Selected Research Supporting Our Work:

Consideration of Ayahuasca for the treatment of Post traumatic stress disorder

Jessica L. Nielson, PhD., and Julie D. Megler, MSN, NP-BC

MAPS Bulletin, Winter 2012

Current research indicates that ayahuasca mimics mechanisms of accepted treatments to PTSD. Its use as an alternative treatment for other types of disorders are also being considered. In PTSD, the brain fails to appropriately consolidate and integrate episodic memories into the semantic memory system. The memory and its associated emotions become “trapped” in the hippocampus so that whenever the memory is triggered or recalled, it is as if the traumatic event is being re-experienced. The resulting hyperarousal leads many to develop maladaptive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse to avoid or prevent intense negative stimulation.

From the psychotherapy standpoint, ayahuasca is similar to exposure therapy (an American Psychology Association-accepted approach to overcoming PTSD). Utilizing intention setting, users with traumas have the opportunity to reprogram their memories and their physical responses to them.

PSYCHEDELICS and Unlocking the Unconscious, From Cancer to Addiction

Gabor Maté, MD

Alternate, May 30, 2013

The author posits that the “unconscious mind” can be the cause of medical afflictions including addiction and trauma. In his speech at the Psychedelic Science 2013 conference, he rejects the assumption that the human mind and body are separate entities and points to inherent connections between psychological/environmental experiences and medical afflictions. He discusses the potential ability of psychedelic substances, particularly ayahuasca, to reverse medical issues and addiction; especially when coupled with therapy.

Ayahuasca Stimulates the birth of new brain cells

Jose A. Morales, et al working for the Beckley Foundation

Journal Scientific Reports, July 13, 2017

Previous belief that no new neurons are born in the brains of adults is turned around when it is discovered that neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory. Unfortunately, the rate of neurogenesis is not always sufficient to replace damaged neurons as we age or undergo trauma. Fortunately, compounds present in the psychedelic Amazonian brew ayahuasca stimulate the birth of new neurons. This, in turn, has been shown to help sufferers of depression, anxiety, grief, and PTSD to overcome their conditions.

The psychedelic Ayahuasca heals traumatic memories

Antonio Inserra

Frontiers in Pharmacology, April 5, 2018

Since traumatic memories in PTSD are often characterized by “repression” and PTSD patients ingesting ayahuasca report the retrieval of such memories, it is suggested that the ingestion of ayahuasca might mediate such “anti-amnesic” processes. Therefore ayahuasca, via hyper activation of trauma and emotional memory-related centers, enhances synaptic plasticity, increases neurogenesis and boosts dopamine transmission producing fear extinction; as in the fear response triggered by the memory can be reprogrammed and/or extinguished. Subsequently, the memory is stored with this updated significance. Although the mechanisms involved are still debated, they seem to require the involvement of cellular and molecular events leading to reorganization of synaptic plasticity, re-modulation of gene expression, and reorganization of the complexes at the synapse.

Ayahuasca: Psychological and Physiologic Effects, Pharmacology and Potential Uses in Addiction and Mental Illness

Jonathan Hamill, et al

Current Neuropharmacology, Volume 17, Issue 2, 2019

Ayahuasca, a traditional Amazonian tea with psychoactive properties, is made from bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (containing beta-carboline alkaloids) and leaves of the Psychotria viridis bush (supplying the hallucinogen N,N-dimethyltryptamine, DMT). Originally used by indigenous shamans for the purposes of spirit communication, magical experiences, healing, and religious rituals across several South American countries, ayahuasca has been incorporated into folk medicine and spiritual healing, and several Brazilian churches use it routinely to foster a spiritual experience.

The side effect profile appears to be relatively mild, but more detailed studies need to be done. Several prominent researchers believe that government regulations with regard to ayahuasca should be relaxed so that it could be provided more readily to recognized, credible researchers to conduct comprehensive clinical trials.

Additional Research

  • Anderson, BT 2012, 'Ayahuasca as Antidepressant? Psychedelics and Styles of Reasoning in Psychiatry', Anthropology of Consciousness, vol.23, no. 1, pp.44-59.

  • Andritzky, W. (1989). "Sociopsychotherapeutic functions of ayahuasca healing in Amazonia." J Psychoactive Drugs 21(1): 77-89.

