Despite the use of shamanism as a healing practice for several millennia, few empirical studies of the shamanic state of consciousness exist. We investigated the neural correlates of shamanic trance using high-density electroencephalography (EEG) in 24 shamanic practitioners and 24 healthy controls during rest, shamanic drumming, and classical music listening, followed by a validated assessment of altered states of consciousness. EEG data were used to assess changes in absolute power, connectivity, signal diversity, and criticality, which were correlated with assessment measures. We also compared assessment scores to those of individuals under the influence of psychedelics in a separate study (Studerus et al., 2010). Shamanic practitioners were significantly different from controls in several domains of altered consciousness, with scores comparable to or exceeding that of healthy volunteers under the influence of psychedelics. Practitioners also displayed increased gamma power during drumming that positively correlated with elementary visual alterations. Further, shamanic practitioners had decreased low alpha and increased low beta connectivity during drumming and classical music, and decreased neural signal diversity in the gamma band during drumming that inversely correlated with insightfulness. Finally, criticality in practitioners was increased during drumming in the low and high beta and gamma bands, with increases in the low beta band correlating with complex imagery and elementary visual alterations. These findings suggest that psychedelic drug-induced and non-pharmacologic alterations in consciousness have overlapping phenomenological traits but are distinct states of consciousness, as reflected by the unique brain-related changes during shamanic trance compared to previous literature investigating the psychedelic state.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience