Near-death experiences, in which people claim to encounter a variety of unusual phenomena, including moving through a tunnel toward light, feeling lightweight, feeling peace and joy, and profoundly spiritual moments, have often been classified by scientific researchers as a function of anoxia, or oxygen deprivation in the brain.
For many people, and the religious in particular, the phenomenon of near-death experience — assuming it’s real and not simply a result of a dying brain’s hallucinatory interpretation of a flood of brain chemicals — validates their belief in the afterlife and heaven. Many books have been written by people who claim to have come back from the brink of death and seen God and heaven (though earlier this year the best-selling memoir “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” was admitted by its author to have been faked).
Scientific evidence, however, suggests that the experience is not a spiritual or metaphysical one, but instead a chemical one. A new study in which researchers induced anoxia in rats offers more support for near-death experiences (NDEs) as happening inside the dying brain and being interpreted as an out-of-body or spiritual experience.
The researchers examined neurotransmitters, changes in brain and heart electrical activity and brain-heart connectivity. They concluded, “Asphyxia stimulates a robust and sustained increase of functional and effective cortical connectivity, an immediate increase in cortical release of a large set of neurotransmitters… . These results demonstrate that asphyxia activates a brainstorm, which accelerates premature death of the heart and the brain.”
According to an article at MedicalDaily.com, the researchers found that “the brain is much more active during the dying process than in the waking state… In the 30-second period after the animal’s hearts stopped beating, the researchers observed an immediate release of more than a dozen neurochemicals, while high-frequency brainwaves called gamma oscillations increased.
“This activity seemed to trigger a connection between the brain and the heart… . [Lead author Jimo] Borjigin believes a similar, elevated level of brain activity may also happen during the human experience of ‘near death’ and it is this that gives rise to a heightened state of consciousness, including the visions experienced by survivors of cardiac arrest.”
This “brainstorm,” or cascade of neurotransmitter chemicals, can cause benign hallucinations such as those reported in NDEs. This new study joins several others implicating anoxia as a contributing (if not causative) factor to near-death experiences. Researcher Borjigin had conducted previous research with similar findings in 2013, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Via Near-Death Experiences Likely Caused by Lack of Oxygen