OPEN Foundation

E. Tagliazucchi

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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The entropic tongue: Disorganization of natural language under LSD

Abstract

Serotonergic psychedelics have been suggested to mirror certain aspects of psychosis, and, more generally, elicit a state of consciousness underpinned by increased entropy of on-going neural activity. We investigated the hypothesis that language produced under the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) should exhibit increased entropy and reduced semantic coherence. Computational analysis of interviews conducted at two different time points after 75 μg of intravenous LSD verified this prediction. Non-semantic analysis of speech organization revealed increased verbosity and a reduced lexicon, changes that are more similar to those observed during manic psychoses than in schizophrenia, which was confirmed by direct comparison with reference samples. Importantly, features related to language organization allowed machine learning classifiers to identify speech under LSD with accuracy comparable to that obtained by examining semantic content. These results constitute a quantitative and objective characterization of disorganized natural speech as a landmark feature of the psychedelic state.

Sanz, C., Pallavicini, C., Carrillo, F., Zamberlan, F., Sigman, M., Mota, N., Copelli, M., Ribeiro, S., Nutt, D., Carhart-Harris, R., & Tagliazucchi, E. (2021). The entropic tongue: Disorganization of natural language under LSD. Consciousness and cognition, 87, 103070. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2020.103070

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A mechanistic model of the neural entropy increase elicited by psychedelic drugs

Abstract

Psychedelic drugs, including lysergic acid diethylamide and other agonists of the serotonin 2A receptor (5HT2A-R), induce drastic changes in subjective experience, and provide a unique opportunity to study the neurobiological basis of consciousness. One of the most notable neurophysiological signatures of psychedelics, increased entropy in spontaneous neural activity, is thought to be of relevance to the psychedelic experience, mediating both acute alterations in consciousness and long-term effects. However, no clear mechanistic explanation for this entropy increase has been put forward so far. We sought to do this here by building upon a recent whole-brain model of serotonergic neuromodulation, to study the entropic effects of 5HT2A-R activation. Our results reproduce the overall entropy increase observed in previous experiments in vivo, providing the first model-based explanation for this phenomenon. We also found that entropy changes were not uniform across the brain: entropy increased in some regions and decreased in others, suggesting a topographical reconfiguration mediated by 5HT2A-R activation. Interestingly, at the whole-brain level, this reconfiguration was not well explained by 5HT2A-R density, but related closely to the topological properties of the brain’s anatomical connectivity. These results help us understand the mechanisms underlying the psychedelic state and, more generally, the pharmacological modulation of whole-brain activity.

Herzog, R., Mediano, P., Rosas, F. E., Carhart-Harris, R., Perl, Y. S., Tagliazucchi, E., & Cofre, R. (2020). A mechanistic model of the neural entropy increase elicited by psychedelic drugs. Scientific reports, 10(1), 17725. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-74060-6

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Whole-Brain Models to Explore Altered States of Consciousness from the Bottom Up

Abstract

The scope of human consciousness includes states departing from what most of us experience as ordinary wakefulness. These altered states of consciousness constitute a prime opportunity to study how global changes in brain activity relate to different varieties of subjective experience. We consider the problem of explaining how global signatures of altered consciousness arise from the interplay between large-scale connectivity and local dynamical rules that can be traced to known properties of neural tissue. For this purpose, we advocate a research program aimed at bridging the gap between bottom-up generative models of whole-brain activity and the top-down signatures proposed by theories of consciousness. Throughout this paper, we define altered states of consciousness, discuss relevant signatures of consciousness observed in brain activity, and introduce whole-brain models to explore the biophysics of altered consciousness from the bottom-up. We discuss the potential of our proposal in view of the current state of the art, give specific examples of how this research agenda might play out, and emphasize how a systematic investigation of altered states of consciousness via bottom-up modeling may help us better understand the biophysical, informational, and dynamical underpinnings of consciousness.

Cofré, R., Herzog, R., Mediano, P., Piccinini, J., Rosas, F. E., Sanz Perl, Y., & Tagliazucchi, E. (2020). Whole-Brain Models to Explore Altered States of Consciousness from the Bottom Up. Brain sciences, 10(9), 626. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10090626

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The ethics of psychedelic research in disorders of consciousness.

