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BioMed Research International
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 307106, 9 pages
Review Article

Pharmacology of Hallucinations: Several Mechanisms for One Single Symptom?

1Department of Addictionology, CHU Lille, 59037 Lille, France
2Department of Pharmacology, Univ Lille Nord de France, EA 1046, 59000 Lille, France
3Functional Neurosciences & Disorders Laboratory, Université Lille Nord de France, EA 4559, 59000 Lille, France
4Department of Pediatric Psychiatry, CHU Lille, 59037 Lille, France
5Department of Psychiatry, CHU Lille, 59037 Lille, France

Received 18 February 2014; Accepted 11 May 2014; Published 4 June 2014

Academic Editor: Changyang Gong

Copyright © 2014 Benjamin Rolland et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Hallucinations are complex misperceptions, that principally occur in schizophrenia or after intoxication induced by three main classes of drugs: psychostimulants, psychedelics, and dissociative anesthetics. There are at least three different pharmacological ways to induce hallucinations: (1) activation of dopamine D2 receptors (D2Rs) with psychostimulants, (2) activation of serotonin 5HT2A receptors (HT2ARs) with psychedelics, and (3) blockage of glutamate NMDA receptors (NMDARs) with dissociative anesthetics. In schizophrenia, the relative importance of NMDAR and D2R in the occurrence of hallucinations is still debated. Slight clinical differences are observed for each etiology. Thus, we investigated whether the concept of hallucination is homogenous, both clinically and neurobiologically. A narrative review of the literature is proposed to synthesize how the main contributors in the field have approached and tried to solve these outstanding questions. While some authors prefer one explanatory mechanism, others have proposed more integrated theories based on the different pharmacological psychosis models. In this review, such theories are discussed and faced with the clinical data. In addition, the nosological aspects of hallucinations and psychosis are addressed. We suggest that if there may be common neurobiological pathways between the different pharmacological systems that are responsible for the hallucinations, there may also be unique properties of each system, which explains the clinical differences observed.