OPEN Foundation

C. Timmermann

Neural and subjective effects of inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine in natural settings

Abstract

Background: N,N-dimethyltryptamine is a short-acting psychedelic tryptamine found naturally in many plants and animals. Few studies to date have addressed the neural and psychological effects of N,N-dimethyltryptamine alone, either administered intravenously or inhaled in freebase form, and none have been conducted in natural settings.

Aims: Our primary aim was to study the acute effects of inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine in natural settings, focusing on questions tuned to the advantages of conducting field research, including the effects of contextual factors (i.e. “set” and “setting”), the possibility of studying a comparatively large number of subjects, and the relaxed mental state of participants consuming N,N-dimethyltryptamine in familiar and comfortable settings.

Methods: We combined state-of-the-art wireless electroencephalography with psychometric questionnaires to study the neural and subjective effects of naturalistic N,N-dimethyltryptamine use in 35 healthy and experienced participants.

Results: We observed that N,N-dimethyltryptamine significantly decreased the power of alpha (8-12 Hz) oscillations throughout all scalp locations, while simultaneously increasing power of delta (1-4 Hz) and gamma (30-40 Hz) oscillations. Gamma power increases correlated with subjective reports indicative of some features of mystical-type experiences. N,N-dimethyltryptamine also increased global synchrony and metastability in the gamma band while decreasing those measures in the alpha band.

Conclusions: Our results are consistent with previous studies of psychedelic action in the human brain, while at the same time the results suggest potential electroencephalography markers of mystical-type experiences in natural settings, thus highlighting the importance of investigating these compounds in the contexts where they are naturally consumed.

Pallavicini, C., Cavanna, F., Zamberlan, F., de la Fuente, L. A., Ilksoy, Y., Perl, Y. S., Arias, M., Romero, C., Carhart-Harris, R., Timmermann, C., & Tagliazucchi, E. (2021). Neural and subjective effects of inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine in natural settings. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 406–420. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120981384

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Neural network models for DMT-induced visual hallucinations

Abstract

The regulatory role of the serotonergic system on conscious perception can be investigated perturbatorily with psychedelic drugs such as N,N-Dimethyltryptamine. There is increasing evidence that the serotonergic system gates prior (endogenous) and sensory (exogenous) information in the construction of a conscious experience. Using two generative deep neural networks as examples, we discuss how such models have the potential to be, firstly, an important medium to illustrate phenomenological visual effects of psychedelics-besides paintings, verbal reports and psychometric testing-and, secondly, their utility to conceptualize biological mechanisms of gating the influence of exogenous and endogenous information on visual perception.

Schartner, M. M., & Timmermann, C. (2020). Neural network models for DMT-induced visual hallucinations. Neuroscience of consciousness, 2020(1), niaa024. https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niaa024

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The potential synergistic effects between psychedelic administration and nature contact for the improvement of mental health

Abstract

Therapeutic psychedelic administration and contact with nature have been associated with the same psychological mechanisms: decreased rumination and negative affect, enhanced psychological connectedness and mindfulness-related capacities, and heightened states of awe and transcendent experiences, all processes linked to improvements in mental health amongst clinical and healthy populations. Nature-based settings can have inherently psychologically soothing properties which may complement all stages of psychedelic therapy (mainly preparation and integration) whilst potentiating increases in nature relatedness, with associated psychological benefits. Maximising enhancement of nature relatedness through therapeutic psychedelic administration may constitute an independent and complementary pathway towards improvements in mental health that can be elicited by psychedelics.

Gandy, S., Forstmann, M., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Timmermann, C., Luke, D., & Watts, R. (2020). The potential synergistic effects between psychedelic administration and nature contact for the improvement of mental health. Health psychology open, 7(2), 2055102920978123. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055102920978123

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DMT alters cortical travelling waves

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs are potent modulators of conscious states and therefore powerful tools for investigating their neurobiology. N,N, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) can rapidly induce an extremely immersive state of consciousness characterized by vivid and elaborate visual imagery. Here, we investigated the electrophysiological correlates of the DMT-induced altered state from a pool of participants receiving DMT and (separately) placebo (saline) while instructed to keep their eyes closed. Consistent with our hypotheses, results revealed a spatio-temporal pattern of cortical activation (i.e. travelling waves) similar to that elicited by visual stimulation. Moreover, the typical top-down alpha-band rhythms of closed-eyes rest were significantly decreased, while the bottom-up forward wave was significantly increased. These results support a recent model proposing that psychedelics reduce the ‘precision-weighting of priors’, thus altering the balance of top-down versus bottom-up information passing. The robust hypothesis-confirming nature of these findings imply the discovery of an important mechanistic principle underpinning psychedelic-induced altered states.

