just how does lsd affect your consciousness?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 min­utes.

JUST HOW DOES LSD af­fect human con­scious­ness? Per­son­ally, I have been more amazed and filled with joy wonder awe at the Universe/Void/God than puz­zled by the how of these things. And that seems to be a defining dif­fer­ence be­tween the ex­pe­ri­enced and the non-experienced in the world of LSD and any and all things psy­che­delic. 1

But the ques­tion of how it does what it does—and my-oh-my, what it does when it does it!—seems to have the most meaning to those who have not done it. Speaking of which, this essay was sparked by a head­line from a re­cent Al­terNet newsletter: “How LSD Af­fects Your Consciousness.”

It is sub-titled, “New re­search may be opening the way to the use of LSD in studying psy­chosis, as well as in the treat­ment of ad­dic­tions and depression.”

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship, I’m ready to go anywhere.

It was written by Ali Venosa (Med­ical Daily on De­cember 11, 2015) and con­cerned re­search by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris at Im­pe­rial Col­lege London. What caught my at­ten­tion was on the word psy­choses. I shud­dered at seeing it (“Not that crap again!”), and so I had to ad­dress the issue and its con­nec­tion to that word and its meaning.

What I am ad­dressing here is the ar­ticle as written by Ms. Venosa—not the ac­tual work or re­port of the re­searchers. That is, I am ad­dressing the in­for­ma­tion that is being re­layed to us cit­i­zens via the media. Here “media” in­cludes a rea­son­ably pop­ular web­site that dis­penses news that one does not gen­er­ally find on the main­stream cor­po­rate media. 2

This is a quick re­sponse: I am NOT spending hours re­searching the sources. The only source that mat­ters here is the Venosa ar­ticle. And I will focus on a few loaded words in the ar­ticle, no­tably psy­chosis, hal­lu­ci­na­tion, and in­tox­i­ca­tion. 3


LifeMagazine LSD 03 25 1966 800

The March 25, 1966, issue Life mag­a­zine fea­tured an in­ter­esting cover image for an ar­ticle dis­turbingly ti­tled, “The Ex­ploding Threat Of The Mind Drug That Got Out Of Con­trol.” It is cover-dated around the same time that the Byrds fired the psy­che­delic shot heard ’round the world with the re­lease of Eight Miles Hugh.

Connectivity would be increased

The ar­ticle starts out in­nocuous enough re­garding LSD, noting “it’s un­clear how these phar­ma­co­log­ical ef­fects trans­late into such a sig­nif­i­cant change in consciousness.”

“A new re­port sug­gested that LSD re­duces the con­nec­tivity within brain networks—basically, the ex­tent to which neu­rons within a net­work can fire si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It also showed that LSD seems to re­duce how much sep­a­rate brain net­works re­main unique in their pat­terns or syn­chro­niza­tion of firing.”

While that seems at odds with the LSD experience—meaning that one would as­sume that con­nec­tivity would be increased—the tone of the ar­ticle is still neu­tral. And what do I know, right?

The re­searchers used both func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imaging (fMRI) and mag­ne­toen­chalog­raphy (MEG) and showed that LSD led to a chaotic brain state not dis­sim­ilar to what is seen in a cer­tain stage of psychosis.

It got bad here. First, the word mag­ne­toen­chalog­raphy was new to me: type it into Wikipedia and you will be told that it does not exist, even though there are 178 en­tries. So I typed in “MEG” and was steered to an­other new word, mag­ne­toen­cephalog­raphy.

So, are there two forms of MEG?

I don’t know.

Or did the writer mis­spell a word and not do any research?

I don’t know.

Second, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of LSD as a psy­chotomimetic was dropped decades ago. Clin­i­cians de­ciding that a person on LSD as having a psy­chotic episode was de­ter­mined to have been caused by the con­di­tions under which the ex­per­i­ments of the 1950s and ’60s were car­ried out. The tripper was es­sen­tially a lab rat in a state of en­forced anx­iety. (But that’s a whole other trip for a whole other time.) 4


Byrds EightMilesHigh PS US 800

In March 1966, AM radio started playing the new Byrds record which did not sound like any record that had come be­fore it! “Eight miles high and when you touch down, you’ll find that it’s stranger than known.” I was 14 and didn’t know a thing about drugs but I knew this wasn’t about a normal air­plane ride.

