Tag Archives: DMT

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.”

Microdosing DMT might reduce depression and anxiety

Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and busy professionals swear by microdosing psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, claiming that it keeps them more focused and creative. Now, a new study in rats suggests that microdosing on DMT — one of the most potent psychedelics out there when taken at full dose — could reduce depression and anxiety.

Credit: Pixabay.

Microdosing psychedelics involves ingesting a very small amount of a drug in order to experience some positive side effects while staying below the dosage threshold that would cause you to trip (i.e. hallucinate). While many people do it — often several times a week — there is little evidence to support anecdotal reports of general health and wellbeing benefits. Since most of these drugs are illegal, it is very difficult to perform studies on psychedelics. In fact, there is not one single published empirical study of microdosing, although there is some published work involving observational investigations of individuals who microdose.

One 2019 review involving the experiences of 98 microdosing participants revealed reductions in self-reported levels of depression, stress, and distractibility, but also increased neuroticism. We should find out more once the results of the first-ever microdosing trial are reported. The trial started in 2018 and only involves LSD at the moment.

Meanwhile, a new study published this week in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience provides the first evidence that microdosing psychedelics — specifically dimethyltryptamine (DMT) — has biological effects that may lead to evidence-backed novel therapies.

The researchers at the University of California at Davis have previously studied how popular illegal drugs such as ketamine, LSD, ecstasy, and DMT regulate emotions and mood. Their work suggested that these psychedelic substances affect neural plasticity, making rats less depressed but very anxious at a full dose. This time, the research team wanted to see what would happen if they dialed the dose down below a hallucinatory threshold. So they gave rats a small dose of DMT every three days and put them through a barrage of tests on their off days. These included a repetitive fear exercise and a forced-swim test, which are typically employed in studies to gauge anxiety and depression in animal models.

Credit: ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Credit: ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Weeks later, the rats that were given DMT at doses low enough to prevent hallucinations improved their depression and anxiety score — in contrast to a full dose of DMT, which would have made the rodents overly anxious. This shows that the therapeutic effects of psychedelics could theoretically be harnessed without experiencing the hallucinogenic effects.

“The behavioral and cellular effects of this dosing regimen were distinct from those induced following a single high dose of the drug. We found that chronic, intermittent, low doses of DMT produced an antidepressant-like phenotype and enhanced fear extinction learning without impacting working memory or social interaction,” the authors wrote in their study.

However, microdosing might not be harmless. Previously, the researchers found that a full dose of the psychedelic improved neuroplasticity, whereas intermittent microdosing seem to have the opposite effect in females, instead killing brain cells. In the future, the authors hope to tweak their study’s boundaries in order to see whether there’s a right dosage at which harmful side effects stop occurring.

“Taken together, our results suggest that psychedelic microdosing may alleviate symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders, though the potential hazards of this practice warrant further investigation,” researchers concluded.

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