Tag Archives: ayahuasca

Ayahuasca relieves depression and anxiety, finds study on nearly 12,000 users

Ayahuasca brewing in Peru. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Ayahuasca is a powerful hallucinogenic tea that has been brewed in the Amazon rainforest for thousands of years. Although the brew’s main active ingredient, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is illegal in most countries, recent research suggests the drug may have significant therapeutic properties in the context of improving depression and anxiety symptoms. A new study published this week — the largest thus far on ayahuasca — adds weight to this body of evidence.

The Global Ayahuasca Project was conducted between 2017 and 2020 and involved more than 11,000 individuals, 7,785 of whom suffered from symptoms of depression or anxiety at the time they took the drug. The participants had to fill an online self-reported questionnaire designed to measure mental health outcomes among Ayahuasca users.

The results were impressive, to say the least. Nearly 94% of the respondents experienced at least some sort of improvement in their depression symptoms, ranging from “a bit” and “great” to the complete resolution of their depression. The same was reported in 90% of cases for anxiety symptoms.

Users who reported profound mystical experiences tended to report the greatest improvements in their depression or anxiety symptoms. Similarly, insights into one’s personal relationships following Ayahuasca use were also correlated with improved mental health outcomes.

However, a small fraction actually saw their mental health deteriorate following Ayahuasca use. About 2.7% of respondents reported worsened depression symptoms and 4.4% reported worsened anxiety symptoms. The researchers found that feeling lonely, nervous, anxious or on edge, as well as depressed or hopeless in the weeks immediately following Ayahuasca consumption were predictors of worsened symptoms.

“Drinkers of Ayahuasca in naturalistic settings perceived remarkable benefits for their affective symptoms in this survey assessment. There is no obvious evidence of negative mental health effects being associated with long-term consumption. Additional randomized controlled trial evidence is required to establish the efficacy of Ayahuasca in affective disorders, and to understand the worsened symptoms reported by a small percentage of drinkers,” the authors of the study wrote in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports.

The fact that this cross-sectional study relied on self-reported data is an important limitation. Also, the study relied on reaching out to Ayahuasca users on niche forums and websites, where individuals with positive experiences are more likely to be online and respond, thus contributing to selection bias to some degree. However, the very large sample size makes it a valuable study. It’s not alone either.

Ayahuasca and mental health

Traditionally, ayahuasca is made by brewing the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis shrub, along with other native plants, in a specific manner. When ingested, the brew delivers a powerful dose of DMT to the body. Typically, a DMT trip shouldn’t last more than a couple of minutes but thanks to the presence of at least one monoamine oxidase-inhibiting plant, the DMT can bind to receptors in the brain for hours. The experience has been described as anything between enlightening to downright distressing.

The brew contains several substances that alter brain chemistry. Among them, some regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin and MAO-A. It was also previously shown that ayahuasca directly affects activity in the hippocampus and amygdala, areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotions, respectively.

A 2013 study carried out by researchers led by Gerald Thomas from the University of Victoria in Canada, found that ayahuasca therapy causes significant improvements “for scales assessing hopefulness, empowerment, mindfulness, and quality of life meaning and outlook subscales.” Thomas argues that ayahuasca therapy is particularly helpful for those suffering from psychological trauma, which puts them at risk of developing alcohol and other drug addictions.

A study published in 2020 by neuroscientists at the University of California, San Francisco, scanned the brains of 50 healthy participants the day before and after they received either a single low dose of Ayahuasca or a placebo. According to the researchers, “the psychedelic experience induced by ayahuasca has a long-lasting effect on the functional organization of brain networks supporting higher-order cognitive and affective functions.”

Changes in these neural networks are associated with introspection, altered levels of affect, and motivation, which may explain both the altered states of consciousness during the high of the drug and the long-lasting brain changes elicited by ayahuasca.

As Ayahuasca’s potential medical benefits surface, scientists will hopefully be allowed to perform clinical trials with the drug. Decades after it was banned from research by governments, studies may show that Ayahuasca’s benefits far-outweigh its risks in a controlled medical context.

Ayahuasca produces long-lasting changes in the brain

Credit: MaxPixel.

In the Amazon rainforest, Brazilian natives have been brewing ayahuasca tea since the dawn of time. Many westerners are rapidly becoming aware of the mind-altering psychedelic tea, flying to South America to experience an authentic ayahuasca healing retreat. However, it’s only in recent years that scientists has caught up with ayahuasca, after the drug was recently allowed for academic research after a 75-year ban.

A 2013 study carried out by researchers led by Gerald Thomas from the University of Victoria in Canada, found that ayahuasca therapy causes significant improvements “for scales assessing hopefulness, empowerment, mindfulness, and quality of life meaning and outlook subscales.” Thomas argues that ayahuasca therapy is particularly helpful for those suffering from psychological trauma, which puts them at risk of developing alcohol and other drug addictions.

Traditionally, ayahuasca is made by brewing the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis shrub, along with other native plants, in a specific way over a specific period of time. When ingested, the brew delivers a powerful dose of DMT (dimethyltryptamine) to the body. Typically, a DMT trip shouldn’t last more than a couple of minutes but thanks to the presence of at least one monoamine oxidase-inhibiting plant, the DMT remains in the body for hours. The experience has been described as earth-shattering.

Obviously, not everyone has a “good” experience, especially if they aren’t supervised by a mental health professional. But those who come out of ayahuasca trip in good shape often make positive long-lasting changes to their lives, such as kicking addictions or rekindling with their estranged loved ones.

In a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, neuroscientists affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, scanned the brains of about 50 healthy participants the day before and the day after they received either a single low dose of ayahuasca or a placebo.

Most neuroimaging studies involving psychoactive compounds tend to focus on the neural activity during the active phase of altered consciousness. In contrast, the new study assessed changes in the brain one day after the ayahuasca session, after the drug was flushed out of the system. 

According to the researchers, “the psychedelic experience induced by ayahuasca has a long-lasting effect on the functional organization of brain networks supporting higher order cognitive and affective functions.”

“We found that ayahuasca had an impact on two important brain networks that support interoceptive (processing of bodily sensations, like from the guts and other internal organs), affective, and motivational functions, while primary sensory networks (visual, sensorimotor) were not affected one day after the session,” Lorenzo Pasquini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco told PsyPost.

Pasquini adds that these changes in these neural networks are associated with introspection, altered levels of affect, and motivation, which may explain both the altered states of consciousness during the high of the drug and the long-lasting brain changes elicited by ayahuasca.

These findings are important in the sense that they enrich the framework in which ayahuasca could be used therapeutically in a clinical setting. Particularly, researchers are interested in the psychedelic’s therapeutic potential for major depression, post-traumatic stress, and addiction. 

“The field is just beginning to understand the impact that psychedelic substances and the associated altered state of consciousness have on brain function and affect, not only during the acute sesion but also in the long-term,” Pasquini added.

“Importantly, the pharmacological properties of these substances cannot be dissociated from the setting where the experience takes place. In other words, the right dosage, the right guidance, and a safe environment are all factors that critically impact the therapeutic potential of entheogens.”

Cocaine, ayahuasca, and DMT — South Americans had hardcore rituals 1,000 years ago

Archaeologists working in South America have discovered a shamanic pouch which contained traces of powerful hallucinogenic substances including cocaine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and harmine — key active compounds in ayahuasca, a mind-blowing brew commonly associated with the Amazon jungle.

“This is the first evidence of ancient South Americans potentially combining different medicinal plants to produce a powerful substance like ayahuasca,” said Melanie Miller, a researcher with UC Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility who uses chemistry and various technologies to study how ancient humans lived.

Ritual bundle contents include a leather bag, carved wooden snuff tablets, and a snuff tube with human hair braids. Image credits: Juan Albarracin-Jordan and José M. Capriles.

Ayahuasca may be enjoying a recent surge in popularity in some circles, but the hallucinogenic concoction goes back a long time. In the 16th century, Christian missionaries from Spain first encountered native South Americans in the western Amazonian basin using ayahuasca. Of course, they considered this to be the “the work of the devil”, and given the situation, you can’t really blame them.

Ayahuasca, a strongly hallucinogenic brew, is considered to be a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. People who have consumed ayahuasca often report having mystical or religious experiences and spiritual revelations and claim a cathartic, rebirth-like experience.

Recently, archaeologists uncovered one of the oldest pieces of evidence regarding the usage of this brew. The remarkably well-preserved ritual bundle was found by archaeologists at a high elevation of 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) in southwestern Bolivia, where llamas and alpacas roam the land. The leather kit includes a purse made from three fox snouts sewn together and dates back to the pre-Inca Tiwanaku civilization. The Tiwanaku dominated the southern Andean highlands from about 550 to 950 A.D. Miller and colleagues also found intricately carved wooden “snuffing tablets” and a “snuffing tube” with human hair braids attached, llama bone spatulas, a colorful woven textile strip, and dried plant material. No human remains were uncovered at the site, but all these objects were well-preserved, due to the dry conditions of the Andean highlands.

