A recent study conducted at the University of Zurich has demonstrated that Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD or acid, can have a significant effect on a person’s sense of self. Participants were given 100 micrograms of the drug and were observed in simulated interactions with computer avatars. It was found that LSD compromises the brain’s concept of “integrated self”, blurring the boundary between ourselves and others. This phenomenon is thought to lie behind some LSD users’ accounts of feeling completely at one with the universe.
Through this discovery, scientists hope to unearth new treatments for conditions that affect a person’s sense of self, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia. According to Katrin Preller, a psychologist who worked on the study, such treatments would constitute a breakthrough in psychiatric Medicine, since “we don’t currently have any medications that work to improve the social deficits in psychiatric disorders”; in fact, scientists actually have very little understanding of how social interactions work in the brain.
Applicants for Medicine and Psychology should think about what these discoveries might mean for the future treatment of psychiatric disorders, how a reduced sense of self could positively or negatively affect the lives of those struggling with mental health issues, and how clinical trials could be conducted to test the efficacy of LSD as a treatment for these disorders.
Those wishing to study Philosophy might want to consider the effect of mind-altering drugs on the human consciousness from a more abstract and speculative perspective, thinking about the implications of these discoveries for the idea of the ‘ego’ and human nature. For Theology applicants, William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience is a seminal text on the theory of religious experiences, conversion, and mysticism, and includes sections on the role of drugs in experiences of detachment from the self and communion with the divine.