Semantic activation in LSD: evidence from picture naming

This study is part of the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme

Authors: Neiloufar Family, David Vinson, Gabriella Vigliocco, Mendel Kaelen, Mark Bolstridge, David J. Nutt & Robin L. Carhart-Harris

Published in: Language, Cognition and Neuroscience


Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a classic psychedelic drug that alters cognition in a characteristic way. It has been suggested that psychedelics expand the breadth of cognition via actions on the central nervous system. Previous work has shown changes in semantic processing under psilocybin (a related psychedelic to LSD) that are consistent with an increased spread of semantic activation. The present study investigates this further using a picture-naming task and the psychedelic, LSD. Ten participants completed the task under placebo and LSD. Results revealed significant effects of LSD on accuracy and error correction that were consistent with an increased spread of semantic activation under LSD. These results are consistent with a generalised “entropic” effect on the mind. We suggest incorporating direct neuroimaging measures in future studies, and to employ more naturalistic measures of semantic processing that may enhance ecological validity.

Keywords: Psychedelics, lysergic acid diethylamide, speech errors, production, psychopharmacology

"These findings are relevant for the renewed exploration of psychedelic psychotherapy, which are being developed for depression and other mental illnesses. The effects of LSD on language can result in a cascade of associations that allow quicker access to far away concepts stored in the mind."
Neiloufar Family

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