Psychedelics are a class of drugs which induce profound altered states of consciousness, including acute alterations in perception and cognition, and amplified emotional states. Substances include classic psychedelics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and empathogens like methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).

Recently, there has been renewed interest into the therapeutic potential of these substances for disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Clinical studies and anecdotal reports suggest that they may provide therapeutic relief for individuals whom current treatment options are ineffective (see Figure 1). However the underlying mechanisms of action of these substances have yet to be fully elucidated.

Utilizing multimodal study designs, our research focuses on assessing the neurobiological and cognitive mechanisms (see Figure 2) of psychedelic drugs, with a particular focus on those which may lead to enhancements in psychological well-being. We examine these processes via experimental, naturalistic, and survey studies.



Figure 1. Raincloud plot from our study assessing the effects of psilocybin on glutamate concentrations in key regions of the brain, demonstrating that compared to placebo, psilocybin increases glutamate in the medial prefrontal cortex (A), and decreases it in the hippocampus (C). Interestingly, concentrations of glutamate correlated with the experience of ego dissolution. (Mason et al., 2020)



Figure 2. Results from a survey study, demonstrating that psychedelic users who self-medicate report higher ratings of effectiveness of psychedelic drugs as treatment for their mental health disorder, compared to treatments offered by a medical professional (Mason & Kuypers, 2018)



Figure 3. An example of a previously published report, demonstrating that ayahuasca enhances creative, divergent thinking. Importantly, by increasing psychological flexibility, ayahuasca may facilitate psychotherapeutic interventions and support clinical trial initiatives (Kuypers et al., 2016).