Tripping on LSD Really Is Like Lucid Dreaming

September 27, 2018

Taking hallucinogenic drugs does put people in a dream-like state, according to new research that statistically compares the way people talk about dreams with the way people talk about the effects of the drugs, including LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), “magic” mushrooms (psilocybin) or mescaline.

LSD is the drug most likely to induce a lucid dream-like state, a type of dream in which the dreamer knows he or she is dreaming and can often control his or her actions, according to research published Jan. 22 in thejournal Frontiers in Neuroscience. Drugs such as scopolamine and atropine, from the tropical plant genus Datura, induce a state, much like a hypoglycemic dream, that makes people delirious and makes them hallucinate, which they don’t know is a hallucination.

Dreams and Drugs.
People often casually compare the effects of drugs such as LSD to dreams, so it seems odd to formally study whether dreams and drug states are similar. Enzo Tagliazucchi, a neuroscientist at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, said the study aimed to both elucidate the experience of hallucinogenic drugs and demystify the dream state.Tagliazucchi told Live Science in an email that the subjective experience of hallucinogens with specific aspects of neurochemistry Comparisons can help explain how the brain spontaneously produces dreams.

But to analyze and compare dreams and drugs, anecdotes won’t cut it. So Tagliazucchi and his colleagues turned to two huge online repositories for both experiences: erowid.org, a site where people can report their experiences with various illicit drugs, and dreamjournal.net, which has more than 200,000 dream reports, often including whether the dreams are low or high in brightness.

The researchers analyzed the words found in self-reports of drug use and dreams to find semantic similarities between them.

The neurochemistry of experience
They found that the top 20 drugs that produced the most dream-like experiences were all hallucinogens, except for three: THC (the active compound in marijuana), Salvia divinorum (a psychoactive plant), and MDMA (a stimulant often found in the drug ecstasy). The researchers reported that the 20 drugs that produced experiences most unlike dreams were mostly sedatives, stimulants, antipsychotics and antidepressants.

During dreams and psychedelic trips, people described visual hallucinations ranging from mildly distorted, like moving objects with colorful trails trailing behind them, to full-blown complex imagery, Tagliazucchi said. People also reported a sense of unreality and detachment from their bodies, or a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of separation between the one and the world in both cases.

Some of the similarities and differences may reflect how psychedelic drugs work on the brain and how dreams are formed, Tagliazucchi says. Psychedelic imagery is usually less complex than dream imagery, and people don’t always know they’re dreaming, while they usually understand they’re having a psychedelic experience, he said. This may be related to the fact that the neurotransmitter serotonin is not produced in dreams, Tagliazucchi said. By contrast, psychedelics mimic serotonin and act almost like neurotransmitters, perhaps creating the near-dreamlike state of a psychedelic experience.

Deliriants – the type of hallucinogenic drug that causes a sense of delirium – are quite similar to dreams, where people have complex hallucinations that may feel very real, Tagliazucchi said. Examples of delirium-causing drugs include those from Daturaplants. (The danger, Tagliazucchi adds, is that people taking Datura-derived drugs don’t experience the muscle paralysis that the body experiences in dreams, so they can act out their hallucinations.) The mystery, he says, is that Datura blocks the action of a neurotransmitter in the brain called acetylcholine. Normally, acetylcholine is the key chemical for reaching dream state.

“It’s a paradox, and we believe that solving this problem can yield important knowledge about how dreams are generated in the brain,” says Tagliazucchi.

But Tagliazucchi isn’t just interested in drugs and dreams. He wants to tap into the vast amount of human experience that people dump on the Internet to better understand how much experience is available to humans.

“Now we want to compare the phenomenology of other abnormal states (religious experiences, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, etc.) in order to continue pursuing this line of research,” He said.