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Psychedelic Neuroscience
David Nichols, Ph.D., and Franz Vollenweider, M.D.

Full-Day Workshop: Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Basic Science of Psychedelics
The first part of the workshop will be given by Dr. David Nichols. He will make no assumptions about the level of knowledge of the participants and will start his discussions covering basic pharmacology principles, such as how drugs bind to receptors, and how to interpret dose-response curves. That will serve as a backdrop for discussions specific to understanding the preclinical actions of psychedelics, and the receptor basis for their actions in the brain. What happens after a psychedelic binds to the receptor? How is a cellular signal generated? A computer-based model of the target for psychedelics, the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor, as well as a recent x-ray crystallographic structure of the 5-HT2B receptor will be discussed. There will be a general discussion of how mutations in the 5-HT2A receptor were used to lead to understanding better how psychedelics bind to the receptor. Also, examples of an approach called “rigid analogue” design will be presented, and how certain rigid analogues of LSD and phenethylamine compounds led to hypotheses about the orientation of different psychedelics when they bind to the receptor.

Recent Advances in the Neurobiology of Psychedelics: From Theory to Practice
Classic serotonergic hallucinogens or psychedelics such as psilocybin or LSD produce an Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) that is characterized by profound alterations in sensory perception, mood, thought, the perception of reality, and the sense of self. Recent developments in neuroimaging and computational neuroscience have dramatically changed the empirical study and explanation of psychedelic-induced ASCs. These developments have led to new insights into the molecular, cellular, and system basis of different psychological features and dimensions of psychedelic states, including visual experiences and ego dissolution. Recent studies have also begun to identify the neuronal mechanism of how psychedelics facilitate emotion processing, social cognition, and memory recollection. This work has shifted our understanding of how psychedelic may improve affective disorders - away from a mere acute symptom reduction to a psychedelic-driven facilitation of neuronal plasticity and an enduring symptom improvement and behavioral change. This research has also led to the identification of promising candidate physiological markers and out-come measures which are important for the application of psychedelics in the treatment of affective disorders.

The workshop will review these advances and address important emerging areas. Emphasis will be led on cutting-edge methods and hypotheses for understanding psychedelic states. Franz X. Vollenweider will describe research strategies to identify molecular, cellular, and circuit-based correlates of psychedelic-induced psychological dimensions (e.g. altered time sense, hallucinations, and ego dissolution) with an emphasis on the assessment and cartography of the subjective experiences. Katrin Preller review new insight into the effect of psychedelics on emotion regulation and cognitive functions, and discuss how behavioral and neuroimaging approaches can shed light on the effect of psychedelics on emotion processing, empathy, and social interaction. The role of glutamate and synaptic plasticity in learning and memory, and it implication for affective disorders will also be discussed. The workshop will be an interactive, multidisciplinary forum.


Prof. Franz X. Vollenweider, M.D., F.M.H. Psych, is Director of the Centre for Psychiatric Research in the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics (DPPP), and Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, University of Zurich. His current research focuses on the foundations of the sense of self, emotion regulation, and social interaction, relevant for human well being and for the further understanding of mental disorders related to these domains. In 1999, he founded the Heffter Research Centre Zürich at the DPPP and recently the Swiss Neuromatrix Foundation to support multidisciplinary studies into the mind-brain interface of pharmacological (e.g. psychedelic) and non-pharmacological (e.g. meditation) induced altered mental states. He has published over 150 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on the neurobiology of psychostimulants, psychedelics, and entactogens in humans. His research has been continuously supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Federal Health Office, the Heffter Research Institute, USA, and by multiple AWARDS from NARSAD and the Fetzer Institute, USA. He has received the Achievement Award of the Swiss Society of Psychiatry, the Heffter Research Institute Award, the Götz Prize of the University of Zurich, the British Association of Psychopharmacology Prize, and multiple Awards from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, among others.

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