Ayahuasca 101


Ayahuasca has received a lot of national publicity recently for its potential anti-depressant effects. Ayahuasca, is a natural psychedelic brew made from Amazonian plants, the main ingredient being Banisteriopsis cappii (1). Traditionally Ayahuasca has been used for ritual and medicinal purposes in tribes based out of South America. However, word quickly began to spread about the experiences individuals were having which sparked some clinical research. It has been proposed that Ayahuasca may have a potent anti-depressant effect. 

Depression is a significant issue affecting millions of individuals within the United States and all over the world. Depression is associated with personal suffering, increased mortality and high morbidity (2,3). The cause of depression is not entirely known however researchers have some promising theories, the most popular being monoamine imbalance (4).  It has been suggested that an imbalance of certain cerebral monoamines including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine may lead to symptoms associated with depression. Thus, the current prescription of antidepressants attempts to modulate these monoamines. While, these have been shown to be mildly effective common anti-depressants have significant side effects as well as low retention rates. Thus, researchers are still looking for new methods to treat depression. 

Ayahuasca has been proposed as a potential new line of antidepressant medication as it has been reported to have immediate and long-lasting effects. Recently, Osorio et al., (2015) provided 6 volunteers who’ve been diagnosed with depression a single dose of Ayahuasca. The following day after administration subjects reported a 62% decrease in depressive symptoms, after day seven subjects reported a 72% decrease in depressive symptoms, symptoms continued to improve even twenty-one days after administration. These researchers concluded that a single dose of Ayahuasca provided participants with an impressive decrease in depressive symptoms with no adverse effects. 

While, the aforementioned study demonstrates positive findings the exact mechanism of interaction was still unknown, until recently. Garcia et al., ( 2017) sought to examine the mechanistic effects of Ayahuasca in vitro mice adult brains. These researchers reported the three main alkaloids present in Ayahuasca stimulate neurogenesis. These findings also suggest that Ayahuasca can modulate brain plasticity and could also be useful for a variety of other brain disorder that could benefit from neurogenesis.  

While more research is needed it goes without saying that Ayahuasca is a very promising practice that could provide significant benefits for a variety of populations. The next step in this line of research will be to directly compare Ayahuasca to commonly prescribed anti-depressants.  


  1. Morales-García, J. A., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Alonso-Gil, S., Rodríguez-Franco, M. I., Feilding, A., Perez-Castillo, A., & Riba, J. (2017). The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 5309. 
  2.  Ebmeier KP, Donaghey C, Steele D. Recent developments and current controversies in depression. Lancet. 2006;367:153-67. 
  3.  Andrade LH, Wang YP, Andreoni S, Silveira CM, Alexandrino-Silva C, Siu ER, et al. Mental disorders in megacities: findings from the Sa˜o Paulo megacity mental health survey, Brazil. PLoS One. 2012;7:e31879. 
  4. Osório, F. D. L., Sanches, R. F., Macedo, L. R., dos Santos, R. G., Maia-de-Oliveira, J. P., Wichert-Ana, L., … & Hallak, J. E. (2015). Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: a preliminary report. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 37(1), 13-20. 



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