Abstract

This article provides an ethical analysis of psychedelic research involving disorders of consciousness patients. We apply two internationally accepted approaches for analyzing the ethics of human research, the Value-Validity Framework and Component Analysis, to a research program recently proposed by Scott and Carhart-Harris. We focus on Scott and Carhart-Harris’s proposal, but the ethical frameworks outlined are applicable to other novel research protocols in the science of consciousness.
Peterson, A., Tagliazucchi, E., & Weijer, C. (2019). The ethics of psychedelic research in disorders of consciousness. Neuroscience of Consciousness2019(1), niz013., https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niz013
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Spectral signatures of serotonergic psychedelics and glutamatergic dissociatives

Abstract

Classic serotonergic psychedelics are remarkable for their capacity to induce reversible alterations in consciousness of the self and the surroundings, mediated by agonism at serotonin 5-HT2A receptors. The subjective effects elicited by dissociative drugs acting as N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonists (e.g. ketamine and phencyclidine) overlap in certain domains with those of serotonergic psychedelics, suggesting some potential similarities in the brain activity patterns induced by both classes of drugs, despite different pharmacological mechanisms of action. We investigated source-localized magnetoencephalography recordings to determine the frequency-specific changes in oscillatory activity and long-range functional coupling that are common to two serotonergic compounds (lysergic acid diethylamide [LSD] and psilocybin) and the NMDA-antagonist ketamine. Administration of the three drugs resulted in widespread and broadband spectral power reductions. We established their similarity by using different pairs of compounds to train and subsequently evaluate multivariate machine learning classifiers. After applying the same methodology to functional connectivity values, we observed a pattern of occipital, parietal and frontal decreases in the low alpha and theta bands that were specific to LSD and psilocybin, as well as decreases in the low beta band common to the three drugs. Our results represent a first effort in the direction of quantifying the similarity of large-scale brain activity patterns induced by drugs of different mechanism of action, confirming the link between changes in theta and alpha oscillations and 5-HT2A agonism, while also revealing the decoupling of activity in the beta band as an effect shared between NMDA antagonists and 5-HT2A agonists. We discuss how these frequency-specific convergences and divergences in the power and functional connectivity of brain oscillations might relate to the overlapping subjective effects of serotonergic psychedelics and glutamatergic dissociative compounds.

Pallavicini, C., Vilas, M. G., Villarreal, M., Zamberlan, F., Muthukumaraswamy, S., Nutt, D., … & Tagliazucchi, E. (2019). Spectral signatures of serotonergic psychedelics and glutamatergic dissociatives. NeuroImage., 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.06.053
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Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scale study based on the semantic similarity of written reports.

Abstract

The real or perceived proximity to death often results in a non-ordinary state of consciousness characterized by phenomenological features such as the perception of leaving the body boundaries, feelings of peace, bliss and timelessness, life review, the sensation of traveling through a tunnel and an irreversible threshold. Near-death experiences (NDEs) are comparable among individuals of different cultures, suggesting an underlying neurobiological mechanism. Anecdotal accounts of the similarity between NDEs and certain drug-induced altered states of consciousness prompted us to perform a large-scale comparative analysis of these experiences. After assessing the semantic similarity between ≈15,000 reports linked to the use of 165 psychoactive substances and 625 NDE narratives, we determined that the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine consistently resulted in reports most similar to those associated with NDEs. Ketamine was followed by Salvia divinorum (a plant containing a potent and selective κ receptor agonist) and a series of serotonergic psychedelics, including the endogenous serotonin 2A receptor agonist N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). This similarity was driven by semantic concepts related to consciousness of the self and the environment, but also by those associated with the therapeutic, ceremonial and religious aspects of drug use. Our analysis sheds light on the long-standing link between certain drugs and the experience of “dying”, suggests that ketamine could be used as a safe and reversible experimental model for NDE phenomenology, and supports the speculation that endogenous NMDA antagonists with neuroprotective properties may be released in the proximity of death.
Martial, C., Cassol, H., Charland-Verville, V., Pallavicini, C., Sanz, C., Zamberlan, F., … & Tagliazucchi, E. (2019). Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scale study based on the semantic similarity of written reports. Consciousness and cognition69, 52-69., 10.1016/j.concog.2019.01.011
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Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scalestudy based on the semantic similarity of written reports

Abstract

The real or perceived proximity to death often results in a non-ordinary state of consciousness characterized by phenomenological features such as the perception of leaving the body boundaries, feelings of peace, bliss and timelessness, life review, the sensation of traveling through a tunnel and an irreversible threshold. Near-death experiences (NDEs) are comparable among individuals of different cultures, suggesting an underlying neurobiological mechanism. Anecdotal accounts of the similarity between NDEs and certain drug-induced altered states of consciousness prompted us to perform a large-scale comparative analysis of these experiences. After assessing the semantic similarity between 15,000 reports linked to the use of 165 psychoactive substances and 625 NDE narratives, we determined that the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine consistently resulted in reports most similar to those associated with NDEs. Ketamine was followed by Salvia divinorum (a plant containing a potent and selective κ receptor agonist) and a series of serotonergic psychedelics, including the endogenous serotonin 2A receptor agonist N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). This similarity was driven by semantic concepts related to consciousness of the self and the environment, but also by those associated with the therapeutic, ceremonial and religious aspects of drug use. Our analysis sheds light on the long-standing link between certain drugs and the experience of “dying“, suggests that ketamine could be used as a safe and reversible experimental model for NDE phenomenology, and supports the speculation that endogenous NMDA antagonists with neuroprotective properties may be released in the proximity of death.