The Cueva del Chileno in Bolivia where the bundle was found. Image credits: Juan Albarracin-Jordan and José M. Capriles.

Researchers believe this to be a ritual site, probably used by experienced shamans since the substances involved produced quite serious effects.

“A lot of these plants, if consumed in the wrong dosage, could be very poisonous,” Miller said. “So, whoever owned this bundle would need to have had great knowledge and skills about how to use these plants, and how and where to procure them.”

At the very best, “tryptamine DMT produces strong, vivid hallucinations that can last from minutes to an hour, but combined with harmine, you can have prolonged out-of-body altered states of consciousness with altered perceptions of time and of the self,” Miller said.

This pouch was made from three fox snouts. When Miller scraped the inside, she found evidence of hallucinogenic substances. Image credits: Juan Albarracin-Jordan and José M. Capriles.

Many South American civilizations believed that you can embody the soul of an animal, which is probably why the pouch was made particularly from fox snouts. For Miller, who undertook a two-day journey to reach the excavation area, it was thrilling to study the artifacts.

“We were amazed to see the incredible preservation of these compounds in this ritual bundle,” said Miller. “I feel very lucky to have been a part of this research.”

She and her lab provided the technology needed to conduct toxicology tests on the samples, which included liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, two technologies used to identify and quantify the components of a mixture. At first, archaeologists were unsure what to make of the stash, but when the lab results came in, everything clicked: everything was used for spiritual purposes — or to consume drugs, depending on how you see things.

The study indicates that ayahuasca and other similar substances have been consumed for over a thousand years in the Amazon basin. Nowadays, ayahuasca is experiencing an unexpected revival in places such as California, where some claim that it has become “as common as a cup of coffee.” Recent studies have also found that ayahuasca may help in treating conditions such as depression.

The study “Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America” by Miller et al. has been published in PNAS.

Ayahuasca vine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

4 Plant-Based Alternative Medicines That Show Promise in Treating Addiction

Growing up in America seems to be the world’s dream, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. With disease rates soaring higher than any other country, many Americans are looking to other cultures for medicine to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, and a variety of physical ailments. Some traditional medicines have also been shown to be highly effective at treating substance addiction — in some cases, they’re the only things that work.

Whether they’ve exhausted all conventional (or unconventional) options provided in the U.S., or they want to skip straight to the medicine men of faraway lands, people of all ages and all ailments are drawn to experiment with the following plant-based medicines.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca vine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Ayahuasca vine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In the Amazon rainforest, Brazilian natives have been brewing ayahuasca tea since the dawn of time. Americans are rapidly becoming aware of this ancient healing tea, flying to South America to experience an authentic ayahuasca healing retreat.

Thanks to the increasing popularity of this ceremonial brew, researchers across the world have begun conducting clinical trials to test its effectiveness against other drugs. The results are positive. One international team of researchers found ayahuasca to ease symptoms of depression, and others have found it to be deeply healing for those with PTSD.

In 2013, Gerald Thomas, who researches addiction at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, investigated ayahuasca’s potential to reduce dependence on addictive drugs. He and colleagues from Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) — a non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana — that ayahuasca therapy was responsible for significant improvements “for scales assessing hopefulness, empowerment, mindfulness, and quality of life meaning and outlook subscales.”

Thomas also argues that ayahuasca therapy helps ease the pain of traumatic memories which cause many people to self-medicate with alcohol and other addictive drugs.

Traditionally, ayahuasca is made by brewing the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, along with other native plants, in a specific way over a specific period of time. When ingested, the brew delivers a powerful dose of DMT – dimethyltryptamine – to the body, and thanks to the presence of at least one monoamine oxidase-inhibiting plant, the DMT remains in the body for hours.

Within American culture, there are two groups of people who gather in sacred circles to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies: those who want healing, and those who want an experience. Both reasons are valid, but due to ayahuasca’s powerful properties, not everyone has a “good” experience despite their desire.

Radix Puerariae

Pueraria lobata. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Pueraria lobata. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Radix puerariae is the dried root of Pueraria lobata, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese medicine, R. puerariae is widely used in the treatment of cardiac and cerebral diseases, fever, headache, and hangovers. It is also utilized as food in China and as a dietary supplement in the USA, Australia and United Kingdom. Due to its wide applications, the plant-based medicine has attracted much attention.

