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What happens to the brain during near-death experiences

A new study found that the human brain is far more active than previously thought while CPR is being administered to people in cardiac arrest.
What happens to the brain during near-death experiences
Posted at 8:48 AM, Sep 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-15 08:48:29-04

New York University conducted a first-of-its-kind study to examine consciousness while someone is in cardiac arrest. NYU released the findings of the study Thursday in the journal Resuscitation.

Researchers conducted a study of 567 people who needed CPR during cardiac arrest and studied their brain activity using an electroencephalogram. Only about 9.3% of those studied survived, but of the 53 who did, 28 completed interviews about their experience. 

The study found that those experiencing cardiac arrest and being administered CPR may be conscious despite not having any external signs of consciousness. 

Among the survivors who provided interviews, 40% said they had some level of consciousness during cardiac arrest. Three of the 28 who provided interviews said they had dream-like experiences, while six of the 28 recalled experiencing death. 

SEE MORE: Knowing the basics of CPR could save someone's life

Dr. Sam Parnia, associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center, said this study shows that the brain remains robust even an hour into resuscitation. The study, he says, dispels notions that the brain dies 10 minutes into resuscitation due to a lack of oxygen.

It has been long thought that brain damage begins after five minutes of cardiac arrest. 

"In this study, we were also able to show for the first time the brain markers, the electrical signatures, all these hyperconscious, hyper lucid experiences that are occurring in the brain, not as markers of imaginary experiences but as markers of a real experience that is occurring through the transition between life and death," Parnia said. 

The study hypothesizes that as a brain dies, its natural braking systems are removed, allowing it to access "new dimensions of reality." 

"We were able to also identify the mechanism by which this experience occurs, which is that as the brain shuts down because of a lack of blood flow in death, the normal braking systems in the brain are removed, known as this inhibition," Parnia said. "This enables people to have access to their entire consciousness, all their thoughts, memories, all of their emotional state, everything they've ever done, which they relive through the perspective of morality and ethics."


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