Psychedelic drugs show promise as safe and effective treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders, yet their mechanisms of action are not fully understood. A fundamental hypothesis is that psychedelics work by dose-dependently changing the functional hierarchy of brain dynamics, but it is unclear whether different psychedelics act similarly. Here, we investigated the changes in the brain’s functional hierarchy associated with two different psychedelics (LSD and psilocybin). Using a novel turbulence framework, we were able to determine the vorticity, that is, the local level of synchronization, that allowed us to extend the standard global time-based measure of metastability to become a local-based measure of both space and time. This framework produced detailed signatures of turbulence-based hierarchical change for each psychedelic drug, revealing consistent and discriminate effects on a higher level network, that is, the default mode network. Overall, our findings directly support a prior hypothesis that psychedelics modulate (i.e., “compress”) the functional hierarchy and provide a quantification of these changes for two different psychedelics. Implications for therapeutic applications of psychedelics are discussed.

Significant progress has been made in understanding the effects of psychedelics on brain function. One of the main hypotheses is that psychedelics work by changing the functional hierarchy of brain dynamics in a dose-dependent manner, modulating the encoding of the precision of priors, beliefs, or assumptions in the brain. We used a novel turbulence framework to investigate the changes in the brain’s functional hierarchy associated with two different psychedelics (LSD and psilocybin). This framework produced detailed signatures of turbulence-based hierarchical change for each psychedelic drug, revealing consistent and discriminate effects on a higher level network, that is, the default mode network.

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Author notes

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Handling Editor: Olaf Sporns

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