Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that contains the powerful hallucinogenic compound DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) as one of its primary active ingredients. Stem bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine contains additives with MAO inhibiting properties, including the indole alkaloids harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. These naturally occurring monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), which are necessary to make the DMT orally active. N, N-Dimethyltryptamine occurs in many plants and animals, including humans, and which is both a derivative and a structural analog of tryptamine.
Ayahuasca has been used for centuries by indigenous Amazonian cultures in shamanic rituals and has gained popularity in the Western world in recent years. The therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca extend not only to healing and personal growth, but also to treating conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and addiction.
Benefits of Ayahuasca
Psychological Healing: Ayahuasca has been reported to help individuals confront and work through past traumas, unresolved emotional issues, and negative thought patterns. It can promote a sense of emotional release and catharsis.
Insights and Self-Reflection: Many users describe profound insights and a deeper understanding of themselves, their lives, and their relationships after an ayahuasca experience. This can lead to personal growth and increased self-awareness.
Addiction Treatment: Some studies suggest that ayahuasca may be helpful in treating addiction, including alcoholism and substance abuse. It is thought to work by helping individuals address the underlying psychological and emotional causes of addiction.
Reduced Anxiety and Depression: Ayahuasca experiences have been reported to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and some research has explored its potential as a treatment for mood disorders.
Connection and Spirituality: Ayahuasca is often described as a tool for spiritual exploration and connection with a higher power or the universe. Many users report a sense of interconnectedness and a deeper spiritual understanding.
Improved Well-Being: Some individuals report improved overall well-being, increased happiness, and a greater sense of purpose after their experiences with ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca and Addiction
Longitudinal case-control studies reveal that members of ayahuasca religious groups have fewer cases of alcoholism than control groups which suggests that consuming ayahuasca is a favourable factor for reducing addictive behavior.
Ayahuasca’s ‘antiaddictive’ properties are thought to arise from its action on dopaminergic and serotonergic mesolimbic pathways (
"The therapeutic potential of these neural changes includes the possibility of greater integration of different cerebral networks, leading to increased somatic awareness and subjective feelings. This is thought to produce ‘a state of heightened suggestibility because of the suspension of the frontal networks that are typically used to maintain control over mental processes’, enabling repressed memories to resurface (Frecska et al., 2016). The strong serotonergic effects of ayahuasca are understood to mitigate retraumatization by such emotional resurfacing. Frecska et al. (2016) consider that this provides a unique situation enabling access to a previously unavailable, corrective aspect of the emotional pattern. Ayahuasca states have been shown to enable recovered addicts to work through traumatic events by providing fresh perspectives on one’s patterns, such as those leading to addictive behaviours."
Published studies such as this one suggest that the brew increases neuroplasticity, facilitates adaptive neural architectural changes, and breaks down pathological associations, triggers and cues associated with addiction.
Ayahuasca is thought to increase 5-HT (serotonin) levels, attenuating withdrawal symptoms associated with the cessation of cocaine or heroin use. DMT, one of the active components of ayahuasca, is also thought to exert anxiolytic effects through 5-HT1A receptor agonism (Jacob & Presti, 2005). The central nervous system effects of ayahuasca are thought to involve a reduction in the activity of the Default Mode Network, which is also reduced in meditative states (Palhano-Fontes et al., 2015).