An ordinary rocky hill takes on many hues as it is transformed by Google's Deep Dream code Google

A team of scientists in the UK say they have built a machine that can allow people to hallucinate without taking potentially dangerous drugs like magic mushrooms.

Researchers used virtual reality headsets and artificial intelligence technology to create the "Hallucination Machine" in the hope of learning more about consciousness and how the brain processes what we see.

Employing Google's Deep Dream technology, scientists at Sussex University's Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science were able to create 'cyberdelic' images which overemphasise certain recurring details to make the brain work in overdrive.

One experiment saw a group of 12 volunteers shown an altered panoramic video of the team's university campus.

The participants were then asked whether they felt disoriented in anyway, and whether they saw patterns and colours.

They reported experiencing visual hallucinations similar to those brought on by psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

A second experiment, this time involving 22 volunteers, saw no evidence that participants felt any sense of temporal distortion, or a warped sense of time, suggesting the machine is unable to replicate all the effects of a psychedelic drug "trip".

One person who tried the device, Times journalist Oliver Moody, spoke of how he put on the researchers' virtual reality headset and was at first confronted with a normal image of the university campus.

But then the scene changes, he recalled, as a "beagle-like creature with a swollen body and improbably small legs melts out of a wall and vanishes, replaced by a giant beady eye".

He added: "The floor is coated with a clingfilm-type substance that morphs into strange hybrid animals."

The researchers say their technology is still in its developmental stages but hope it could be a "powerful tool to complement the resurgence of research into altered states of consciousness".

"We're hallucinating all the time," the Sackler Centre co-director, Anil Seth, said in a recent lecture. "It's just that when we agree about our hallucinations, we call that reality."