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Experimenting With Drugs

While at Stanford in the mid-1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken Kesey started adding a peculiar ingredient to his homemade venison stew--LSD. Now, more than forty years later, the psychedelic pioneer's beloved drug is giving neuroscientists new clues about what causes schizophrenic psychosis.

While at Stanford in the mid-1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken Kesey started adding a peculiar ingredient to his homemade venison stew—LSD. Now, more than forty years later, the psychedelic pioneer's beloved drug is giving neuroscientists new clues about what causes schizophrenic psychosis. Their research was published this week in the journal Nature.

You've got a lot of chemical messengers naturally swimming in your brain. Serotonin and glutamate are two of them, and they have corresponding receptors to accept their chemical messages.

LSD is a chemical messenger too. When it binds to a serotonin receptor, the hallucinations kick in—but only if the serotonin receptor is hooked up to a glutamate receptor. The neuroscientists say this serotonin-glutamate receptor pair could be the culprit for both hallucinations and mental psychosis

Curiously, when neuroscientists added a chemical messenger to block the glutamate receptor, LSD didn't have any psychedelic effect. There's currently a drug in the second stage of clinical trials that does just that—block the glutamate receptor—and it may bring us one step closer to curing the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia.

This week's podcast guest hosted by Christopher Intagliata, an intern for Scientific American Mind.

60-Second Psych is a weekly podcast. Subscribe to this Podcast: RSS | iTunes

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