  • Barbosa, P. C., I. M. Cazorla, J. S. Giglio and R. Strassman (2009). "A six-month prospective evaluation of personality traits, psychiatric symptoms and quality of life in ayahuasca-naive subjects." J Psychoactive Drugs 41(3): 205-212.

  • Barbosa, P. C. R., J. S. Giglio and P. Dalgalarrondo (2005). "Altered States of Consciousness and Short-Term Psychological After-Effects Induced by the First Time Ritual Use of Ayahuasca in an Urban Context in Brazil." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 193-201.

  • BBC News (2014). "Why do people take ayahuasca?" BBC News Magazine(29 April).

  • Bouso, J. and J. Riba (2014). Ayahuasca and the Treatment of Drug Addiction. The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca. B. C. Labate and C. Cavnar, Springer Berlin Heidelberg: 95-109.

  • Bouso, J. C., D. González, S. Fondevila, M. Cutchet, X. Fernández, P. C. Ribeiro Barbosa, M. Á. Alcázar-Córcoles, W. S. Araújo, M. J. Barbanoj, J. M. Fábregas and J. Riba (2012). "Personality, Psychopathology, Life Attitudes and Neuropsychological Performance among Ritual Users of Ayahuasca: A Longitudinal Study." PLoS ONE 7(8): e42421.

  • Callaway, J. C. and C. S. Grob (1998). "Ayahuasca preparations and serotonin reuptake inhibitors: a potential combination for severe adverse interactions." J Psychoactive Drugs 30(4): 367-369.

  • de L. Osório, F., R. F. Sanches, L. R. Macedo, R. G. dos Santos, J. P. Maia-de-Oliveira, L. Wichert-Ana, D. B. de Araujo, J. Riba, J. A. Crippa and J. E. Hallak (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.

  • Djamshidian, A., S. Bernschneider-Reif, W. Poewe and A. J. Lees (2015). "Banisteriopsis caapi, a Forgotten Potential Therapy for Parkinson's Disease?" Movement Disorders Clinical Practice: n/a-n/a.

  • Fábregas, J. M., D. González, S. Fondevila, M. Cutchet, X. Fernández, P. C. R. Barbosa, M. Á. Alcázar-Córcoles, M. J. Barbanoj, J. Riba and J. C. Bouso (2010). "Assessment of addiction severity among ritual users of ayahuasca." Drug and Alcohol Dependence 111(3): 257-261.

  • Fortunato, J. J., G. Z. Reus, T. R. Kirsch, R. B. Stringari, G. R. Fries, F. Kapczinski, J. E. Hallak, A. W. Zuardi, J. A. Crippa and J. Quevedo (2010). "Chronic administration of harmine elicits antidepressant-like effects and increases BDNF levels in rat hippocampus." Journal of Neural Transmission(10): 1131.

  • Gable, R. S. (2007). "Risk assessment of ritual use of oral dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and harmala alkaloids." Addiction 102(1): 24-34.

  • Grob, C. S., D. J. McKenna, J. C. Callaway, G. S. Brito, E. S. Neves, G. Oberlaender, O. L. Saide, E. Labigalini, C. Tacla, C. T. Miranda, R. J. Strassman and K. B. Boone (1996). "Human psychopharmacology of hoasca, a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brazil." J Nerv Ment Dis 184(2): 86-94.

  • Halpern, J. H., A. R. Sherwood, T. Passie, K. C. Blackwell and A. J. Ruttenber (2008). "Evidence of health and safety in American members of a religion who use a hallucinogenic sacrament." 14(8): SR15-SR22.

  • Harris, R. and L. Gurel (2012). "A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 44(3): 209-215.

  • Hearn, K. (2013). "The Dark Side of Ayahuasca." Men's Journal March.

  • Labate, B. C. and K. Feeney (2012). "Ayahuasca and the process of regulation in Brazil and internationally: implications and challenges." Int J Drug Policy 23(2): 154-161.

  • Labate, B. C. and H. Jungaberle (2011). The internationalization of ayahuasca / edited by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Henrik Jungaberle, Zürich : Lit, c2011.

