OPEN Foundation

L. Robertson

Investigating the Mechanisms of Hallucinogen-Induced Visions Using 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA): A Randomized Controlled Trial in Humans

Abstract

Background: The mechanisms of drug-induced visions are poorly understood. Very few serotonergic hallucinogens have been studied in humans in decades, despite widespread use of these drugs and potential relevance of their mechanisms to hallucinations occurring in psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Methodology/Principal Findings: We investigated the mechanisms of hallucinogen-induced visions by measuring the visual and perceptual effects of the hallucinogenic serotonin 5-HT2AR receptor agonist and monoamine releaser, 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), in a double-blind placebo-controlled study. We found that MDA increased self-report measures of mystical-type experience and other hallucinogen-like effects, including reported visual alterations. MDA produced a significant increase in closed-eye visions (CEVs), with considerable individual variation. Magnitude of CEVs after MDA was associated with lower performance on measures of contour integration and object recognition.

Conclusions/Significance: Drug-induced visions may have greater intensity in people with poor sensory or perceptual processing, suggesting common mechanisms with other hallucinatory syndromes. MDA is a potential tool to investigate mystical experiences and visual perception.

Baggott, M. J., Siegrist, J. D., Galloway, G. P., Robertson, L. C., Coyle, J. R., & Mendelson, J. E. (2010). Investigating the Mechanisms of Hallucinogen-Induced Visions Using 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA): A Randomized Controlled Trial in Humans. PLoS ONE, 5(12), 1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014074
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Abnormal visual experiences in individuals with histories of hallucinogen use: A web-based questionnaire

Abstract

Despite longstanding reports of prolonged or reoccurring perceptual changes in a subset of hallucinogen users, very little is known about Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder and related visual abnormalities in hallucinogen users. We used an online questionnaire to document the symptoms and relationship to drug use of unusual visual phenomena in hallucinogen users. 16,192 individuals viewed the information sheet and 2679 were included in the study. Of these, 224 reported having unrelated diagnoses associated with unusual visual experiences and were excluded from main analyses. Most (60.6%) of the remaining 2455 participants reported having experienced drug-free visual experiences that resembled hallucinogen effects. Probability of experiencing constant or near-constant symptoms was predicted by greater past exposure to specific hallucinogens, including lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Although symptoms were common, few (104, or 4.2% of the sample) found them distressing or impairing enough to consider seeking treatment. Visual changes in hallucinogen users may be more common than previously suspected and are worthy of further study.

Baggott, M. J., Coyle, J. R., Erowid, E., Erowid, F., & Robertson, L. C. (2011). Abnormal visual experiences in individuals with histories of hallucinogen use: A web-based questionnaire. Drug and alcohol dependence, 114(1), 61-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.09.006
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