Human behavioral pharmacology of psychedelics

This commentary (2021) provides an overview of the human behavioural pharmacology of the classic psychedelic; psilocybin, LSD and DMT. Special considerations when conducting human research with psychedelics are discussed as well as the subjective, physiological, and clinical effects of these substances.


“The past decade has witnessed a rapid growth of research on the basic science and clinical understanding of psychedelics. This chapter provides an overview of the human behavioural pharmacology of psychedelics focusing on three prototypic classic psychedelics—psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). A brief historical overview of the classic psychedelics and naming and drug classification is first specified. Next, special considerations in the conduct of human behavioural pharmacology work with psychedelics is described including the role of set and setting, mystical experience measurement, the use of effective blinding and placebos, and the abuse liability of psychedelics. Following, a description of the subjective, physiological, and clinical effects of psilocybin, LSD, and DMT is provided. This body of work clearly documents a unique and complex collection of subjective effects following psychedelic use, both during acute drug administration and as related to long-term behaviour change following use. Clinical research demonstrates potential therapeutic utility with early phase clinical trials showing positive and enduring effects in many difficult-to-treat conditions including treatment-resistant depression, alcohol use disorder, and cigarette smoking. Future work in this newly reemerged field is needed to reveal mechanisms of behaviour change in psychedelic drug action. Behavioural pharmacology is ultimately well served to provide this direction answering questions at the intersection of environment and pharmacology.”

Authors: Justin C. Strickland & Matthew W. Johnson

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Human behavioral pharmacology of psychedelics

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Published in
Academic Psychiatry
November 11, 2021
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Study details

Compounds studied
Psilocybin LSD DMT

Topics studied

Study characteristics

0 Humans


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Matthew Johnson
Matthew Johnson is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. His research is concerned with addiction medicine, drug abuse, and drug dependence.


Institutes associated with this publication

Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University (Medicine) is host to the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, which is one of the leading research institutes into psychedelics. The center is led by Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson.