Ayahuasca: This Amazonian Brew May Be the Most Powerful Antidepressant Ever Discovered
The way Ayahuasca[ii] promotes psychedelic insights has long perplexed Western scientists. Ayahuasca is said to “help put into order the body, mind and spirit with the past, present and future.”[iii] During healing ceremonies, ayahuasca users commonly report emotionally charged visions, memories, and revelations about themselves and their lives, personalities and behaviors. The visions are not random—they typically center on emotionally charged and traumatic experiences, providing users the opportunity to re-experience those events in a more insightful way. Shamans say the elixir will give you whatever answers you seek. Ayahuasca’s psychoactive properties are generally believed to be related to its serotonergic effects. Psychotria viridis is rich in DMT (N,N Dimethyl Tryptamine), the most potent vision-inducing agent known to man. DMT is not only found in hundreds of plants around the world but is also manufactured by your own body. But thanks to the enzyme MAO (monoamine oxidase), you aren’t tripped out all day, every day. The other ingredient in ayahuasca, Banisteriopsis caapi, contains a group of compounds called harmala alkaloids, which are MAO inhibitors (MAOI). These allow the DMT to stimulate unbridled activity in your brain by preventing the breakdown of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Imaging studies reveal that ayahuasca hyperactivates frontal brain regions, specifically the medial frontal and anterior cingulate cortices responsible for somatic awareness and emotion. Ayahuasca triggers a large release of glutamate, which causes neural firing all along the frontal cortex. The elixir also activates parahippocampal areas involved in processing memory and emotion, including the amygdala. The insula is also activated, which is where feeling states are generated and is thought to act as a bridge between our emotional impulses and decision-making capacity. This may be what allows subjects to “travel” through their past experiences with an awareness of thoughts, emotions and memories that are difficult to access in ordinary mental states. Your brain’s neocortex is also involved in anticipatory and planning behavior and abstract reasoning, so its activation may help explain the complex and meaningful cognitive experiences that take place during and after the consumption of ayahuasca. Ayahuasca impacts dysfunctional cognitive-behavioral patterns. Powerful or traumatic events create imprints on the brain that are reinforced every time we encounter a similar situation. Repeated events reinforce these pathways, building up something like “emotional scar tissue,” which can lead to dysfunctional emotional responses and problematic behaviors throughout one’s lifetime. Ayahuasca appears to help users override these entrenched neurological patterns, allowing new connections to be made. Users report emerging with fresh perspectives on past experiences, which may explain many of ayahuasca’s healing benefits for depression, anxiety and PTSD, substance abuse and other problems. An interesting video about Ayahuasca research is available here. Longer-term studies show ayahuasca positively impacts mood, reasoning and decision-making with minimal adverse effects. Ayahuasca has been shown to be non-addictive when used long-term by healthy individuals in supportive settings. There is no evidence of neurotoxicity—ritualized long-term users even scored better on certain cognitive tests than control groups. Due to the intensity of the visions, ayahuasca should not be taken alone. Its therapeutic potential and safety are contingent upon how the experience is facilitated, monitored and integrated. However, with proper support, even a single dose of ayahuasca seems to offer potentially deep therapeutic benefits. For additional, view the GreenMedInfo.com database section on Ayahuasca research. Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.