The classic serotonergic hallucinogens, or psychedelics, have the ability to profoundly alter perception and behavior. These can include visual distortions, hallucinations, detachment from reality, and mystical experiences. Some psychedelics, like LSD, are able to produce these effects with remarkably low doses of drug. Others, like psilocybin, have recently been demonstrated to have significant clinical efficacy in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and addiction that persist for at least several months after only a single therapeutic session. How does this occur? Much work has recently been published from imaging studies showing that psychedelics alter brain network connectivity. They facilitate a disintegration of the default mode network, producing a hyperconnectivity between brain regions that allow centers that do not normally communicate with each other to do so. The immediate and acute effects on both behaviors and network connectivity are likely mediated by effector pathways downstream of serotonin 5-HT2A receptor activation. These acute molecular processes also influence gene expression changes, which likely influence synaptic plasticity and facilitate more long-term changes in brain neurochemistry ultimately underlying the therapeutic efficacy of a single administration to achieve long-lasting effects. In this review, we summarize what is currently known about the molecular genetic responses to psychedelics within the brain and discuss how gene expression changes may contribute to altered cellular physiology and behaviors.
Keywords: 5-HT2A; Gene expression; IEG; Psychedelics.