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Hallucinogens as discriminative stimuli in animals: LSD, phenethylamines, and tryptamines

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Background: Although man’s first encounters with hallucinogens predate written history, it was not until the rise of the sister disciplines of organic chemistry and pharmacology in the nineteenth century that scientific studies became possible. Mescaline was the first to be isolated and its chemical structure determined. Since then, additional drugs have been recovered from their natural sources and synthetic chemists have contributed many more. Given their profound effects upon human behavior and the need for verbal communication to access many of these effects, some see humans as ideal subjects for study of hallucinogens. However, if we are to determine the mechanisms of action of these agents, establish hypotheses testable in human subjects, and explore the mechanistic links between hallucinogens and such apparently disparate topics as idiopathic psychosis, transcendental states, drug abuse, stress disorders, and cognitive dysfunction, studies in animals are essential. Stimulus control by hallucinogens has provided an intuitively attractive approach to the study of these agents in nonverbal species.

Objective: The intent of this review is to provide a brief account of events from the time of the first demonstration of hallucinogen-induced stimulus control to the present. In general, the review is limited to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and the hallucinogenic derivatives of phenethylamine and tryptamine.

Results: The pharmacological basis for stimulus control by LSD and hallucinogenic phenethylamines and tryptamines is serotonergic in nature. The 5-HT2A receptor appears to be the primary site of action with significant modulation by other serotonergic sites including 5-HT2C and 5-HT1A receptors. Interactions with other neurotransmitters, especially glutamate and dopamine, are under active investigation. Most studies to date have been conducted in the rat but transgenic mice offer interesting possibilities.

Conclusions: Hallucinogen-induced stimulus control provides a unique behavioral tool for the prediction of subjective effects in man and for the elucidation of the pharmacological mechanisms of the action of these agents.

Winter, J. C. (2009). Hallucinogens as discriminative stimuli in animals: LSD, phenethylamines, and tryptamines. Psychopharmacology, 203(2), 251–263.
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