Psychedelics and Brain Neuroplasticity

Original Editor - Lucinda hampton

Top Contributors - Lucinda hampton, Vidya Acharya and Kim Jackson  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Psychedelics are psychoactive substances which can alter the way the brain functions and are belong to the ‘hallucinogens' family. More precisely are a type of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) receptor agonist that can lead to intense alterations in perception, cognition and mood[1]. Psychedelics are recently being identified as a possible option to treat a wide range of brain disorders including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorder and possibly even prove to have therapeutic potential for treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.[2]

Action[edit | edit source]

The brain's default mode network (DMN) is a collection of regions that are active when we are not focused not on what is happening around us. The DMN is also active when doing tasks that need us to remember past events or imagine upcoming events. One theory is that the network makes it easier to construction mental models (simulations) that can be adapted in many contexts.[3]

Psychedelics seem to suppress the default networks of the brain. One likely outcome is the relaxing of the separation of our senses, memories, thoughts and emotions, so they can influence each other more readily. The default mode network relies on low-frequency oscillations of about one fluctuation per second, and uses a small amount of energy. This DMN deactivates when we direct out attention to a task/goal at rest.

Psychedelics seemingly have the power to suppress the DMN and make available many more pathways between regions of the brain that don't usually "talk" much together, unfastening the separation of our eg. emotions, memories, and senses. An interesting fact about psychedelics is that just a dose, or several doses, in humans have a longterm effect on actions, attitudes, emotional state, and personality.[4]

Recent finding show psychedelics induce molecular and cellular adaptations connected to neuroplasticity, which can then be harnessed for treatment in eg many mental and possible brain injury/degenerative disorders.[5] Psychedelics increase the level of neurotrophic factors promoting nerve survival, boost neuronal growth, and have produce potent anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system.[2]

Viewing[edit | edit source]

The below 4 minute video "How Psychedelics Change the Brain" is worth watching.


In Rehabilitation[edit | edit source]

In many mental health disorders (see above) psychedelics can potentially be harnessed for the actions they bring about:

  • More open to suggestions: People using psychedelics may be more responsive to affirmative suggestions from a therapist. This is useful in cognitive behavioural therapy.
  • Neurotransmitter alterations: Certain psychedelic drugs have the ability to act on neurotransmitters, changing the brain’s circuits and improving mood[7].

The Future[edit | edit source]

Research currently is underway looking into:

  • Psychedelics profound acute effects on perception, cognition and their longterm effects, which underlie the long-term changes in mental health.[8]
  • Their potential effects on neurodegenerative diseases, as they have been shown to have strong effects on structural and functional neuroplasticity and inflammation[2].

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Kwan AC, Olson DE, Preller KH, Roth BL. The neural basis of psychedelic action. Nature Neuroscience. 2022 Nov;25(11):1407-19.Available: (accessed 3.10.2023)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Saeger HN, Olson DE. Psychedelic‐inspired approaches for treating neurodegenerative disorders. Journal of Neurochemistry. 2022 Jul;162(1):109-27.Available: (accessed 3.10.2023)
  3. Buckner RL. The brain's default network: origins and implications for the study of psychosis. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 2022 Apr 1.Available: (accessed 4.10.2023)
  4. Grieco SF, Castrén E, Knudsen GM, Kwan AC, Olson DE, Zuo Y, Holmes TC, Xu X. Psychedelics and neural plasticity: therapeutic implications. Journal of Neuroscience. 2022 Nov 9;42(45):8439-49.Available: (accessed 4.10.2023)
  5. De Vos CM, Mason NL, Kuypers KP. Psychedelics and neuroplasticity: a systematic review unraveling the biological underpinnings of psychedelics. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2021 Sep 10;12:724606.Available: (accessed 3.10.2023)
  6. NOVA PBS Official . How Psychedelics Change the Brain. Available from:
  7. What to know about psychedelic therapy Medical news today Available: (accessed 11.10.2023)
  8. Banks MI, Zahid Z, Jones NT, Sultan ZW, Wenthur CJ. Catalysts for change: the cellular neurobiology of psychedelics. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 2021 Jun 1;32(12):1135-44.Available: 4.10.2023)