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Double-blind comparison of the two hallucinogens psilocybin and dextromethorphan: similarities and differences in subjective experiences

  • Carbonaro, Theresa M.1
  • Johnson, Matthew W.1
  • Hurwitz, Ethan1
  • Griffiths, Roland R.1, 2
  • 1 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 5510 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD, 21224-6823, USA , Baltimore (United States)
  • 2 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Neuroscience, 5510 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD, 21224-6823, USA , Baltimore (United States)
Published Article
Publication Date
Nov 07, 2017
DOI: 10.1007/s00213-017-4769-4
Springer Nature


RationaleAlthough psilocybin and dextromethorphan (DXM) are hallucinogens, they have different receptor mechanisms of action and have not been directly compared.ObjectiveThis study compared subjective, behavioral, and physiological effects of psilocybin and dextromethorphan under conditions that minimized expectancy effects.MethodsSingle, acute oral doses of psilocybin (10, 20, 30 mg/70 kg), DXM (400 mg/70 kg), and placebo were administered under double-blind conditions to 20 healthy participants with histories of hallucinogen use. Instructions to participants and staff minimized expectancy effects. Various subjective, behavioral, and physiological effects were assessed after drug administration.ResultsHigh doses of both drugs produced similar increases in participant ratings of peak overall drug effect strength, with similar times to maximal effect and time-course. Psilocybin produced orderly dose-related increases on most participant-rated subjective measures previously shown sensitive to hallucinogens. DXM produced increases on most of these same measures. However, the high dose of psilocybin produced significantly greater and more diverse visual effects than DXM including greater movement and more frequent, brighter, distinctive, and complex (including textured and kaleidoscopic) images and visions. Compared to DXM, psilocybin also produced significantly greater mystical-type and psychologically insightful experiences and greater absorption in music. In contrast, DXM produced larger effects than psilocybin on measures of disembodiment, nausea/emesis, and light-headedness. Both drugs increased systolic blood pressure, heart rate, and pupil dilation and decreased psychomotor performance and balance.ConclusionsPsilocybin and DXM produced similar profiles of subjective experiences, with psilocybin producing relatively greater visual, mystical-type, insightful, and musical experiences, and DXM producing greater disembodiment.

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