Studies In The Laboratory

Since alterations in sensory behavior, such as hallucinations, cannot be observed directly, it is very difficult to examine these effects in laboratory animals. One way to investigate a drug's effect on sensory behavior is to train animals to behave differently in the presence of different types of visual or auditory stimuli. If a drug changes the animal's behavior, it is possible that these changes in behavior are due to a change in how well the animal hears or sees the stimuli. Another type of procedure examines howintense (e.g., how loud or how bright) a stimulus has to be for an organism to hear or see it. In these procedures, the intensity required to hear or see a stimulus is determined before a drug is given and then it is compared to the intensity required to hear or see the stimulus after the drug is given.

In general, drugs such as mescaline, LSD, and THC do not alter an animal's ability to tell the difference between visual or auditory stimuli—nor do they alter visual or auditory thresholds. This lack of effect in animals suggests one of two explanations: either drugs such as LSD produce different effects in animals than they do in people, or, more likely, the procedures that are used to study alterations in sensory behavior in animals do not measure the unique ways in which drugs such as LSD alter sensory behavior.

Conversely, MDMA testing has found comparable results in both animals and humans. A late 1990s study (conducted on red squirrel monkeys) at Johns Hopkins University showed that MDMA has damaging effects on memory. Published in 2000, a British study of both current and previous MDMA users has discovered both immediate and delayed memory deficits.

(See also: Complications; Inhalants; Opiates/Opi-oids; Research; Research, Animal Model)


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