The neurobiology and neuropharmacology of psychedelic-induced altered states of consciousness

Katrin Preller, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics, University of Zurich


Psychedelics exert unique effects on consciousness. Studying these altered states and their underlying neuropharmacology and neurobiology gives us important insights into the nature of consciousness. Furthermore, investigating deviations from normal waking states can reveal neural mechanisms that are important for increasing our understanding of psychiatric disorders. Renewed interest in the potentially beneficial clinical effects of psychedelics additionally warrants a better understanding of their underlying neurobiology.

This talk will present recent results obtained in our studies investigating the effects of psilocybin and LSD on brain activity and connectivity. Using novel brain imaging methods, we pinpoint the role of the thalamic filter and the integration and disintegration of sensorimotor and associative networks respectively in altered states. Furthermore, I will discuss the role of the serotonin 2A receptor in psychedelic-induced altered states in humans and the implications for potential treatments of psychiatric patients. 

Our results thus attenuate major knowledge-gaps regarding the neurobiology and neuropharmacology of psychedelics and the nature of psychedelic-induced alterations in consciousness. Furthermore, they increase our mechanistic understanding of important cognitive processes and therefore offer directions for the development of novel therapeutics.