LONDON - Scientists studying the effects of the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms have found the human brain displays a similar pattern of activity during dreams as it does during a mind-expanding drug trip.
Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms can profoundly alter the way we experience the world, but little is known about what physically happens in the brain.
In a study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, researchers examined the brain effects of psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, using data from brain scans of volunteers who had been injected with the drug.
"A good way to understand how the brain works is to perturb the system in a marked and novel way. Psychedelic drugs do precisely this and so are powerful tools for exploring what happens in the brain when consciousness is profoundly altered," said Dr Enzo Tagliazucchi, who led the study at Germany's Goethe University.
Magic mushrooms grow naturally around the world and have been widely used since ancient times for religious rites and also for recreation.
British researchers have been exploring the potential of psilocybin to alleviate severe forms of depression in people who don't respond to other treatments, and obtained some positive results from early-stage experiments.
In the United States, scientists have seen positive results in trials using MDMA, a pure form of the party drug ecstasy, in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
People who use psychedelic drugs often describe "expanded consciousness", including vivid imagination and dream-like states.
To explore the biological basis of these experiences, Tagliazucchi's team analysed brain imaging data from 15 volunteers who were given psilocybin intravenously while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.
The volunteers were scanned under the influence of psilocybin and when they had been injected with a placebo, or dummy drug. The researchers looked at fluctuations in what is called the blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal, which tracks activity levels in the brain.