New Study Shows the Unique Neurological Impact of Psilocybin, LSD, Hypnosis, and Meditation

Recent psychedelic studies have seen many researchers delving into the neurological effects of the three most debated practices, which are hypnosis, meditation, and taking psychedelics. Even though the general assumption is that these practices cause altered states of consciousness, research findings suggest that each method has distinct changes in the brain.

The different methods of achieving altered states of consciousness usually lead to subjective experiences. This has caused most people to assume that the neurological effects of these different methods are always the same. However, researchers have performed their respective studies and have been able to demonstrate that the brain changes that these methods induce are mostly different.

New studies show that even though the subjective experience is usually similar, the neuroplasticity and brain changes that hypnosis, meditation, LSD, and psilocybin produce are different. Basically, scientists at the University of Zurich’s psychiatric hospital compared the pharmacological methods by dosing patients with LSD and psilocybin, and non-pharmacological methods which include meditation, and hypnosis. Resting State functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging was used in assessing the predictive value of the data they obtained.

Here are some of the findings from their research:

  • Meditation, psychedelics, and hypnosis produce different altered states of consciousness.
  • LSD and Psilocybin have similar effects, especially in terms of functional connectivity. However, when it comes to behavioral-neural relationships, they are different.
  • Their different connectivity patterns that are induced via different methods make it easier to predict the responses of people to treatment.

Reiser explains that although psilocybin, LSD, meditation, and hypnosis share similar subjective effects, our research reveals that the underlying brain changes caused by each of these actions are different. Our study involved participants who were asked to lie inside an MRI scanner without any specific task or activity. The scanner recorded their brain activity both in a normal state of consciousness and under the altered state relevant to each trial. The team then analyzed the complete brain activity data and made this noteworthy discovery.

Psychedelics, Meditation, and Hypnosis Induce Different Altered States of Consciousness

The researchers concluded that the different methods of psilocybin, LSD, hypnosis, and meditation induce distinct types of altered states of consciousness. In the case of psilocybin and LSD, both substances increased connectivity between sensory and associative networks, while decreasing connections between different associative networks and within sensory networks.

On the other hand, hypnosis decreased connectivity within the human primary visual cortex but increased connectivity between this area and other networks involved in the default mode network and limbic regions. Meditation, on the other hand, decreased connectivity between the posterior default mode network and secondary visual networks. Additionally, when directly compared to psilocybin and LSD, hypnosis and meditation showed distinct differences.

Researchers also found that both psilocybin and LSD increased connectivity between regions involved in sensory and associative networks, while also decreasing connectivity within sensory networks. In comparison, when looking at psilocybin and LSD versus meditation, there was a common reduction in communication within V1. This suggests that hypnosis may be more effective than meditation at inducing decreased connectivity within V1. Additionally, a direct comparison between meditation and hypnosis revealed that hypnosis led to a greater decrease in communication within the V1 network compared to meditation.

The Unique Patterns of Connectivity Induced by the Different Methods Can Help Us Predict Individual Responses to The Treatments

Distinct patterns can be observed in the pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods. Researchers have found that inducing altered states through psilocybin and LSD, as compared to meditation and hypnosis, exhibit unique connectivity patterns that can predict individual responses. In terms of brain connectivity, the effects of psychedelics on resting-state networks differ significantly from those of meditation and hypnosis. Psilocybin and LSD decrease communication within and between associative networks like the default mode network and the superior temporal gyrus, while increasing connectivity between the primary visual cortex and networks such as the inferior temporal gyrus and dorsal attention network.

These distinct patterns can be used to predict how individuals will respond to treatments. Using a computer-based method called a “binary SVM,” researchers were able to accurately predict whether a subject had experienced altered states of consciousness induced by psychedelics or through meditation and hypnosis with an 85.05% accuracy rate. Analysis of the predictions revealed that connections in the V1 and somatomotor networks played a significant role in accurately determining the method used to achieve altered states of consciousness.


While classical psychedelics, meditation, and hypnosis may yield similar experiences or emotions for some individuals, researchers have determined that the brain activity occurring during these states is markedly distinct. Despite the apparent similarities between psychedelic substances and meditation, their underlying mechanisms and overall impacts on the brain are highly dissimilar. These discoveries provide a significant understanding of the intricate relationship between our brains and the various states of consciousness we encounter.

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