New research into psychedelics continues to yield new insights, and the latest comes from a team led by David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Britain's Imperial College. In research results reported last month in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, the team gained new clues into how LSD affects speech and the brain.
The research described an experiment in which 10 participants underwent two sessions each of looking at pictures and identifying certain images. One session was on LSD; the other was on a placebo.
Images were sometimes paired with similar images, such as a hand and a glove, and sometimes with unrelated images. The researchers found that subjects on LSD were more likely to incorrectly identify images when they were similar than when they weren't. If "hand" was shown next to "glove," subjects were more likely to misidentify it than if "hand" was shown next to "train."
“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 explained in a press release.
The research indicates that the drug affects the brain's semantic networks, which govern how words and concepts are stored in relation to each other. Neuroscientists think that words and concepts related to each other are neurologically connected, and LSD seems to broaden the network that gets activated when we look at an image.
When you see an image of a dog, you might think "dog, canine, pet." Under LSD, the links stretch further, and you might come up with "fish" or "cat."
The findings, while limited, have implications not only for the understanding of the neurological basis of semantic network activation, but also for the study of creativity and psychedelic therapy, Family said.
“These findings are relevant for the renewed exploration of psychedelic psychotherapy, which are being developed for depression and other mental illnesses. 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," he explained.
“Inducing a hyper-associative state may have implications for the enhancement of creativity,” he added.