A model for psychosis research?

At this point, I went to the source—the Med­ical Daily website—but it was the same ar­ticle by the same writer. So back to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and his Im­pe­rial Col­lege cohorts:

“The team found a po­ten­tial ex­pla­na­tion for the hal­lu­ci­na­tions and dis­tor­tions that are so common in LSD intoxication—blood flow in the vi­sual cortex at the back of the brain. The MEG picked up a change in brain os­cil­la­tions as well, specif­i­cally a de­crease in alpha waves across the brain. These changes were highly cor­re­lated with vi­sual hal­lu­ci­na­tions, sug­gesting that while under the in­flu­ence of LSD, the vi­sual system is teth­ered more to the in­ternal than ex­ternal world.”

I can’t re­member the last time I heard the term “LSD in­tox­i­ca­tion” used in pop­ular print. Seeing it again is a scary sign, and prob­ably in­di­cates that the writer is also non-ex­pe­ri­enced.

“LSD may be able to pro­vide a helpful model of human psy­chosis, since it leads to changes in the brain net­work that overlap with the pro­dromal (the first) phase of psychosis.”

Okay, in­ter­esting but scary if what the re­searchers are seeing—again—is LSD and the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence as miming a psy­chotic episode. Not so scary if they are only re­fer­ring to ob­serv­able sim­i­lar­i­ties in brain behavior.

Ac­cording to Dr. Carhart-Harris, “With better as­sess­ment tools avail­able today than in the 1950s and 1960s, it may be pos­sible to eval­uate po­ten­tial uses of LSD as a treat­ment for ad­dic­tion and other dis­or­ders, such as treatment-resistant depression.”

This has been known among re­searchers and shrinks for decades. The work of Tim­othy Leary with felons may be anec­dotal, but the work of Oscar Janiger is not.


LifeMagazine 9 9 1966 LSDArt 800

The Sep­tember 9, 1966 issue of Life mag­a­zine fea­tured a look at psy­che­delia in the art world. It fea­tured a cover image that looked like it may have served as the in­spi­ra­tion for Stanley Kubrick’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Alex in his 1971 movie adap­ta­tion of An­thony Burgess’s dystopic 1962 novel A Clock­work Or­ange. 5

Do dolphins have consciousness?

Just how LSD af­fects human con­scious­ness (as dif­fer­en­ti­ated from, say, dol­phin con­scious­ness, or ET’s) has puz­zled users and in­ves­ti­ga­tors for more than sev­enty years. But the ques­tion of how it does what it does takes on new meaning after you have done it sev­eral times—and es­pe­cially if you reach what Mas­ters and Houston termed the fourth, or in­te­gral, level of psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence. 6

Alas, many of the people who have worked with LSD as sci­en­tists and doc­tors and psy­chol­o­gists have never done LSD.

It’s scary that re­searchers are once again seeing the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence as miming a psy­chotic episode.

When these people talk about LSD and its ef­fects, they are ab­solutely clue­less about their topic. Even if they’re bloody “ex­perts”! I have likened ex­plaining the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence to a non-ex­pe­ri­enced person to ex­plaining making love to a virgin.

When non-ex­pe­ri­enced people talk about psy­che­delics, two topics al­ways arise: hal­lu­ci­na­tions and bad trips.

Most of us use the word hal­lu­ci­na­tion to mean seeing some­thing that isn’t there. By “seeing some­thing” most of us mean with our eyes open! And very little hap­pens while trip­ping with your eyes open that qual­i­fies as hal­lu­ci­na­tory. 7

Of course, once you close your eyes while trip­ping, things do ap­pear on the back­sides of your eye­lids that words can’t begin to describe.


