Meet ayahuasca: Potential psychedelic therapy for treating depression, addiction and other mental health issues


Psychedelics are a type of drug known to have hallucinative properties which can bring changes in the perception, mood and cognitive abilities of an individual. One of the most talked-about psychedelic substances is ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca, which can loosely be translated to ‘vine of the soul’, is a psychedelic drink which is made by mixing the bark of a South American woody vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, with the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis).

Ayahuasca has been used for centuries by some tribes in the Amazon to cure several diseases.

Scientists found that the ayahuasca brew contains N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which is quite similar to serotonin, the chemical messenger of the brain. This component supposedly makes the user feel euphoric and alters their state of consciousness.

Given its effects, many researchers have studied ayahuasca and its possible use for the treatment of various mental health disorders.

Effect of ayahuasca on body

When a person consumes chacruna leaves, it does not have any effect on the body as it gets broken down in the gut by the enzyme monoamine oxidase. But when the chacruna leaves are mixed with the vines, the monoamine oxidase is inhibited by the beta-carbolines present in the Banisteriopsis caapi. This helps the DMT to get dissolved in the blood which then crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects the brain.

Benefits of ayahuasca for treating mental illnesses

There have been various studies which have documented the psychological and psycho-social benefits of ayahuasca.

1. As per a 2015 study, Ayahuasca can lower the activity in the default mode network (DMN) of the brain which activates whenever a person is daydreaming or thinking about memories, the future and other people. A person with higher DMN activity is more prone to get affected with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, social phobias and schizophrenia.

2. A study published in the journal Psychological Medicine revealed that ayahuasca provides a rapid antidepressant effect to the user and thus can be helpful for the treatment of depression.

Ayahuasca has shown promising results in the treatment of many mental health disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and drug addiction.

3. Ayahuasca is known to increase assertiveness, energy, positivity and confidence in a person.

The psychedelic drug was used on 12 people in the First Nations community in British Columbia, Canada who had severe psychological and behavioural issues related to substance abuse (tobacco, cocaine and alcohol). These people were given ayahuasca twice  in four days. After six months, these people reported reduced reliance on the drugs and stated that ayahuasca helped them overcome addictive thoughts about alcohol and smoking.

4. Clinical studies have shown that ayahuasca can help in deploying immune cells against any virus or tumour growth inside the body. It also helps in increasing the natural killer cells of the body which fight the cancer cells trying to invade the body. However, ayahuasca is not being used for cancer therapy as more studies are required to prove its efficiency.

After further research and clinical studies, psychedelic-assisted therapy along with cognitive behavioural therapy can prove beneficial in treating various mental health issues in future.

For more information, read our article on Ayahuasca.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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