Researchers explain how LSD changes perception

Researchers explain how LSD changes perception
Credit: Michael S. Helfenbein

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD have a profound impact on human consciousness, particularly perception. Researchers at Yale and the University of Zurich provide new insight into the psychedelic effects of LSD on the brain and potential therapeutic uses of the drug.

The new data indicate that LSD triggers a reduction of functional connections between regions of the brain governing cognitive processes and increases connectivity in brain networks associated with sensory functions. It does so by stimulating a particular receptor for the (serotonin-2A or 5HT2A receptor). The 5HT2A receptor has been implicated in the regulation of mood and cognition.

Using gene expression maps and data-driven tools to measure brain-wide communication, the team was able to infer the patterns of brain signals in subjects who had taken LSD and identify the 5HT2A receptor as a crucial mechanism leading to changes in perception and thought.

"There is a net effect of LSD on the entire brain but the effect is not uniform," explained Alan Anticevic, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology and co-senior author of the paper, which appears in the journal eLife.

In recent years, scientists have become increasingly interested in the use of psychedelics to treat such as depression. While serotonin plays a key role in maintaining mood balance and decreased levels are associated with depression, another immediate impact of the new findings may be in the treatment of schizophrenia, Anticevic suggested.

Researchers explain how LSD changes perception
LSD reduced brain-wide communication among brain areas involved in planning and decision-making, but it increased communication between areas involved in sensation and movement, which can be attributed to the 5HT2A serotonin receptor. Credit: Katrin Preller & Alan Anticevic

Most schizophrenia patients are treated with , which block some of the serotonin identified by the new study. However, many patients don't respond well to such treatments.

"Clinicians may be able to identify individual patients most likely to benefit from these drugs by looking for similar patterns of brain activity identified in the study," noted Katrin Preller, assistant professor at the University of Zurich and visiting professor at Yale, who is the lead author of the paper.

Using a technology optimized by Anticevic and Dr. John Murray, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale and co-author on the paper, researchers pinpointed gene activity in the brain and showed how it influences neurotransmitter function.

In the 1960s, Yale researchers Daniel X. Freedman, Nicholas Giarman, and George Aghajanian first implicated the serotonin system, and the 5HT2A receptor, in the actions of LSD, noted Dr. John Krystal, professor and chair of psychiatry at Yale.

"It has taken over 50 years and technical advances in imaging and molecular neuroscience to enable us to build on the earlier work in mechanistic clinical research," Krystal said. "This path, and other related research strategies will take us deeper in our search for the roots of human consciousness and the biology of mental illness."

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More information: Katrin H Preller et al. Changes in global and thalamic brain connectivity in LSD-induced altered states of consciousness are attributable to the 5-HT2A receptor, eLife (2018). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.35082
Journal information: eLife

Provided by Yale University
Citation: Researchers explain how LSD changes perception (2018, October 26) retrieved 24 April 2019 from
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User comments

Oct 26, 2018
Trouble is as trouble does.
No shaman => more trouble.

Oct 26, 2018
Agreed, the scientists need to have someone there( shaman or experienced "tripper") to help with subjects. I mean could you imagine tripping in a clinical setting? ....what a nightmare

Oct 27, 2018
To be fair... how do we know the scientists aren't into psychedelics themselves? Or that the subjects aren't experienced? Still agree with both of you, though, especially regarding a clinical setting... yikes!

Oct 27, 2018
When I was in my teen's,I used LSD every chance I got.At the time,it was legal,a mild dose of pure LSD is different then the experience of LSD that has been cut with unhealthy stabilizers such as Strychnine.A man who had never taken any drugs tried it in a group setting,and stated,"I must be getting high,my hand just melted into the carpet."
I had four strokes within three hours while living in Mexico,after 16 hours in ICU,I walked out on my own.The doctors just stared at me,the only effect it had was,I could not say complicated words for 12 hours.I believe the use of LSD earlier in my life,created other pathways in the brain.My brain just switched to them,and no permanent damage was done.Now,I am going on 70 with no problems with my brain.

Oct 27, 2018
.Now,I am going on 70 with no problems with my brain
You may want to get a second opinion.

Oct 27, 2018
I hope they at least played some Doors for the participants.

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