The Relationship Between Psychedelics and Consciousness

Summary: When beliefs change following psychedelic use in relation to mystical experiences, attributions of consciousness tend to increase.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, an ingredient found in so-called magic mushrooms, have shown promise in treating a range of addictions and mental health disorders. Yet, there’s something mysterious and almost mystical about their effects, and they are commonly believed to provide unique insights into the nature of consciousness.

Now, a new study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers addresses the question of whether psychedelics might change the attribution of consciousness to a range of living and nonliving things.

The findings, published March 28 in Frontiers in Psychology, reveal that higher ratings of mystical type experiences, which often include a sense that everything is alive, were associated with greater increases in the attribution of consciousness.

“This study demonstrates that when beliefs change following a psychedelic experience, attributions of consciousness to various entities tend to increase,” says Sandeep Nayak, M.D., postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and one of the researchers involved in the study.

“It’s not clear why, whether that might be an innate drug effect, cultural factors, or whether psychedelics might somehow expose innate cognitive biases that attribute features of the mind to the world.”

For the study, the researchers analyzed data gathered between August 2020 and January 2021 on 1,606 people who had had a belief-changing psychedelic experience. Participants averaged 35 years of age and were predominately white (89%), male (67%) and from the United States (69%).

Study participants completed an internet-based survey that included questions focused on belief changes attributed to a single psychedelic experience with a classic psychedelic substance (e.g., psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca). The survey also included questions about demographics, psychedelic use, personality, and scientific knowledge and attitudes.

The study found that among people who had had a single psychedelic experience that altered their beliefs in some way, there were large increases in attribution of consciousness to a range of animate and inanimate things.

For example, from before to after the experience, attribution of consciousness to insects grew from 33% to 57%, to fungi from 21% to 56%, to plants from 26% to 61%, to inanimate natural objects from 8% to 26% and to inanimate manmade objects from 3% to 15%.

This shows a psychedelic brain
The study found that among people who had had a single psychedelic experience that altered their beliefs in some way, there were large increases in attribution of consciousness to a range of animate and inanimate things. Image is in the public domain

“On average, participants indicated the belief-changing experience in question occurred eight years prior to taking the survey, so these belief changes may be long-lasting,” says Nayak.

Classic psychedelics—the pharmacological class of compounds that includes psilocybin and LSD—produce visual and auditory illusions and profound changes in consciousness, altering a person’s awareness of their surroundings and of their thoughts and feelings.

These substances produce unusual and compelling changes in conscious experience, which have prompted some to propose that psychedelics may provide unique insights into the nature of consciousness itself.

“The results suggesting that a single psychedelic experience can produce a broad increase in attribution of consciousness to other things, raises intriguing questions about possible innate or experiential mechanisms underlying such belief changes,” says Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., the Oliver Lee McCabe III, Ph.D., Professor in the Neuropsychopharmacology of Consciousness at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and founding director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

“The topic of consciousness is a notoriously difficult scientific problem that has led many to conclude it is not solvable.”

About this psychedelics and consciousness research news

Author: Press Office
Source: Johns Hopkins University
Contact: Press Office – Johns Hopkins University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
A Single Belief-Changing Psychedelic Experience Is Associated With Increased Attribution of Consciousness to Living and Non-living Entities” by Sandeep M. Nayak et al. Frontiers in Psychology


Abstract

A Single Belief-Changing Psychedelic Experience Is Associated With Increased Attribution of Consciousness to Living and Non-living Entities

Introduction: Although the topic of consciousness is both mysterious and controversial, psychedelic drugs are popularly believed to provide unique insights into the nature of consciousness despite a lack of empirical evidence.

Methods: This study addresses the question of whether psychedelics change the attribution of consciousness to a range of living and non-living entities. A survey was conducted in 1,606 respondents who endorsed a belief changing psychedelic experience.

