New Research Opens Door For Directly Understanding Effects of Psychedelics on Humans
It’s fairly common for users of psychedelic drugs to experience disturbing side effects. What causes someone to see green leprechauns dancing around his feet or bugs crawling on his skin that aren’t really there? Neuroscientists have long been fascinated by how mind-altering drugs change chemistry in the brain, distorting one’s perception of reality.
While scientists would love to perform tests on humans to see exactly what takes place when these drugs are ingested, human experiments aren’t normally possible due to moral and ethical issues. In the past, most such experiments have been conducted on lab rats. Of course, substances don’t always affect animals and humans the same way.
Researchers at the University of California Berkeley say they have uncovered a new way to test the effects of mind-altering drugs and how they influence human perception of the environment around them.
Research pioneered by Jeremy Coyle and his colleagues propose using data-mining programs to extract commonalities provided by real human testimonies regarding the effects of psychoactive drugs.
By searching for key words, Coyle’s team was able to correctly identify about 90 percent of reports written by ecstasy users. Users of this drug chronicled their experience with words such as "smile", "hug", "rub", and "club".
While other narratives did not have such high predictability power, Coyle and his colleagues were still able to beat the odds of random guessing when it came to identifying a drug based on word associations.
On average, they were correct about 50 percent of the time, whereas mere chance returned a success rate of only ten percent.
Investigators hope that data-mining techniques may someday help cue which areas of the brain are targeted by specific drugs. The end goal is to identify which receptors and pathways might be responsible for shaping distorted views of reality.
While the research certainly has limitations such as potential inaccuracies in data provided by users, as well as age, sex, and social variables, the results warrant further investigation and were interesting nonetheless.