OPEN Foundation

M. Kometer

Hallucinations Under Psychedelics and in the Schizophrenia Spectrum: An Interdisciplinary and Multiscale Comparison

Abstract

The recent renaissance of psychedelic science has reignited interest in the similarity of drug-induced experiences to those more commonly observed in psychiatric contexts such as the schizophrenia-spectrum. This report from a multidisciplinary working group of the International Consortium on Hallucinations Research (ICHR) addresses this issue, putting special emphasis on hallucinatory experiences. We review evidence collected at different scales of understanding, from pharmacology to brain-imaging, phenomenology and anthropology, highlighting similarities and differences between hallucinations under psychedelics and in the schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Finally, we attempt to integrate these findings using computational approaches and conclude with recommendations for future research.

Leptourgos, P., Fortier-Davy, M., Carhart-Harris, R., Corlett, P. R., Dupuis, D., Halberstadt, A. L., Kometer, M., Kozakova, E., LarØi, F., Noorani, T. N., Preller, K. H., Waters, F., Zaytseva, Y., & Jardri, R. (2020). Hallucinations Under Psychedelics and in the Schizophrenia Spectrum: An Interdisciplinary and Multiscale Comparison. Schizophrenia bulletin, 46(6), 1396–1408. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbaa117

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Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects

Abstract

Both psychedelics and meditation exert profound modulatory effects on consciousness, perception and cognition, but their combined, possibly synergistic effects on neurobiology are unknown. Accordingly, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 38 participants following a single administration of the psychedelic psilocybin (315 μg/kg p.o.) during a 5-day mindfulness retreat. Brain dynamics were quantified directly pre- and post-intervention by functional magnetic resonance imaging during the resting state and two meditation forms. The analysis of functional connectivity identified psilocybin-related and mental state–dependent alterations in self-referential processing regions of the default mode network (DMN). Notably, decoupling of medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, which is thought to mediate sense of self, was associated with the subjective ego dissolution effect during the psilocybin-assisted mindfulness session. The extent of ego dissolution and brain connectivity predicted positive changes in psycho-social functioning of participants 4 months later. Psilocybin, combined with meditation, facilitated neurodynamic modulations in self-referential networks, subserving the process of meditation by acting along the anterior–posterior DMN connection. The study highlights the link between altered self-experience and subsequent behavioral changes. Understanding how interventions facilitate transformative experiences may open novel therapeutic perspectives. Insights into the biology of discrete mental states foster our understanding of non-ordinary forms of human self-consciousness and their concomitant brain substrate.

Smigielski, L., Scheidegger, M., Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2019). Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects. NeuroImage196, 207-215., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.04.009
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Effect of psilocybin on empathy and moral decision-making

Abstract

Background:

Impaired empathic abilities lead to severe negative social consequences and influence the development and treatment of several psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, empathy has been shown to play a crucial role in moral and prosocial behaviour. Although the serotonin (5-HT) system has been implicated in modulating empathy and moral behaviour, the relative contribution of the various 5-HT receptor subtypes is still unknown.

Methods:

We investigated the acute effect of psilocybin (0.215mg/kg p.o.) in healthy human subjects on different facets of empathy and hypothetical moral decision-making using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET) (n=32) and the Moral Dilemma Task (MDT) (n=24).

Results:

Psilocybin significantly increased emotional, but not cognitive empathy compared to placebo, and the increase in implicit emotional empathy was significantly associated with psilocybin-induced changed meaning of percepts. In contrast, moral decision-making remained unaffected by psilocybin.

Conclusions:

These findings provide first evidence that psilocybin has distinct effects on social cognition by enhancing emotional empathy but not moral behaviour. Furthermore, together with previous findings psilocybin appears to promote emotional empathy presumably via activation of 5-HT2A/1A receptors suggesting that targeting 5-HT2A/1A receptors has implications for potential treatment of dysfunctional social cognition.

