Altered states: Imperial investigators explore the promise of LSD for depression

David Nutt

Imperial College London Professor David Nutt fought long and hard to revive the study of illicit drugs, fascinated by their potential to treat a variety of ailments. And this week he grabbed new headlines with research that visualizes the effect of LSD on the brain.

Using new imaging technology, the research group was able to demonstrate how the drug blasts down the compartments that separate activity in the brain. As we grow older, Nutt and his team noted, compartmentalization in the brain becomes more rigid. But in studying the drug’s impact on the brain they could see a more unified approach to visualization as subjects experienced the vivid hallucinations associated with the drug.

The team also explored the way that music and LSD interact.

One of their key conclusions was that LSD spurs the brain to work in a more childlike fashion, with subjects able to “see with their eyes closed.”

“We saw that many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD -- even though the volunteers' eyes were closed,” said Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial. “Furthermore, the size of this effect correlated with volunteers' ratings of complex, dreamlike visions. "

Nutt’s work inevitably attracts considerable notoriety. But there’s a very serious element of drug discovery work involved in these studies, as Nutt and others believe that LSD could hold the key to developing radically new, and much better, drugs for depression.

"A major focus for future research is how we can use the knowledge gained from our current research to develop more effective therapeutic approaches for treatments such as depression; for example, music-listening and LSD may be a powerful therapeutic combination if provided in the right way,” says PhD student Mendel Kaelen.

- here's the release