The chemical induction of synaesthesia

Luke, David P.; Lungu, Laura; Friday, Ross and Terhune, Devin Blair. 2022. The chemical induction of synaesthesia. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 37(4), e2832. ISSN 0885-6222 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Objective: Preliminary research suggests that experiences resembling synaesthesia are frequently reported under the influence of a diverse range of chemical substances although the incidence, chemical specificity, and characteristics of these effects are poorly understood.

Methods: Here we surveyed recreational drug users and self-reported developmental synaesthetes regarding their use of 28 psychoactive drugs comprising 12 different drug classes and whether they had experienced synaesthesia under the influence of these substances.

Results: The drug class tryptamines exhibited the highest incidence rates of drug-induced synaesthesia in controls and induction rates of novel forms of synaesthesia in developmental synaesthetes. Induction incidence rates in controls were strongly correlated with the corresponding induction and enhancement rates in developmental synaesthetes. In addition, the use of LSD was the strongest predictor of drug-induced synaesthesia in both controls and developmental synaesthetes. Clear evidence was observed for a clustering of synaesthesiainduction rates as a function of drug class in both groups, denoting non-random incidence rates within drug classes. Sound-colour synaesthesia was the most commonly observed type of induced synaesthesia. Further analyses suggest the presence of synaesthesia-prone individuals, who were more likely to experience drug-induced synaesthesia with multiple drugs.

Conclusions: These data corroborate the hypothesized link between drug-induced synaesthesia and serotoninergic activity, but also suggest the possibility of alternative neurochemical pathways involved in the induction of synaesthesia. They further suggest that the induction and modulation of synaesthesia in controls and developmental synaesthetes share overlapping mechanisms and that certain individuals may be more susceptible to experiencing induced synaesthesia with different drugs.

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This study was supported by the University of Greenwich Research and Enterprise Investment Programme (RAE-HSC-006/11).DBT was supported by the Cogito Foundation.

The data that support the findings of this study are openly available in OSF at


consciousness; dopamine; perception; psychedelics; serotonin

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4 January 2022Accepted
19 January 2022Published Online
July 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

10 Jan 2022 16:42

Last Modified:

15 Aug 2022 14:01

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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