Psychedelic drugs including LSD are highly impactful on human consciousness, especially perception. A research team at University of Zurich and Yale have discovered how the perception of human brain alters under the influence of such drugs.
According to the researchers, LSD stimulates a particular receptor known as ‘serotonin-2A or 5HT2A receptor’ responsible for the changes in perception. As reported in journal eLife, stimulation of the receptor influence the process of reducing functional connections between regions of the brain while increasing connectivity of brain networks related to sensory functions.
The researchers could understand the patterns of brain signals in subjects administered with LSD and identified the serotonin-2A receptor as an integral mechanism causing changes in thought and perception. To measure the brain-wide communication, the team used gene expression maps and data-driven tools.
Prior to the study, the subjects were asked to categorize about 30 pieces of music as meaningful, personally important, or with no distinctive relevance. In the following experiment, LSD changed the attribution of meaning; pieces of music previously considered to be meaningless became personally important under the influence of the drug.
Co-senior author Alan Anticevic explained that although LSD has significant effect on the entire brain, it is not uniform. Using functional resonance magnetic imagining (fMRT), the researchers could further demonstrate that the subjects attached improved meaning to previously irrelevant stimuli after taking LSD. It was also found that LSD stimulates other receptors such as dopamine.
In the recent times, scientists have been showing great interest towards potential use of psychedelic drugs in pharmacotherapy of mental health disorders such as depression, addictions, and phobias. According to Anticevic, the new findings may have immediate impact on the treatment of schizophrenia, as serotonin plays a crucial role in regulation of mood and cognition and decreased levels could lead to depression.
The effects of LSD on serotonin system and the 5HT2A receptor was first studied in 1960s by three researchers from Yale. Dr. John Krystal, Professor of psychiatry at Yale said that it has taken more than 50 years and technical advances in brain imagining and molecular science to continue to work on the earlier research.
The study paved the way for understanding how LSD influence the brain networks and how it affects the perception. “This will take us deeper in our search for the roots of human consciousness and biology of mental illness”, Krystal added.