Pokorny, T., Preller, K. H., Kometer, M., Dziobek, I., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2017). Effect of psilocybin on empathy and moral decision-making. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1093/ijnp/pyx047

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Serotonergic Hallucinogen-Induced Visual Perceptual Alterations

Abstract

Serotonergic hallucinogens, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), are famous for their capacity to temporally and profoundly alter an individual’s visual experiences. These visual alterations show consistent attributes despite large inter- and intra-individual variances. Many reports document a common perception of colors as more saturated, with increased brightness and contrast in the environment (“Visual Intensifications”). Environmental objects might be altered in size (“Visual illusions”) or take on a modified and special meaning for the subject (“Altered self-reference”). Subjects may perceive light flashes or geometrical figures containing recurrent patterns (“Elementary imagery and hallucinations”) influenced by auditory stimuli (“Audiovisual synesthesia”), or they may envision images of people, animals, or landscapes (“Complex imagery and hallucinations”) without any physical stimuli supporting their percepts. This wide assortment of visual phenomena suggests that one single neuropsychopharmacological mechanism is unlikely to explain such vast phenomenological diversity. Starting with mechanisms that act at the cellular level, the key role of 5-HT2A receptor activation and the subsequent increased cortical excitation will be considered. Next, it will be shown that area specific anatomical and dynamical features link increased excitation to the specific visual contents of hallucinations. The decrease of alpha oscillations by hallucinogens will then be introduced as a systemic mechanism for amplifying internal-driven excitation that overwhelms stimulus-induced excitations. Finally, the hallucinogen-induced parallel decrease of the N170 visual evoked potential and increased medial P1 potential will be discussed as key mechanisms for inducing a dysbalance between global integration and early visual gain that may explain several hallucinogen-induced visual experiences, including visual hallucinations, illusions, and intensifications.

Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2016). Serotonergic Hallucinogen-Induced Visual Perceptual Alterations. 10.1007/7854_2016_461
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Psilocybin-induced spiritual experiences and insightfulness are associated with synchronization of neuronal oscillations

Abstract

Rationale

During the last years, considerable progress has been made toward understanding the neuronal basis of consciousness by using sophisticated behavioral tasks, brain-imaging techniques, and various psychoactive drugs. Nevertheless, the neuronal mechanisms underlying some of the most intriguing states of consciousness, including spiritual experiences, remain unknown.

Objectives

To elucidate state of consciousness-related neuronal mechanisms, human subjects were given psilocybin, a naturally occurring serotonergic agonist and hallucinogen that has been used for centuries to induce spiritual experiences in religious and medical rituals.

Methods

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 50 healthy human volunteers received a moderate dose of psilocybin, while high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings were taken during eyes-open and eyes-closed resting states. The current source density and the lagged phase synchronization of neuronal oscillations across distributed brain regions were computed and correlated with psilocybin-induced altered states of consciousness.

Results

Psilocybin decreased the current source density of neuronal oscillations at 1.5–20 Hz within a neural network comprising the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices and the parahippocampal regions. Most intriguingly, the intensity levels of psilocybin-induced spiritual experience and insightfulness correlated with the lagged phase synchronization of delta oscillations (1.5–4 Hz) between the retrosplenial cortex, the parahippocampus, and the lateral orbitofrontal area.

Conclusions

These results provide systematic evidence for the direct association of a specific spatiotemporal neuronal mechanism with spiritual experiences and enhanced insight into life and existence. The identified mechanism may constitute a pathway for modulating mental health, as spiritual experiences can promote sustained well-being and psychological resilience.

Kometer, M., Pokorny, T., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2015). Psilocybin-induced spiritual experiences and insightfulness are associated with synchronization of neuronal oscillations. Psychopharmacology, 1-14. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-015-4026-7

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Spatiotemporal Brain Dynamics of Emotional Face Processing Modulations Induced by the Serotonin 1A/2A Receptor Agonist Psilocybin

Abstract

Emotional face processing is critically modulated by the serotonergic system. For instance, emotional face processing is impaired by acute psilocybin administration, a serotonin (5-HT) 1A and 2A receptor agonist. However, the spatiotemporal brain mechanisms underlying these modulations are poorly understood. Here, we investigated the spatiotemporal brain dynamics underlying psilocybin-induced modulations during emotional face processing. Electrical neuroimaging analyses were applied to visual evoked potentials in response to emotional faces, following psilocybin and placebo administration. Our results indicate a first time period of strength (i.e., Global Field Power) modulation over the 168–189 ms poststimulus interval, induced by psilocybin. A second time period of strength modulation was identified over the 211–242 ms poststimulus interval. Source estimations over these 2 time periods further revealed decreased activity in response to both neutral and fearful faces within limbic areas, including amygdala and parahippocampal gyrus, and the right temporal cortex over the 168–189 ms interval, and reduced activity in response to happy faces within limbic and right temporo-occipital brain areas over the 211–242 ms interval. Our results indicate a selective and temporally dissociable effect of psilocybin on the neuronal correlates of emotional face processing, consistent with a modulation of the top-down control.