According to one 2014 study, R. puerariae improves the health of cerebrovascular and cardiovascular systems by inhibition of apoptosis, diminishing the reflux of intracellular glutamate, attenuating inflammatory response. The findings of a 2016 study suggest that the plant also improves insulin responsiveness in diabetic rats when used as an adjuvant for metabolic disease.

Studies also found that R. puerariae reduces the urge to drink alcohol in addicted individuals. Radix Puerariae showed the most promising efficacy for alcoholism by acting through daidzin, which inhibits mitocochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 and leads to disulfiram-like alcohol reactions. The root extract may be a safe and effective adjunctive pharmacotherapy for alcohol abuse and dependence.

Peyote

Peyote cactus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Peyote cactus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. law classifies the squat cactus and its primary active ingredient, mescaline, as Schedule 1 substances, illegal to sell, possess, or ingest. The law exempts members of the Native American Church, who revere peyote as a sacred medicine. There is evidence that it helps treat alcoholism, whose rate of incidence among Native Americans is twice that the national average. According to John Halpern, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, who has been studying peyote’s potential for treating addiction for over a decade, peyote may have similar effects on people like LSD or psilocybin. The latter psychoactive drugs have been extensively studied in recent years, fueled by a resurgence of psychedelic research, with studies showing that they can treat various forms of addiction, particularly alcohol and opioid use.

Iboga

Tabernanthe iboga is a rare plant that grows in the equatorial region of Africa, particularly Cameroon. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In some circles, iboga — a potent psychedelic drug obtained from the root bark of the African plant Tabernanthe iboga — is hailed as a miracle substance capable of instantly eliminating cravings and withdrawal symptoms for even the most heavily addicted opioid users.

Animal studies suggest that within 24 hours after ingesting ibogaine, the alkaloids produce significant attenuation of opioid withdrawal signs in different animal species. What’s more, the substance also reduces the self-administration of other potent drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and nicotine.

In one study performed on humans, involving 33 participants with opioid dependence, withdrawal signs were completely resolved in 29 of the participants (88%). This was not a controlled clinical trial, however.

In a follow-up study conducted in 2004, researchers found that 67% of the 21 participants ceased the use of opioid drugs. The rest (33%) did not end the use of their primary or secondary drugs of abuse but decreased the amount of drug use nevertheless. The overall average drug-free period of all participants was 21.8 months — the median, however, was of 6 months. Another more recent follow-up study published in 2017, which involved 30 participants, 15 subjects (50%) reported no opioid use during the previous 30 days — an effect that “was sustained up to 12 months in a subgroup of subjects.

Bonus: Kratom, what NOT to use

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Officially known as Mitragyna Speciosa, Kratom is a tropical tree in the coffee family. Found in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam), natives have been using Kratom medicinally for thousands of years. It low doses, it’s been shown to improve mood, enhance concentration, relieve pain, increase energy.

There’s much talk about the benefits and risks of kratom, but it helps to read stories shared by people who have experienced kratom first hand. David Kroll, a scientist-turned-journalist, wrote this article for Forbes to reveal anecdotes and case reports personally sent to him by kratom users. These stories include overcoming addiction, relief of chronic pain from amputation, relief from fibromyalgia, lupus, and back pain. He also shares some negative experiences.

But while kratom seems to help opioid users kick their addiction, these people might be replacing an addiction with another. There is no evidence in the research community showing that kratom is effective at treating withdrawal.

Kratom’s effects are similar to those of opioid drugs like morphine and heroin, which led to its banning in Thailand in 1979 and in Malaysia in 2003.

In the U.S., the FDA has not approved Kratom for ingestion. However, it is completely legal and is currently being sold without regulation in the country. Kratom “bars” are popping up and serving the drug as a brewed beverage in states like Colorado, New York, North Carolina. Anyone can order it freely in such establishments as if it were a beer or coffee.

Withdrawal symptoms for kratom include muscle aches, insomnia, irritability, hostility, aggression, emotional changes, runny nose, and jerky movements. This is one supposed treatment for addiction that, in fact, causes a different addiction. 

All medicine comes with risks

The difficulty in determining the safety of plant medicines from other cultures is trying to base your conclusions on U.S. law. For example, ayahuasca is illegal in the U.S. Although some indigenous groups have been granted permission to utilize it ceremoniously in the name of religious freedom, the average person can’t sign up for a ceremony. The fact that it’s illegal can lead one to believe it’s inherently dangerous, but that may not be necessarily true. Kratom, which has shown to be potentially dangerous, is legal in the United States, for instance.