TerenceMcKenna ArchaicRevival 800

For a very in­ter­esting take on human con­scious­ness, read Ter­ence McKen­na’s Ar­chaic Re­vival. There he makes a case for its de­vel­op­ment being trig­gered by our an­ces­tors’ de­vel­oping a taste for psilo­cybin mush­rooms dis­cov­ered while for­aging for more nour­ishing foodstuffs.

What a bummer, man

As for bad trips: the only large-scale ex­per­i­men­ta­tion of LSD’s ef­fects using healthy (ap­par­ently emo­tion­ally bal­anced) vol­un­teers in a real sci­en­tific set­ting was done by Dr. Sidney Cohen in the early ’60s. Hun­dreds of sub­jects un­der­went thou­sands of trips; neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences were reg­is­tered less than 2% of the time. 8

The “sci­en­tific method” in­volves ob­ser­va­tion, ra­ti­o­ci­na­tion, the­o­rizing, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and du­pli­ca­tion. It also in­volves pre­dictability: even if your ex­per­i­ment “proves” some­thing to be so, if you can’t use it to make ob­vious pre­dic­tions (“If I drop two iden­tical ob­jects from the same height at the same time, they will reach the ground at the same time”), then some­thing is NOT cor­rect and you have to go back to the drawing board.

That said, I can’t think of a single warning about LSD use that came from the non-ex­pe­ri­enced critics and doom­sayers in the past sev­enty that has ever come true. There is no mean­ingful phys­ical damage as­so­ci­ated with LSD. Not only is it not ad­dic­tive, but se­rial users tend to dis­cretely in­dulge with long stretches of time in be­tween trips.

There is also no mean­ingful psy­cho­log­ical damage as­so­ci­ated with LSD—unless you take some heavy emo­tional bag­gage on your voyage.


LSD CapitolRecords m 800

Capi­tol’s now-legendary doc­u­men­tary album LSD bor­ders on black comedy. In places, it’s fun­nier than the Fire­sign The­ater be­cause it doesn’t at­tempt to be any­thing but “real.” Lis­tening to this album while trip­ping was a reg­ular event for my acid-using friends for years af­ter­ward. Note that the al­bum’s pri­mary med­ical con­sul­tant was Dr. Sidney Cohen. 9

How does LSD affect consciousness?

No one knows. My as­sump­tion is that until sci­ence fully un­der­stands human con­scious­ness, we may never fully grok (look it up!) how LSD works and what is the na­ture of the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence. For sci­ence to fully un­der­stand human con­scious­ness, it may re­quire knowing whether or not the soul ex­ists. This means that sci­ence may per­force have to study the al­leged mystical/religious as­pects of the psy­che­delic experience.

So, at this point in time, your local sham shaman may have a better idea than the finest sci­en­tific minds in the world as to just how LSD af­fects your consciousness . . .


Medium IMAGE LSD Pixabay OkanCaliskan 1000

HEADER IMAGE: This is the fea­tured image on the Med­ical Daily web­site for their ar­ticle, “LSD Ef­fects Are Sim­ilar To The First Stage Of Psy­chosis, Could Pro­vide Model For Re­search.” I have done acid more times than I can count and I have never had an ex­pe­ri­ence like this. I as­sumed that the artist was non-ex­pe­ri­enced and had looked to Hol­ly­wood for in­spi­ra­tion, as this piece looks like E.T. Meets Avatar.

The image is by Okan Caliskan for Pix­abay. Ti­tled “Forest Ab­stract,” it could be about anything—including meeting aliens in the dead of night neath a canopy of leaves.





1   I use the term ex­pe­ri­enced as a ref­er­ence to Jimi Hendrix’s song Are You Ex­pe­ri­enced, from the 1967 album of the same name. There, the singer may be heard at­tempting to se­duce some sweet young thing into making love: “Are you ex­pe­ri­enced? Have you ever been ex­pe­ri­enced? Well, I have.” Or he can be heard to be sug­gesting that the lis­tener turns on, tunes in, and drops out.

2   I am claiming NO au­thority here! My qual­i­fi­ca­tions here are slim: aside from being on in­ti­mate terms with LSD, I have read hun­dreds of books and ar­ti­cles on it and re­lated areas of con­cern over the past forty years.

3   The media of the past—mostly mag­a­zines and books—has done a re­mark­ably good job of dis­sem­i­nating mas­sive amounts of mis­in­for­ma­tion about LSD. It was a common topic of this media in 1966 and most of what was written was bor­der­line non­sense. I am hoping the In­ternet media does a better job.

4   A psy­chotomimetic drug mimics the symp­toms of psy­chosis, in­cluding delu­sions and/or delirium, as op­posed to mere dime-a-dozen hallucinations.

5   Wudda co­in­ci­dence: why just this morning at our Sat­urday morning coffee klatch, Looney asked each of us, “What sci­ence fic­tion movie had the greatest im­pact on you?” My an­swer was easy: “Not counting the stuff I saw as a kid, A Clock­work Or­ange—with 2001: A Space Odyssey a close second.”

6   This is hi­lar­ious (and ironic?): I went to the Goodreads web­site to copy the link to their page for Robert Mas­ters and Jean Houston’s book Psy­che­delic Art and found there was no real de­scrip­tion of the book. Nor were there any re­views from readers. So, of course, I posted a review:

“The best book (the only book?) book on psy­che­delic art be­fore the term en­gulfed a world of art that didn’t exist in 1967. Fas­ci­nating text that ac­com­pa­nies fas­ci­nating art—with very little of the high-tech/high polish that many as­so­ciate with modern psy­che­delic art. Mas­ters and Houston also break the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence into four levels—the “deepest” being the fourth, or in­te­gral, level where mys­tical or re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ences occur. That alone makes this book a great place for a be­gin­ning re­searcher into the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence to start reading. Note that the levels of ex­pe­ri­ence re­ally only make sense after you have tripped more than a few times.”

So now I am using my Goodreads re­view as a ref­er­ence here in my ar­ticle! Ain’t the lit­erary life grand?

7  As ded­i­cated users and re­searchers came to grasp with the im­pli­ca­tions of what was hap­pening during the psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence, al­ter­na­tive terms for the ex­pe­ri­ence were coined to move it away from the clin­i­cians. Newly coined terms in­cluded psy­choac­tive and en­theogen. The former should be self-explanatory; the latter is more re­cent and more in­ter­esting: en­theogen means “gen­er­ating the di­vine within,” and refers to “a chem­ical sub­stance used in a re­li­gious, shamanic, or spir­i­tual con­text that may be syn­the­sized or ob­tained from nat­ural species. The chem­ical in­duces al­tered states of con­scious­ness, psy­cho­log­ical or phys­i­o­log­ical.” (Wikipedia)

8  “Co­hen’s 1960 study of LSD ef­fects con­cluded that the drug was safe if given in a su­per­vised med­ical set­ting, but by 1962 his con­cern about pop­u­lar­iza­tion, non-medical use, black-market LSD, and pa­tients harmed by the drug led him to warn that the spread of LSD was dan­gerous.” (LSD Be­fore Leary)

9   “Capitol Records’ LSD is in two parts: The Scene, ex­am­ining the at­ti­tudes of the youthful acid trip­pers, and The Trip, which looks at the acid ex­pe­ri­ence it­self. Allen Gins­berg, Tim­othy Leary, and Sidney Cohen offer ex­pert tes­ti­mony. Side two ap­par­ently fea­tures a 5-minute recording of a bad trip to bal­ance the pros­e­ly­tizing else­where. Discogs shows the in­te­rior art which typ­i­cally de­picts the trip­pers as looking far more freaked out than people usu­ally do on these oc­ca­sions. The drug that reg­u­larly turns people into mewling, puking, un­hinged ma­niacs is called al­cohol.” (feuil­leton)



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