Consciousness May Rely on Brain Cells Acting Collectively, New Psychedelics Research Finds

Psychedelics alter human consciousness by affecting sensory perception, thought, and emotion. As psychedelics’ therapeutic potential is explored, their use to study consciousness in lab animals is intriguing. By observing the brain changes during psychedelic-induced altered states, insight into consciousness formation is possible.

The prevailing idea suggests that consciousness emerges from integrated interactions among individual neurons. However, this mechanism is unclear. Recent rat research published in Communications Biology indicates that psychedelics significantly alter how neurons collectively interact.

Comparing two psychedelic classes, LSD and ketamine, in rats revealed that both induced similar distinctive rapid brain wave patterns across regions. This synchronization, observed for extended periods and over long distances, is unprecedented. Action potentials (neuronal electrical pulses) were also measured. LSD inhibited neuron firing globally, while ketamine affected specific cell types differently.

The synchronized wave phenomenon appears closely linked to the psychedelic state. This collective neuron behavior may impact information integration across neural systems essential for perception and cognition. This insight suggests consciousness depends on a connected collective state beyond individual neurons, though this link is speculative and unproven in humans.

While caution is necessary when extrapolating animal experiences to humans, any knowledge about consciousness remains valuable in its pursuit.