Alamia, A., Timmermann, C., Nutt, D. J., VanRullen, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2020). DMT alters cortical travelling waves. eLife, 9, e59784. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.59784

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Predicting Responses to Psychedelics: A Prospective Study

Abstract

Responses to psychedelics are notoriously difficult to predict, yet significant work is currently underway to assess their therapeutic potential and the level of interest in psychedelics among the general public appears to be increasing. We aimed to collect prospective data in order to improve our ability to predict acute- and longer-term responses to psychedelics. Individuals who planned to take a psychedelic through their own initiative participated in an online survey (www.psychedelicsurvey.com). Traits and variables relating to set, setting and the acute psychedelic experience were measured at five different time points before and after the experience. Principle component and regression methods were used to analyse the data. Sample sizes for the five time points were N = 654, N = 535, N = 379, N = 315, and N = 212 respectively. Psychological well-being was increased 2 weeks after a psychedelic experience and remained at this level after 4 weeks. Higher ratings of a “mystical-type experience” had a positive effect on the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience, whereas the other acute psychedelic experience measures, i.e., “challenging experience” and “visual effects”, did not influence the change in well-being after the psychedelic experience. Having “clear intentions” for the experience was conducive to mystical-type experiences. Having a positive “set” as well as having the experience with intentions related to “recreation” were both found to decrease the likelihood of having a challenging experience. The baseline trait “absorption” and higher drug doses promoted all aspects of the acute experience, i.e., mystical-type and challenging experiences, as well as visual effects. When comparing the relative contribution of different types of variables in explaining the variance in the change in well-being, it seemed that baseline trait variables had the strongest effect on the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience. These results confirm the importance of extra-pharmacological factors in determining responses to a psychedelic. We view this study as an early step towards the development of empirical guidelines that can evolve and improve iteratively with the ultimate purpose of guiding crucial clinical decisions about whether, when, where and how to dose with a psychedelic, thus helping to mitigate risks while maximizing potential benefits in an evidence-based manner.

Haijen, E. C. H. M., Kaelen, M., Roseman, L., Timmermann, C., Russ, S., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2018). Predicting responses to psychedelics: a prospective study. Frontiers in pharmacology9, 897., 10.3389/fphar.2018.00897
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DMT Models the Near-Death Experience

Abstract

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are complex subjective experiences, which have been previously associated with the psychedelic experience and more specifically with the experience induced by the potent serotonergic, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Potential similarities between both subjective states have been noted previously, including the subjective feeling of transcending one’s body and entering an alternative realm, perceiving and communicating with sentient ‘entities’ and themes related to death and dying. In this within-subjects placebo-controled study we aimed to test the similarities between the DMT state and NDEs, by administering DMT and placebo to 13 healthy participants, who then completed a validated and widely used measure of NDEs. Results revealed significant increases in phenomenological features associated with the NDE, following DMT administration compared to placebo. Also, we found significant relationships between the NDE scores and DMT-induced ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, as well as a significant association between NDE scores and baseline trait ‘absorption’ and delusional ideation measured at baseline. Furthermore, we found a significant overlap in nearly all of the NDE phenomenological features when comparing DMT-induced NDEs with a matched group of ‘actual’ NDE experiencers. These results reveal a striking similarity between these states that warrants further investigation.
Timmermann, C., Roseman, L., Williams, L., Erritzoe, D., Martial, C., Cassol, H., … & Carhart-Harris, R. (2018). DMT models the near-death experience. Frontiers in psychology9, 1424., 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01424
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LSD modulates effective connectivity and neural adaptation mechanisms in an auditory oddball paradigm

Abstract

Under the predictive coding framework, perceptual learning and inference are dependent on the interaction between top-down predictions and bottom-up sensory signals both between and within regions in a network. However, how such feedback and feedforward connections are modulated in the state induced by lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is poorly understood. In this study, an auditory oddball paradigm was presented to healthy participants (16 males, 4 female) under LSD and placebo, and brain activity was recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Scalp level Event Related Fields (ERF) revealed reduced neural adaptation to familiar stimuli, and a blunted neural ‘surprise’ response to novel stimuli in the LSD condition. Dynamic causal modelling revealed that both the presentation of novel stimuli and LSD modulate backward extrinsic connectivity within a task-activated fronto-temporal network, as well as intrinsic connectivity in the primary auditory cortex. These findings show consistencies with those of previous studies of schizophrenia and ketamine but also studies of reduced consciousness – suggesting that rather than being a marker of conscious level per se, backward connectivity may index modulations of perceptual learning common to a variety of altered states of consciousness, perhaps united by a shared altered sensitivity to environmental stimuli. Since recent evidence suggests that the psychedelic state may correspond to a heightened ‘level’ of consciousness with respect to the normal waking state, our data warrant a re-examination of the top-down hypotheses of conscious level and suggest that several altered states may feature this specific biophysical effector.
Timmermann, C., Spriggs, M. J., Kaelen, M., Leech, R., Nutt, D. J., Moran, R. J., … & Muthukumaraswamy, S. D. (2017). LSD modulates effective connectivity and neural adaptation mechanisms in an auditory oddball paradigm. Neuropharmacology. 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2017.10.039
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