Could the descendants of LSD-dosed monkeys from the 1960s still be swinging in La Honda, California?

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They were so high you could hear them ma-cackling from a mile away.

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Psychedelics were once rumored to cause genetic damage, thanks to the fear-mongering and moral panicking in the late 60’s, and this has long since been debunked.

But I wonder they cause epigenetic changes, detectable in offspring?


Serious question, borne of ignorance: Aren’t “epigenetic changes” and “genetic damage” a matter of semantics? “Damage” implies “bad,” yes. But is this a Venn diagram with the “genetic damage” circle inside the “epigenetic change” circle?

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Tricky question depending on how you look at it. Let’s use the simple definition of epigenetics being the regulation, organization, and storage of genetic information. From this view, genetic damage would be alteration of the genes themselves, which can happen in multiple ways and which gradually accumulates in all of us as we age. Most of that damage is harmless and there are layers of robust regulation that prevent even harmful damage from compromising organ function or causing cancer. At the epigenetic level it’s a lot harder to qualify what counts as “damage”; is a heritable DNA methylation pattern that causes a 2% change in its target’s expression damaging, neutral, or beneficial? That depends on which target gene(s) it affects, e.g., small changes in Hox box developmental regulators cause way bigger issues than small changes in, say, MHC-II, where increased variation can actually be beneficial. But the question I think @joey_bladb was getting at relies on recent findings that traumatic conditioning can be epigenetically inherited in mice, suggesting heritable and transmissible changes in gene regulation that could have major consequences. To get at an answer for whether psychedelic use can cause such changes, we’d first need to get a much clearer idea of how psychedelic usage changes epigenetics in the parent.


Like most folks, I think getting animals stoned is off-limits, but then I think of McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory, and my mind starts to wander. . . .

It’s like a modern day version of the stoned ape theory playing out in real time. Love it!

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Interesting, thanks. I have generally understood “damage” to mean “change we don’t like, for one reason or another.”

Not what epigenetic means at all.
Epigenetics refers to heritable changes in gene expression independent of which genes are inhereted. Normal genetics looks at what genes we inheret from our parents and how environmental factors that we face influences the expression of those genes. It is becoming increasingly apparent that environmental factors also largely influence gene expression of future generations independent of which genes they inheret. This inhereted influence on gene expression based on parental environment is called epigenetics

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That’s the definition of epigenetics that was popularized in science media a few years ago, but it’s not quite what epigenetics researchers are working with. Epigenetic changes can be heritable, but epigenetic processes and the study thereof are not limited to just heritable changes.

epigenetics, a rapidly growing area of science that focuses on the processes that help direct when individual genes are turned on or off. While the cell’s DNA provides the instruction manual, genes also need specific instructions. In essence, epigenetic processes tell the cell to read specific pages of the instruction manual at distinct times.

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The researchers I know who study epigenetics (which is quite a few), all study inheritable changes. Otherwise, they just say they study gene expression. :man_shrugging:

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OK, I’m primarily in cancer and immuno research and we tend to use epigenetics specifically around regulation beyond transcription factors.

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Cool! I lived in La Honda back in the 1990s, but never heard about these monkeys.

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If there had been monkeys breeding in this area since the 1960s, they would be absolutely everywhere by now.

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And @xhonk, nobody can argue technojargon minutiae like science nerds. I feel smarter just listening!

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Just more fallout from Kesey’s classic Electric Kool-Ade Acid Tests. Yawn. I could take blame, too.

I didn’t intend to diverge into minutia. Really I just wanted to make the point that “storage of genetic information” is mainly in genes (so genetic rather than epigenetic) and I inadvertantly diverted into minutia of whether the term only applies to inhereted changes (which it apparently does not).

Back on topic, it gets too cold in winter for rhesus monkeys up there. They must have some shelter where they can get away from the cold if they’ve been able to keep a group going all these years. If I lived in the area, I’d hike around when its cold to find their spot (trying to find monkeys, even dosed ones, while there moving is really hard).

That wasn’t a complaint. I love listening to people discuss things that I have to stretch to understand. I’m getting to the age where I need to keep my brain nimble, and stretching is how I do that.


I hear there are some monkeys in California with a great way to keep the brain nimble :wink:

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The genome and epigenome are two different things. And “genetic damage” as a word was introduced in the late 60’s to frighten people (basically adults over 40) from using LSD (which they wouldn’t), as opposed to “changes” or “mutations” etc.

Indeed. This is one of the hot topics in popular science right now. There’s evidence for a theory that the children of adults who had suffered from childhood malnutrition inherited very robust metabolisms via their epigenome as a result. And people are looking at the long term negative effects of inter-generational racial trauma on the epigenomes of people of color.

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