Martial, C., Cassol, H., Charland-Verville, V., Pallavicini, C., Sanz, C., Zamberlan, F., … & Tagliazucchi, E. (2019). Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scale study based on the semantic similarity of written reports. Consciousness and cognition69, 52-69., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2019.01.011
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The Varieties of the Psychedelic Experience: A Preliminary Study of the Association Between the Reported Subjective Effects and the Binding Affinity Profiles of Substituted Phenethylamines and Tryptamines

Abstract

Classic psychedelics are substances of paramount cultural and neuroscientific importance. A distinctive feature of psychedelic drugs is the wide range of potential subjective effects they can elicit, known to be deeply influenced by the internal state of the user (“set”) and the surroundings (“setting”). The observation of cross-tolerance and a series of empirical studies in humans and animal models support agonism at the serotonin (5-HT)2A receptor as a common mechanism for the action of psychedelics. The diversity of subjective effects elicited by different compounds has been attributed to the variables of “set” and “setting,” to the binding affinities for other 5-HT receptor subtypes, and to the heterogeneity of transduction pathways initiated by conformational receptor states as they interact with different ligands (“functional selectivity”). Here we investigate the complementary (i.e., not mutually exclusive) possibility that such variety is also related to the binding affinity for a range of neurotransmitters and monoamine transporters including (but not limited to) 5-HT receptors. Building on two independent binding affinity datasets (compared to “in silico” estimates) in combination with natural language processing tools applied to a large repository of reports of psychedelic experiences (Erowid’s Experience Vaults), we obtained preliminary evidence supporting that the similarity between the binding affinity profiles of psychoactive substituted phenethylamines and tryptamines is correlated with the semantic similarity of the associated reports. We also showed that the highest correlation was achieved by considering the combined binding affinity for the 5-HT, dopamine (DA), glutamate, muscarinic and opioid receptors and for the Ca+ channel. Applying dimensionality reduction techniques to the reports, we linked the compounds, receptors, transporters and the Ca+ channel to distinct fingerprints of the reported subjective effects. To the extent that the existing binding affinity data is based on a low number of displacement curves that requires further replication, our analysis produced preliminary evidence consistent with the involvement of different binding sites in the reported subjective effects elicited by psychedelics. Beyond the study of this particular class of drugs, we provide a methodological framework to explore the relationship between the binding affinity profiles and the reported subjective effects of other psychoactive compounds.

Zamberlan, F., Sanz, C., Martinez Vivot, R., Pallavicini, C., Erowid, E., & Tagliazucchi, E. (2018). The varieties of the psychedelic experience: a preliminary study of the association between the reported subjective effects and the binding affinity profiles of substituted phenethylamines and tryptamines. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience12, 54., 10.3389/fnint.2018.00054.
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The experience elicited by hallucinogens presents the highest similarity to dreaming within a large database of psychoactive substance reports

Abstract

Ever since the modern rediscovery of psychedelic substances by Western society, several authors have independently proposed that their effects bear a high resemblance to the dreams and dreamlike experiences occurring naturally during the sleep-wake cycle. Recent studies in humans have provided neurophysiological evidence supporting this hypothesis. However, a rigorous comparative analysis of the phenomenology (“what it feels like” to experience these states) is currently lacking. We investigated the semantic similarity between a large number of subjective reports of psychoactive substances and reports of high/low lucidity dreams, and found that the highest-ranking substance in terms of the similarity to high lucidity dreams was the serotonergic psychedelic lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), whereas the highest-ranking in terms of the similarity to dreams of low lucidity were plants of the Datura genus, rich in deliriant tropane alkaloids.. Conversely, sedatives, stimulants, antipsychotics and antidepressants comprised most of the lowest-ranking substances. An analysis of the most frequent words in the subjective reports of dreams and hallucinogens revealed that terms associated with perception (“see”, “visual”, “face”, “reality”, “color”), emotion (“fear”), setting (“outside”, “inside”, “street”, “front”, “behind”) and relatives (“mom”, “dad”, “brother”, “parent”, “family”) were the most prevalent across both experiences. In summary, we applied novel quantitative analyses to a large volume of empirical data to confirm the hypothesis that, among all psychoactive substances, hallucinogen drugs elicit experiences with the highest semantic similarity to those of dreams. Our results and the associated methodological developments open the way to study the comparative phenomenology of different altered states of consciousness and its relationship with non-invasive measurements of brain physiology.
Tagliazucchi, E., & Sanz, C. (2018). The experience elicited by hallucinogens presents the highest similarity to dreaming within a large database of psychoactive substance reports. Frontiers in Neuroscience12, 7. 10.3389/fnins.2018.00007
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