From Tom Wolfe’s account of the LSD-loving Merry Pranksters and their bus ride across America in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to Roger Sterling’s acid-inspired bout of introspection on television’s Mad Men, popular culture is rife with depictions of the mind-altering effects of lysergic acid diethylamide.
The synthetic drug, devised by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938, pings some of the same receptors as the neurotransmitter serotonin, producing powerful changes in consciousness. But although the florid hallucinations and other effects of LSD are well known, their neurobiological bases have been less clear, partly because of restrictions placed on the drug after its recreational heyday in the 1960s.
New studies—prompted by a renewed interest in potential applications of psychedelic drugs for understanding the brain or even treating some psychiatric diseases—suggest that far-reaching changes in brain connectivity contribute to the altered states of consciousness and other effects of an acid trip. The latest work paints a picture of LSD and some other hallucinogens as drugs that can decrease modularity and connectivity within brain networks while enhancing the brain’s overall connectivity, explains Frederick Barrett, a cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University who has studied hallucinogenic drug effects but was not involved in the research released this week.