Mice tripping on psychedelics help explain neural origins of hallucinations

A new study is helping clarify what is going on in our brains when we hallucinate. To do this, researchers from the University of Oregon dosed mice with a powerful psychedelic drug and with unprecedented detail zoomed in on how the animal’s brains subsequently generated visual hallucinations.

Prior research has found that strong visual hallucinations, deriving from either schizophrenia or psychedelic drugs such as LSD, can be suppressed by blocking the activity of serotonin-2A receptors in the brain. So, in order to better understand how our brains specifically generate these visual hallucinations researchers administered mice with a powerful psychedelic drug called DOI (4-iodo-2,5-dimethoxyphenylisopropylamine).

DOI is a member of a class of drugs called serotonergenic psychedelics and, alongside LSD, psilocybin and DMT, it stimulates activity in serotonin-2A receptors. DOI is often used in research conditions as it is not currently a schedule one drug in the United States, unlike its better known psychedelic counterparts. DOI is also considered to be stronger than LSD, with a much longer effect duration. Essentially, it is not a pleasant or easy drug for humans to experience. This is why DOI has only rarely popped up in recreational contexts since its discovery in 1972.

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