  • Lanaro, R., D. B. d. A. Calemi, L. R. Togni, J. L. Costa, M. Yonamine, S. d. O. S. Cazenave and A. Linardi (2015). "Ritualistic Use of Ayahuasca versus Street Use of Similar Substances Seized by the Police: A Key Factor Involved in the Potential for Intoxications and Overdose?" Journal Of Psychoactive Drugs 47(2): 132-139.

  • Lewis, S. E. (2008). "Ayahuasca and Spiritual Crisis: Liminality as Space for Personal Growth." Anthropology of Consciousness 19(2): 109-133.

  • Liester, M. B. and J. I. Prickett (2012). "Hypotheses Regarding the Mechanisms of Ayahuasca in the Treatment of Addictions." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 44(3): 200-208.

  • Loizaga-Velder, A. and R. Verres (2014). "Therapeutic effects of ritual ayahuasca use in the treatment of substance dependence--qualitative results." J Psychoactive Drugs 46(1): 63-72.

  • Mabit, J. (2001). "L’alternative des savoirs autochtones au "tout ou rien" thérapeutique." Psychotropes 7: 7-18.

  • Mercante, M. S. (2013). "A ayahuasca e o tratamento da dependência." Mana 19(3): 529-558.

  • Morris, B. (2014). A Strong Cup of Tea, The New York Times Company: 1.

  • Oliveira-Lima, A. J., R. Santos, A. W. Hollais, C. A. Gerardi-Junior, M. A. Baldaia, R. Wuo-Silva, T. S. Yokoyama, J. L. Costa, E. L. A. Malpezzi-Marinho, P. C. Ribeiro-Barbosa, L. F. Berro, R. Frussa-Filho and E. A. V. Marinho (2015). "Effects of ayahuasca on the development of ethanol-induced behavioral sensitization and on a post-sensitization treatment in mice." Physiology & Behavior 142: 28-36.

  • Prayag, G., P. Mura, M. Hall and J. Fontaine (2015). "Drug or spirituality seekers? Consuming ayahuasca." Annals of Tourism Research 52(0): 175-177.

  • Sarris, J., E. McIntyre and D. A. Camfield (2013). "Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence." CNS Drugs 27(4): 301-319.

  • Schenberg, E. E. (2013). "Ayahuasca and cancer treatment." SAGE Open Medicine 1.

  • Schmid, J. T., H. Jungaberle and R. Verres (2010). "Subjective Theories about (Self-)Treatment with Ayahuasca." Anthropology of Consciousness 21(2): 188-204.

  • Shanon, B. (2000). "Ayahuasca and Creativity." MAPS Bulletin 10(3): 18-19.

  • Shanon, B. (2002). The antipodes of the mind : charting the phenomenology of the Ayahuasca experience, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2006.

  • Thomas, G., P. Lucas, N. R. Capler, K. W. Tupper and G. Martin (2013). "Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction: results from a preliminary observational study in Canada." Curr Drug Abuse Rev 6(1): 30-42.

  • Trichter, S. (2010). "Ayahuasca beyond the amazon the benefits and risks of a spreading tradition." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 42(2): 131-148.

  • Tupper, K. W. (2008). "The globalization of ayahuasca: harm reduction or benefit maximization?" Int J Drug Policy 19(4): 297-303.

  • Tupper, K. W. (2009). "Ayahuasca healing beyond the Amazon: the globalization of a traditional indigenous ntheogenic practice." Global Networks 9(1): 117-136.

  • Warren, J. M., P. Dham-Nayyar and J. Alexander (2013). "Recreational use of naturally occurring dimethyltryptamine – contributing to psychosis?" Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 47(4): 398-399.

  • Winkelman, M. (2005). "Drug tourism or spiritual healing? Ayahuasca seekers in Amazonia." J Psychoactive Drugs 37(2): 209-218.

Methods of detoxifying and processing plants for human use are known throughout the world, and include a variety of techniques, including dehydration, application of heat, leaching, and fermentation, among others (Johns and Kubo 1988). While it is difficult to trace the origins of these methods, or to answer the questions of how certain groups learned to detoxify and process useful plants in their environment, to make a blanket claim that certain cultures were incapable of discovering plant properties, and the methods necessary for rendering them sane and useful, seems naive at best.”
— John Rush, Entheogens and the Development of Culture: The Anthropology and Neurobiology of Ecstatic Experience