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ExtraSensory: Psychedelic therapy may facilitate the experience of new colors

“It felt like I could see colors inside of colors”, “Colors beyond borders, outside the lines”, “Color was like a language”, these are just some of the many anecdotal quotes I’ve gathered from friends and colleagues who’ve experimented with psychedelic therapy and reported an extrasensory experience with color. At mycoocoon, our experiences are sensory-only, that said, we are always willing to learn from science and implement sensory insights that elevate the human experience through color.

It is well documented that psychedelic drugs can have a profound effect on color perception. Normal color vision is trichromatic arising from comparisons between the differential excitement of three types of color-sensing cones in response to certain wavelengths of light. Our current understanding is that color perception occurs when the brain converts red, green and blue signals from the eye into a red-green and a blue-yellow difference and brightness – much as old analogue TV broadcasts did. The “space” of colors that this can describe is larger than that filled by human vision. So it’s plausible that an over-excited brain area can presumably stimulate signals outside normal vision.

“Color enhancement” is defined as an intensification of the brightness and vividness of colors in the external environment. During this experience, often induced by psychedelics, reds may seem “redder”, greens may seem “greener", and all colors will likely appear much more distinct, complex, and visually intense than they comparatively would be during everyday observation. This effect can sometimes result in seeing colors which are perceived as surreal or seemingly impossible.

Research suggests that connections between visual and linguistic cortical areas may be enhanced due to disorder in the brain’s neural connections induced by psychedelics, allowing new photisms and concepts to become linked. Color enhancement is often accompanied by other coinciding effects such as visual acuity enhancement and pattern recognition enhancement. Improved color blindness may be a result of new photisms experienced in the psychedelic state aligning with pre-existing concepts of color to be ascribed a label.

Human V4 and ventral occipital retinotopic maps.

Under the influence of psychedelic drugs, users may experience an expanded array of colors, possibly as a result of enhanced entropy in the V4 cortex leading to over-exaggerated cross visual field comparisons. This does not necessarily mean the colors seen of objects are more representative of their true color, merely a wider variety of colors are experienced.

Some of the colors experienced in this state may be entirely new to the user, showing the ability of the brain to alter the experience of color beyond optic nerve input. This is what excites me as a neuroscientist and sensory designer. The notion of experiencing new colors tickles my imagination, and will undoubtedly fuel our future installations and experiences. As we continue to expand research into this topic, we are bound to unlock new evidence around the influence color perception has on our predictive brain and sensory experience. At mycoocoon, we look to science to inform and inspire our approach. From psychedelics to synesthesia, our team is dedicated to developing new knowledge around color and wellness.

Ari Peralta

Neuroscience & Sensory Design


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