Researchers report LSD triggers a reduction in functional connection between areas of the brain that govern cognitive processes, while increasing connectivity in brain networks associated with sensory functions.

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 neurotransmitter serotonin (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.

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