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This is your brain on LSD? Scientists want to find out

One of the subjects being prepared to enter the MEG scanner.

Beckley Foundation

Would you pay money to support a scientific experiment involving illegal drugs?

A group of British scientists started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the remaining 25,000 pounds (about $37,600) needed to complete the first scientific study ever to image the brains of people "tripping" on the psychedelic drug LSD.

"We only asked for a small amount because we didn't know how people would respond," Amanda Fielding, the director of the Beckley Foundation Psychedelic Research Foundation, told CBS News.

Led by neuroscientists at Imperial College London, the study seeks to use MRI and MEG imaging to show how LSD affects brain processes. It is part of a research project that the scientists say could revolutionize the understanding of the human brain. Researchers hope the images will begin to reveal the way the drug could work to heal many debilitating conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, alcohol addiction, depression and anxiety.

The public's response to the crowdfunding appeal was overwhelming. Within the first 24 hours after its request was posted online, the Beckley Foundation/Imperial College Psychedelic Science Programme reached -- and then exceeded -- its goal.

"We went into it tenuously and have been delighted by the response," said Fielding. "It's an incredibly important area. LSD is something that can expand certain areas of the human personality: openness, spirituality, and creativity. But because of the government prohibition of these substances there has been no recent scientific research."

In the 1950s and 60s, LSD was explored as an aid to psychotherapy for various psychiatric illnesses. LSD research was short-lived, however, and the drug was declared illegal in the late 1960s. Its classification as a Schedule I drug -- meaning it has high potential for abuse and lacks any currently accepted medical use in treatment -- has made it nearly impossible for scientists to research.

Only recently have scientists begun to push the door back open to study LSD and other hallucinogenic substances. Fielding's team is working hard to provide substantial scientific research to help eliminate the taboo of LSD and other hallucinogenic substances and loosen regulations on scientific testing.

"There are many millions of people who have experienced the benefits of psychedelics, and there are millions of people who are suffering with illnesses that want to see if these drugs can help," said Fielding.

Researchers at the Beckley Foundation have previously conducted studies with psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, and found it suppresses activity in certain "hub"areas of the brain that normally play a constraining role. Fielding says this effect can help psychiatrists and other doctors overcome cognitive barriers to get to the root of a patient's trauma and begin to help that person heal.

Beckley's latest study involved giving 20 volunteers a small dose of LSD and then using the latest imaging technology to capture its effect on the brain. Researchers said they expect to find that LSD's effects were similar to those of psilocybin, but more profound and longer-lasting. The money they're raising online will fund efforts to analyze data from those tests.

The crowdfunding campaign is hosted by the science-funding platform Walacea.com and will run through April 18. Any money raised over the 25,000 pound goal will go to support what Fielding called phase two of the research.

"Phase two will be a further study involving LSD and creativity," she explained. "Does LSD extend the propensity of creativity by loosening the controlling of the default mode network [of the brain] -- which is really the physiological basis of the ego."

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