneously yet in a structured way.”

Twelve people were examined for the study, with some taking LSD and some a placebo drug. Researchers examined their brain with an MRI scan both during and after the subjects listened to music.

Researchers said they wanted to study the combined effect of music and LSD because “music is also known for its capacity to elicit emotions, which is found to be emphasized by the effect of psychedelics.

“Exploring the combined effects of music and the psychedelic state induced by LSD provided us an opportunity to reveal not only the LSD-induced dynamical changes in the brain,” they wrote, “but also how these dynamics are affected by the presence of a complex, natural stimuli like music.”

The study found that taking LSD is “harmonizing” because it helps connect different parts of your brain in new ways while “reorganizing” it. The effects were temporary, but Newsweek reports that it’s a positive sign for people with some psychological conditions.

The brain could more efficiently make those new connections while a person listened to music, the study also found.

Atasoy told PsyPost that because changes in a brain with LSD were “structured” instead of random, this “suggests a reorganisation of brain dynamics and the emergence of new type of order in the brain.”

Another study, this one published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, found that taking a psychedelic drug — such as LSD, “magic mushrooms” and ayahuasca — can change a person’s personality for up to years.

Scientists looked at 18 studies from 1985 to 2016 that dealt with serotonergic psychedelics, which LiveScience described as “drugs that have structures similar to that of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate mood, appetite and various other functions.”

The review of studies suggests that compared to nonusers, people who take those type of drugs show more “openness,” or willingness to try new things, and self-transcendence. For some, the effect of the drugs on their personality could last for years, the study found, while for others the change was only noticeable for weeks or months.

Many of the changes had “therapeutic effects that should be further explored in randomized controlled studies,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers also suggested that their study could change how we view personality, according to LiveScience.

“This type of research may offer new evidence to the classic discussion on whether personality is or isn’t a constant and stable psychological trait.”

There’s a few signs that LSD has had a resurgence recently. Between 2013 to 2015, there was a 40 percent increase in people between the ages of 18 and 25 taking the drug, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health.

And some in the tech industry have started to take LSD in small amounts to increase their productivity.

It’s called a microdose, or when when someone takes about one-tenth of a regular dose of a certain drug.

Rolling Stone talked to some professionals who have turned to the drug, including a 25-year-old referred to as “Ken.” He has a master’s degree from Stanford, according to the outlet, and works at a San Francisco-based start-up.

“I had an epic time," he told Rolling Stone after one day at work. “I was making a lot of sales, talking to a lot of people, finding solutions to their technical problems.”

Paul Austin — founder of The Third Wave, which advocates “for integrating psychedelics into our mainstream culture” — cautions that the drug is still illegal, and that people with certain mental health issues should stay away from it.

But he also said that taking LSD in low doses can give someone an advantage in the professional world.

"For creativity, to help with problem-solving, to give them a little more energy,” he told KIRO7. “It's kind of to get another extra edge in what they're doing.”

Jaime Diaz, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, warned that more research is needed before microdosing LSD can be considered safe.

“Any drug that will increase our experience on this planet positively, I think, is something we should look into,” he said to KIRO7. “The thing with LSD, as with most of these hallucinogens, you can't take it back. Once you take it, you have to play out that ride.”