Bernasconi, F., Schmidt, A., Pokorny, T., Kometer, M., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2013). Spatiotemporal brain dynamics of emotional face processing modulations induced by the serotonin 1A/2A receptor agonist psilocybin. Cerebral Cortex, bht178. 10.1093/cercor/bht178
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Psilocybin Biases Facial Recognition, Goal-Directed Behavior, and Mood State Toward Positive Relative to Negative Emotions Through Different Serotonergic Subreceptors

Abstract

Background
Serotonin (5-HT) 1A and 2A receptors have been associated with dysfunctional emotional processing biases in mood disorders. These receptors further predominantly mediate the subjective and behavioral effects of psilocybin and might be important for its recently suggested antidepressive effects. However, the effect of psilocybin on emotional processing biases and the specific contribution of 5-HT2A receptors across different emotional domains is unknown.

Methods
In a randomized, double-blind study, 17 healthy human subjects received on 4 separate days placebo, psilocybin (215 g/kg), the preferential 5-HT2A antagonist ketanserin (50 mg), or psilocybin plus ketanserin. Mood states were assessed by self-report ratings, and behavioral and event-related potential measurements were used to quantify facial emotional recognition and goal-directed behavior toward emotional cues.

Results
Psilocybin enhanced positive mood and attenuated recognition of negative facial expression. Furthermore, psilocybin increased goal-directed behavior toward positive compared with negative cues, facilitated positive but inhibited negative sequential emotional effects, and valence-dependently attenuated the P300 component. Ketanserin alone had no effects but blocked the psilocybin-induced mood enhancement and decreased recognition of negative facial expression.

Conclusions
This study shows that psilocybin shifts the emotional bias across various psychological domains and that activation of 5-HT2A receptors is central in mood regulation and emotional face recognition in healthy subjects. These findings may not only have implications for the pathophysiology of dysfunctional emotional biases but may also provide a framework to delineate the mechanisms underlying psylocybin’s putative antidepressant effects.

Kometer, M., Schmidt, A., Bachmann, R., Studerus, E., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2012). Psilocybin Biases Facial Recognition, Goal-Directed Behavior, and Mood State Toward Positive Relative to Negative Emotions Through Different Serotonergic Subreceptors. Biological Psychiatry, 72(11), 898-906. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.04.005
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The NMDA antagonist ketamine and the 5-HT agonist psilocybin produce dissociable effects on structural encoding of emotional face expressions

Abstract

Rationale
Both glutamate and serotonin (5-HT) play a key role in the pathophysiology of emotional biases. Recent studies indicate that the glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine and the 5-HT receptor agonist psilocybin are implicated in emotion processing. However, as yet, no study has systematically compared their contribution to emotional biases.

Objectives
This study used event-related potentials (ERPs) and signal detection theory to compare the effects of the NMDA (via S-ketamine) and 5-HT (via psilocybin) receptor system on non-conscious or conscious emotional face processing biases.

Methods
S-ketamine or psilocybin was administrated to two groups of healthy subjects in a double-blind within-subject placebo-controlled design. We behaviorally assessed objective thresholds for non-conscious discrimination in all drug conditions. Electrophysiological responses to fearful, happy, and neutral faces were subsequently recorded with the face-specific P100 and N170 ERP.

Results
Both S-ketamine and psilocybin impaired the encoding of fearful faces as expressed by a reduced N170 over parieto-occipital brain regions. In contrast, while S-ketamine also impaired the encoding of happy facial expressions, psilocybin had no effect on the N170 in response to happy faces.