Results: Participants rated their attributions of consciousness to a range of living and non-living entities before and after their psychedelic experience. Superstitious beliefs and belief in freewill were also assessed. From before the experience to after, there were large increases in attribution of consciousness to various entities including non-human primates (63–83%), quadrupeds (59–79%), insects (33–57%), fungi (21–56%), plants (26–61%), inanimate natural objects (8–26%), and inanimate manmade objects (3–15%). Higher ratings of mystical experience were associated with greater increases in the attribution of consciousness.

Moreover, the increased attributions of consciousness did not decrease in those who completed the survey years after the psychedelic experience. In contrast to attributions of consciousness, beliefs in freewill and superstitions did not change. Notably, all findings were similar when restricted to individuals reporting on their first psychedelic experience.

Discussion: This study demonstrates that, among people who reported belief-changing psychedelic experiences, attribution of consciousness to various entities increases. Future prospective psychedelic drug administration studies that control for expectancies are needed.

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  1. I had a 18 year addiction to opioids,and after 1 big dose, I had the will power and ability to quit over nite my whole beleave sisterm changed . I’m no longer a godless man and all this at the age off48 . I think people need to wake up too the benefits and stop listening to the lying governments off the world an there disinformation so called experts. Uts time too wake up people. Love to all

  2. It’s becoming clear that with all the brain and consciousness theories out there, the proof will be in the pudding. By this I mean, can any particular theory be used to create a human adult level conscious machine. My bet is on the late Gerald Edelman’s Extended Theory of Neuronal Group Selection. The lead group in robotics based on this theory is the Neurorobotics Lab at UC at Irvine. Dr. Edelman distinguished between primary consciousness, which came first in evolution, and that humans share with other conscious animals, and higher order consciousness, which came to only humans with the acquisition of language. A machine with primary consciousness will probably have to come first.

    The thing I find special about the TNGS is the Darwin series of automata created at the Neurosciences Institute by Dr. Edelman and his colleagues in the 1990’s and 2000’s. These machines perform in the real world, not in a restricted simulated world, and display convincing physical behavior indicative of higher psychological functions necessary for consciousness, such as perceptual categorization, memory, and learning. They are based on realistic models of the parts of the biological brain that the theory claims subserve these functions. The extended TNGS allows for the emergence of consciousness based only on further evolutionary development of the brain areas responsible for these functions, in a parsimonious way. No other research I’ve encountered is anywhere near as convincing.

    I post because on almost every video and article about the brain and consciousness that I encounter, the attitude seems to be that we still know next to nothing about how the brain and consciousness work; that there’s lots of data but no unifying theory. I believe the extended TNGS is that theory. My motivation is to keep that theory in front of the public. And obviously, I consider it the route to a truly conscious machine, primary and higher-order.

    My advice to people who want to create a conscious machine is to seriously ground themselves in the extended TNGS and the Darwin automata first, and proceed from there, by applying to Jeff Krichmar’s lab at UC Irvine, possibly. Dr. Edelman’s roadmap to a conscious machine is at https://arxiv.org/abs/2105.10461

  3. Perhaps it could be related to the dissolution of ego and/or reduction in activity across the default mode network.
    It’s only a sample size of one but I recall a beautiful experience in the summer of 2021 when I felt my sense of self dissolve and became ‘in communion’ as I’ve described it hence with the garden of a close friend in which I was sat.
    I was a fairly convinced materialist prior to my personal renaissance in my use of LSD, and now would say I’m less assistant convinced or a materialistic leaning agnostic.

  4. Could explain how humans developed animism
    /ˈanɪmɪz(ə)m/
    Learn to pronounce
    noun
    1.
    the attribution of a living soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
    2.
    the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.
    “a village steeped in ancient animism and rituals”

  5. These findings prove the already established quantum mechanics. All things have innate energy and consciousness. Why is this concept not acceptable?

  6. i did magic mush 1 months ago and i still have to deal with the after math witch are terrible… it’s poison and sometime as a long life after bad effect, only stupid people believe that magic mush is a good thing to ingest. beware of psychosis it’s no joke to get that kind of sickness and totally not worth the trip.

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