Swedish scientists have been pumping rats full of psychedelic drugs in a bid to answer big questions about the origin of consciousness.
Researchers from Sweden’s University of Lund spent seven years testing psychedelics and amphetamines on rats and then monitoring activity in neurons in different parts of their brains as they stumbled around their cages.
It’s hoped the findings of the research will also help the development of artificial intelligence (AI) by helping scientists to understand the workings of the brain.
Rats were given ketamine – a horse tranquiliser – as well as LSD, a notorious hallucinogen most associated with the psychedelic 1960s.
Scientists then watched the rodents perform basic activities such as walking around an enclosure while comparing differences in brain activity when they were sober or on drugs.
To do this, they inserted electrodes into the rats’ brains under anaesthesia. Once the rats woke up, scientists were able to monitor electrical signals from 128 areas in their brains.
During the experiments, researchers identified a ‘synchronisation’ between neurons in several different areas of the brain.
Dr Per Halje, a researcher in integrative neurophysiology at Lund University, said these synchronisations could alter the way in which different parts of the brain communicate.
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This discovery could have a role in understanding psychosis as well as giving us clues on where consciousness starts in the brain.
‘Before it was perhaps more of a philosophical question, like a fundamental question,’ said Dr Halje.
‘But now it actually becomes quite important since we are developing artificial cognitive networks that perhaps also can develop consciousness. We just don’t know. And we don’t know what to measure, what to look for.
‘We urgently need a better understanding of how consciousness is generated.’
This is not the first time rats have been fed class A drugs and it won’t be the last.
In one study, rats ingested DMT to help overcome fearful memories of suffering an electric shock.
In tests on flies and rats, the US team found that a wide range of psychedelic drugs promote ‘neural plasticity’ and alter brain structure.
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