Conclusion
This study demonstrates that the NMDA and 5-HT receptor systems differentially contribute to the structural encoding of emotional face expressions as expressed by the N170. These findings suggest that the assessment of early visual evoked responses might allow detecting pharmacologically induced changes in emotional processing biases and thus provides a framework to study the pathophysiology of dysfunctional emotional biases.

Schmidt, A., Kometer, M., Bachmann, R., Seifritz, E., & Vollenweider, F.X. (2012). The NMDA antagonist ketamine and the 5-HT agonist psilocybin produce dissociable effects on structural encoding of emotional face expressions. Psychopharmacology, 225(1), 227-239. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1007/s00213-012-2811-0
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Psilocybin-Induced Deficits in Automatic and Controlled Inhibition are Attenuated by Ketanserin in Healthy Human Volunteers

Abstract

The serotonin-2A receptor (5-HT2AR) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia and related inhibitory gating and behavioral inhibition deficits of schizophrenia patients. The hallucinogen psilocybin disrupts automatic forms of sensorimotor gating and response inhibition in humans, but it is unclear so far whether the 5-HT2AR or 5-HT1AR agonist properties of its bioactive metabolite psilocin account for these effects. Thus, we investigated whether psilocybin-induced deficits in automatic and controlled inhibition in healthy humans could be attenuated by the 5-HT2A/2CR antagonist ketanserin. A total of 16 healthy participants received placebo,ketanserin (40 mg p.o.), psilocybin (260 µg/kg p.o.), or psilocybin plus ketanserin in a double-blind, randomized, and counterbalanced order. Sensorimotor gating was measured by prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the acoustic startle response. The effects on psychopathological core dimensions and behavioral inhibition were assessed by the altered states of consciousness questionnaire (5D-ASC), and the Color-Word Stroop Test. Psilocybin decreased PPI at short lead intervals (30 ms), increased all 5D-ASC scores, and selectively increased errors in the interference condition of the Stroop Test. Stroop interference and Stroop effect of the response latencies were increased under psilocybin as well. Psilocybin-induced alterations were attenuated by ketanserin pretreatment, whereas ketanserin alone had no significant effects. These findings suggest that the disrupting effects of psilocybin on automatic and controlled inhibition processes are attributable to 5-HT2AR stimulation. Sensorimotor gating and attentional control deficits of schizophrenia patients might be due to changes within the 5-HT2AR system.

Quednow, B. B., Kometer, M., Geyerand, M. A., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2012). Psilocybin-Induced Deficits in Automatic and Controlled Inhibition are Attenuated by Ketanserin in Healthy Human Volunteers. Neuropsychopharmacology, 37, 630-640. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.228
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The 5-HT2A/1A Agonist Psilocybin Disrupts Modal Object Completion Associated with Visual Hallucinations

Abstract

Background: Recent findings suggest that the serotonergic system and particularly the 5-HT2A/1A receptors are implicated in visual processing and possibly the pathophysiology of visual disturbances including hallucinations in schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.

Methods: To investigate the role of 5-HT2A/1A receptors in visual processing the effect of the hallucinogenic 5-HT2A/1A agonist psilocybin (125 and 250 μg/kg vs. placebo) on the spatiotemporal dynamics of modal object completion was assessed in normal volunteers (n = 17) using visual evoked potential recordings in conjunction with topographic-mapping and source analysis. These effects were then considered in relation to the subjective intensity of psilocybin-induced visual hallucinations quantified by psychometric measurement.

Results: Psilocybin dose-dependently decreased the N170 and, in contrast, slightly enhanced the P1 component selectively over occipital electrode sites. The decrease of the N170 was most apparent during the processing of incomplete object figures. Moreover, during the time period of the N170, the overall reduction of the activation in the right extrastriate and posterior parietal areas correlated positively with the intensity of visual hallucinations.

Conclusions: These results suggest a central role of the 5-HT2A/1A-receptors in the modulation of visual processing. Specifically, a reduced N170 component was identified as potentially reflecting a key process of 5-HT2A/1A receptor–mediated visual hallucinations and aberrant modal object completion potential.

Kometer, M., Cahn, B. R., Andel, D., Carter, O. L., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2011). The 5-HT2A/1A Agonist Psilocybin Disrupts Modal Object Completion Associated with Visual Hallucinations. Biological Psychiatry, 69, 399–406. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.10.002
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