Ayahuasca itself isn’t dangerous unless you’re prone to high blood pressure, have asthma, or other known contraindications. Prescription medicines, on the other hand, are legal and in some cases can be deadly, hospitalizing nearly 2 million people each year, and killing about 128,000.

As always, you should consult a licensed medical practitioner before trying out any of these plant-based alternatives. Also, keep in mind that some of the substances are illegal in the United States, which may result in prosecution if you decide to use them. 

Traditional ayahuasca brewing. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Shamanic drug ayahuasca rapidly improves severe depression symptoms, first randomised clinical trial finds

Since ancient times, shamans in Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest have been concocting a psychedelic brew called ayahuasca or yagé. Made out of the f Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other plants native to the rainforest, the psychedelic tea contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), sometimes called the ‘spirit molecule’, and those who ingest it report the trip of a lifetime.

Traditional ayahuasca brewing. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Traditional ayahuasca brewing. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

There are many books written by daredevils and explorers about the spiritual and therapeutical effects of ayahuasca but these reports have been anecdotal. Now, the world’s first randomized clinical trial has confirmed the brew’s therapeutic value, at least when depression is targeted. The international team of researchers found ayahuasca rapidly improved mood and eased depression symptoms better than a placebo.

Among its many qualities and characteristics, ayahuasca tea has a foul, bitter taste so to fool study participants they were ingesting the real deal, they gave them an equally foul tasting brown-colored liquid. All the participants also had to have no prior experience with ayahuasca or any other psychedelics for that matter. This was vital for the randomized clinical trial’s effectiveness because had a participant ingest ayahuasca before, no placebo could have deceived him. Ayahuasca induces extremely violent nausea, with some people reporting feeling as if they had died. The potency of the trip is also unheard of and can last for hours… in standard time.

Some 24 hours before the experiment, each participant filled a standard questionnaire meant to gauge how depressed they were. During the experiment themselves, the participants were seated inside a quiet and supervised environment where they would either receive the potent psychedelic brew or just the stench placebo. Each participant then completed the same questionnaire one, two, and seven days later, respectively.

What Peruvian ayahuasca looks like. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

What Peruvian ayahuasca looks like. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Both groups reported significant improvements one or two days after the treatment. Oddly enough, those who were given the placebo sometimes scored as high as the participants who had ingested genuine ayahuasca, which can only mean the brew’s reputation is widely famous.

The therapeutic effects of the ayahuasca brew became evident, however, once a week had elapsed. Some 64 percent of the participants who had taken ayahuasca reported a 50 percent reduction in the severity of their depression symptoms. As for those who were handed the placebo drink, only 27 percent felt their depression eased.

“There is clearly potential to explore further how this most ancient of plant medicines may have a salutary effect in modern treatment settings, particularly in patients who haven’t responded well to conventional treatments,” Charles Grob at the University of California, Los Angeles, told New Scientist. 

The findings seem to echo preliminary research carried out by Gerald Thomas, who researches addiction at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. In 2013, he and other researchers from Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) — a non-profit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana — found that ayahuasca can reduce dependence on addictive drugs. Thomas argues that ayahuasca therapy helps ease the pain of traumatic memories which cause many people to self-medicate with alcohol and other addictive drugs.

Psychedelics, in general, seem to have made a comeback as far as medical research is concerned. For decades, psychedelic research has been hindered by social stigma and government regulation, i.e. illegal status. Over the last couple of years, however, multiple groups have found substances like LSD or psilocybin, the active ingredient found in magic mushroom, help ease depression, addiction or PTSD. Ketamine deserves a worthy mention, although it’s not technically a psychedelic.

Now, ayahuasca seems to join their ranks which is important for medicine although the findings will likely change nothing for the thousands of ayahuasca tourists who already flock to the Amazonian basin in search for spiritual awakening or, why not, a good thrill. If you’re fascinated with ayahuasca and would like to embark on such a trip, you should know that there are many so-called shamans that are nothing but charlatans. Dozens of ayahuasca retreats have popped up over the last couple of years fueled by the hard currency of naive westerners.

Ayahuasca is no trivial pursuit. It’s an insane trip which when taken unsupervised can leave some more scarred than they ever were.

“People should pursue using ayahuasca with great care and do thorough research to find reputable retreat centres,” advises Alli Feduccia of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “Counselling and support during and after ayahuasca retreats are necessary to integrate the intense experiences that can emerge,” she says. “People have been traumatised by ayahuasca experiences because this very needed support is lacking.”

