Psychedelic Bibliographies

Advances in the History of Psychology, a blog operated out of York University, has posted annotated bibliographies of psychedelic research, both on general psychological research and on studies focusing specifically on LSD.

(Hah! And you thought I was just trying to make a strange juxtaposition in my title.)

The AHP folks note something which I find interesting but not wholly unexpected: while plenty of papers have been written about LSD and marijuana, the academic literature doesn’t appear to have histories dedicated to the two-carbon phenethylamines like 2C-B or other significant drugs like DMT, DOM or mescaline. These remarkable little molecules sometimes get mentioned in general discussions or in studies of other drugs, but they don’t appear to have peer-reviewed literature of their own. PiHKAL (1991) and TiHKAL (1997) seem to be the end of the line.

One unfortunate consequence of this lack is our inability to judge the universality of neurological reactions to chemical stimuli. In this context, I’d like to bring up the paper by Bressloff, Cowan, Golubitsky and Thomas in Neural Computation (2002), “What geometric visual hallucinations tell us about the visual cortex.”

Geometric visual hallucinations are seen by many observers after taking hallucinogens
such as LSD, cannabis, mescaline or psilocybin, on viewing bright flickering lights, on waking up or falling asleep, in “near death” experiences, and in many other syndromes. Klüver organized the images into four groups called “form constants”: (1) tunnels and funnels, (2) spirals, (3) lattices, including honeycombs and triangles, and (4) cobwebs. In general the images do not move with the eyes. We interpret this to mean that they are generated in the brain. Here we present a theory of their origin in visual cortex (area V1), based on the assumption that the form of the retino-cortical map and the architecture of V1 determine their geometry. We model V1 as the continuum limit of a lattice of interconnected hypercolumns, each of which itself comprises a number of interconnected iso-orientation columns. Based on anatomical evidence we assume that the lateral connectivity between hypercolumns exhibits symmetries rendering it invariant under the action of the Euclidean group [tex]E(2)[/tex], composed of reflections and translations in the plane, and a (novel) shift-twist action. Using this symmetry, we show that the various patterns of activity that spontaneously emerge when V1’s spatially uniform resting state becomes unstable, correspond to the form constants when transformed to the visual field using the retino-cortical map. The results are sensitive to the detailed specification of the lateral connectivity and suggest that the cortical mechanisms which generate geometric visual hallucinations are closely related to those used to process edges, contours, textures and surfaces.

It would certainly be interesting to know if lesser-studied drugs like the two-carbon phenethylamine family produce hallucinations which deviate from these “form constants.”