Neuronal Network and Neurotransmitter Dynamics Underlying Psychedelic-Induced Altered States of Consciousness in Humans


Vollenweider will present his work using state-of the-art neuroimaging tools to explore the brain activity patterns underlying the psychological dimensions of psychedelic-induced altered states of consciousness (ASC). The results show that the three key dimensions of ASCs, Oceanic boundlessness, Anxious ego-dissolution and Visions as originally described by Dittrich (1985), relate to circumscribed activity changes in different neuronal networks. Furthermore, he will also present novel data showing that the 5-HT2A neuroreceptor in human brain and its interactions with the glutamate system in prefrontal cortex plays a key role in the mechanism of action of classic hallucinogens such as psilocybin, and will discuss the implication of this recent finding for the understanding and putative treatment of some psychiatric disorders.


Franz X. Vollenweider, M.D. received his MD degree at the University of Zurich. He completed his doctoral thesis in experimental medicine at the Institute of Toxicology of the University and ETH of Zurich, was trained in neurochemistry at the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich and in neuroimaging at the PET Center of the PSI-ETH. In 1994 he became certified in psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis. He is currently the Director of the Psychopharmacology and Brain Imaging Research Unit at the University Hospital of Psychiatry, and holds the position of Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, University of Zurich.

Over the recent years, Dr. Vollenweider's research interests have increasingly focused on the understanding of the neural basis of drug (e.g. psychedelic) and non-drug (e.g. pathological) – induced altered states of consciousness. In search of the neuronal correlates of altered states, the subjective and neurobiological effects of classic hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics and psychostimulants have been assessed in more than 500 healthy human volunteers using neuropsychological and brain imaging methods such as positron emission tomography and high density electroencephalography, and measures of information processing.

Over the last decade, Dr. Vollenweider's research has been continuously funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Swiss Federal Health Office, and the Heffter Reseach Institute (USA). He has received the Achievement Award of the Swiss Society of Psychiatry (1990), the Heffter Research Institute Award (1997), the Gštz Prize (2000) of the University of Zurich, and the British Association of Psychopharmacology Prize (2002). He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers, including many addressing the mechanisms subserving the effects of psychostimulants, hallucinogens, and entactogens.

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