Ayahuasca being prepared in the Napo region of Ecuador.

Ayahuasca, the shamanic hallucinogen, could help treat anxiety

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic mix used for ceremonial purposes by the indigenous Amazon tribes since times immemorial. Once under its influence, a medium facilitating introspection and self knowledge is opened. Among other things, ayahuasca contains DMT which is an illegal substance in most western countries. This has made any research that might uncover beneficial pharmacological effects very difficult. One new research on rats, however, suggests that the magic brew could be very potent against anxiety if ingested over a prolonged time.

Ayahuasca being prepared in the Napo region of Ecuador.

Ayahuasca being prepared in the Napo region of Ecuador.

When prepared, Ayahuasca is a brown-reddish drink with a strong taste and smell. To make it, the Amazon shamans infuse the shredded stalk of the malpighiaceous plant Banisteriopsis caapi with the leaves of other plants, generally Dyplopteris cabrerana or Psychotria viridis. During the cooking process, which may last for hours, a plethora of chemical compounds from these plants enter the infusion.

The brew contains several substances that alter brain chemistry. Among them, some regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin and MAO-A. It was also previously shown that ayahuasca directly affects activity in the hippocampus and amygdala, areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotions, respectively.

Vanesa Favaro, of the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, made a series of experiments on rats meant to determine whether or not ayahuasca therapy had any effect on anxiety. Four experimental groups consisting of 46 rats in total were established. The first three received different doses of the potent brew daily for 30 days, while the fourth received a placebo.

The rats were trained to navigate two different types of mazes. Then, the researchers induced a fear conditioning by teaching the rats to associate a distinct sound with receiving an electric shock.

To measure fear response, Favaro and colleagues recorded the time each rat froze its movements when exposed to the chamber where the shocks were received (contextual fear) and when the sound was played (tone fear).

 

The rats who received the lowest dose of ayahuasca froze longer than those in the placebo group after being placed in the contextual fear condition, but not after hearing the tone. This reaction suggests that the rats’ emotional memory formation process was affected by certain levels of ayahuasca exposure. Ayahuasca did not affect rats’ ability to learn and remember how to complete the mazes, the researchers report.

When used repeatedly, ayahuasca seems to affect memories related to emotional content, without affecting other memories. This seems to mirror self-reports from people who ventured into the Amazon to partake the brew. It’s unclear when, if ever,  clinical trials using ayahuasca for anxiety therapy might be made.

Psychedelic tea might help with depression

Hallucinogenic tea brewed from South American plants might treat depression, according to a new study – but don’t start your homebrewing just yet; it’s a small study, and there are still unclear aspects about it.

ayahuasca

Deep in the Amazonian basin, experienced shamans prepare a natural tea called ayahuasca to bring its drinkers to hallucinogenic states of revelation. Ayahuasca, commonly called yagé, is brewed from Banisteriopsis caapi vine, often in combination with various other plants. It’s sometimes mixed with Chacruna or Chacropanga, dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing plant species. But it’s not just South American tribes that are enjoying Ayahuasca – people from all over the world enjoy and endorse it, including the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Sting. Now a team of Brazilian researchers is investigating its use as a weapon in the fight against depression.

In the study, researchers gave doses of ayahuasca to six participants with depression for whom commercial antidepressants hadn’t been effective. They found that the symptoms of depression decreased quickly after consumption (about three hours in), and lasted for long periods of time. When they were tested again after three weeks, the positive changes were still in effect. There were no reported negative side effects.

Naturally, these are some exciting results, especially when you consider that depression affects millions of people every year in the US alone – but there are some issues with this study. First of all, it’s a really small sample size. Six people is encouraging, encouraging enough to conduct a bigger study, but not big enough to draw some definite conclusions. Second of all, there was no control group – which is the gold standard when it comes to medical research. The problem is that the psychedelic tea is illegal in many countries – even when it comes to research. But researchers claim they’ve passed that hurdle and they’re now working on to design a bigger and broader study.

It’s not the first time researchers have suggested the use of psychedelic substances. The use of psychedelic was shown to reduce suicide rates, reduce heavy migraines, reduce stress and fight PTSD.

So what do you think? Would you use, or recommend the use of ayahuasca, or other hallucinogens in dealing with mental disorderws?

Journal Reference: Rafael Guimarães dos Santos, João Paulo Maia-de-Oliveira. Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: a preliminary report. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria (Impact Factor: 1.64). 03/2015; 37(1):13-20. DOI: 10.1590/1516-4446-2014-1496