LSD Enables Mental Time Travel

Acid-assisted "time travel" is a thing, but it only goes in one direction and it's only in your head, according to researchers from the University of Dundee and Imperial College London. Their study demonstrates that tripping on LSD skews our perception of time by suppressing obsessive thoughts about the past and opening space for us to ponder the future.


The researchers, who include prominent advocates of modern LSD research such as David Nutt, the former head of the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (who was sacked after suggesting that taking MDMA was less dangerous than horse riding), Robin Carhart-Harris and Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation, were seeking to examine LSD's psychological and neurological effects on mental time travel.

The title of the study pretty much says it all: "Decreased Mental Time Travel to the Past Correlates with Default-Mode Network Disintegration under Lysergic Acid Diethylamide"

Yes, dropping acid quiets the "default-mode network," which is an interconnected matrix of brain regions that lights up when we daydream about the past. The default-node network specifically highlights "autobiographical memory collection" and "ruminative thought." When the default-node network is quieted, we are less likely to obsess about the past, which gives us more headspace to mentally travel to the future.

In the study, 20 volunteer subjects were hooked up to IV drips. Half contained LSD, while the other half contained nothing but saline solution. As the acid took effect over the next two hours, the researchers scanned participants' brains using functional MRI scans. Those scans allowed the researchers to see the areas being flooded with blood, which would be the most active regions of the brain.

In addition to the scanning, the researchers interviewed subjects while they were still tripping, noting which words they used to refer to past, present and future. The interviews corroborated the scan imagery, revealing that the subjects on LSD spent much less time discussing the past than their non-tripping counterparts, but were just as attentive as the control group when it came to the present and future.

No one is about to start handing out hits of blotter to help people quit obsessing about the past, but this research suggests that psychedelics can play a role in the future of mental health treatment. LSD for the treatment of clinical depression? The disease has been associated with both active default mode networks and the tendency to rehash unhappy yet unchangeable memories. It definitely seems like a fruitful topic for further research. 

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