Rationale: Accumulating evidence indicates that the mixed serotonin and dopamine receptor agonist lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) induces an altered state of consciousness that resembles dreaming.
Objectives: This study aimed to test the hypotheses that LSD produces dreamlike waking imagery and that this imagery depends on 5-HT2A receptor activation and is related to subjective drug effects.
Methods: Twenty-five healthy subjects performed an audiorecorded guided mental imagery task 7 h after drug administration during three drug conditions: placebo, LSD (100 mcg orally) and LSD together with the 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ketanserin (40 mg orally). Cognitive bizarreness of guided mental imagery reports was quantified as a standardised formal measure of dream mentation. State of consciousness was evaluated using the Altered State of Consciousness (5D-ASC) questionnaire.
Results: LSD, compared with placebo, significantly increased cognitive bizarreness (p < 0.001). The LSD-induced increase in cognitive bizarreness was positively correlated with the LSD-induced loss of self-boundaries and cognitive control (p < 0.05). Both LSD-induced increases in cognitive bizarreness and changes in state of consciousness were fully blocked by ketanserin.
Conclusions: LSD produced mental imagery similar to dreaming, primarily via activation of the 5-HT2A receptor and in relation to loss of self-boundaries and cognitive control. Future psychopharmacological studies should assess the differential contribution of the D2/D1 and 5-HT1A receptors to cognitive bizarreness.
Keywords: 5-HT2A receptor; Cognitive bizarreness; Dreams; Guided mental imagery; Healthy subjects; Ketanserin; LSD; Self-boundaries and cognitive control; Visual hallucinations.