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Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(35):5627-37.

On the psychotropic effects of carbon dioxide.

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Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, Centre for Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Division of Experimental Medicine, Department of Medicine, Imperial College, 2nd floor Burlington Danes Building, Clinical Imaging Center, Hammersmith Hospital, 160 Du Cane Road, W120NN London, UK.


It has been well established that the inhalation of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) can induce in humans an emotion closely replicating spontaneous panic attacks, as defined by current psychiatry nosology. The purpose of this review is to provide a critical summary of the data regarding CO2's psychopharmacological properties and underlying mechanisms. The authors review the literature on the human and animal response for the exposure of exogenous CO2 focusing on five points of interest: 1) the early history of the use of CO2 as an anesthetic and therapeutic agent, 2) the subjective effects of breathing CO2 at different concentrations in humans, 3) the use of CO2 in experimental psychiatric research as an experimental model of panic, 4) the pharmacological modulation of CO2-induced responses, and 5) the putative neurobiological mechanisms underlying the affective state induced by CO2. The authors conclude with an evolutionary-inspired notion that CO2 might act as an agent of a primal emotion serving a homeostatic function, in the control of respiration and acid-base balance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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