The neural basis of psychedelic action

Nat Neurosci. 2022 Nov;25(11):1407-1419. doi: 10.1038/s41593-022-01177-4. Epub 2022 Oct 24.


Psychedelics are serotonin 2A receptor agonists that can lead to profound changes in perception, cognition and mood. In this review, we focus on the basic neurobiology underlying the action of psychedelic drugs. We first discuss chemistry, highlighting the diversity of psychoactive molecules and the principles that govern their potency and pharmacokinetics. We describe the roles of serotonin receptors and their downstream molecular signaling pathways, emphasizing key elements for drug discovery. We consider the impact of psychedelics on neuronal spiking dynamics in several cortical and subcortical regions, along with transcriptional changes and sustained effects on structural plasticity. Finally, we summarize neuroimaging results that pinpoint effects on association cortices and thalamocortical functional connectivity, which inform current theories of psychedelic action. By synthesizing knowledge across the chemical, molecular, neuronal, and network levels, we hope to provide an integrative perspective on the neural mechanisms responsible for the acute and enduring effects of psychedelics on behavior.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Hallucinogens* / chemistry
  • Hallucinogens* / metabolism
  • Hallucinogens* / pharmacology
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists


  • Hallucinogens
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists