Brain and Body

Your Brain on Ayahuasca: The Amazonian Hallucinogenic Plant Mixture

October 5, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Photo credit: Screen capture from AsapSCIENCE video.

The powerfully psychedelic South American brew typically alters consciousness in the brain for 4 to 8 hours.

For centuries, ayahuasca — a herbal drink made from Amazonian plants — has been said to evoke spiritual and therapeutic experiences among the tea drinker, earning its spot as a tool in healing ceremonies.

Both LSD and magic mushrooms have garnered recent attention as potential treatments for depression and addiction, and just like these hallucinogens, ayahuasca has, too, piqued the interest of Western medicine researchers.

LEARN MORE: LSD Strengthens the Mind’s Semantic Network, Study Finds

However, the hallucinations induced by ayahuasca are reported to be largely different than those of LSD or mushrooms. According to AsapSCIENCE, most people who take ayahuasca are fully aware that they’re visually hallucinating, and the sounds they hear are usually just intensified versions of the sounds that surround them — no imaginary voices or noises.

Further, while LSD or mushroom users often take the drugs just to have a fun, trippy experience, people often seek out ayahuasca to “reconcile with their thoughts and emotions, as well as past and present traumatic events,” according to the video.

From a biochemical standpoint, it makes sense that ayahuasca can help people with depression. As Scientific American’s Arran Frood explains, the ayahuasca plants contain compounds that alter the concentrations of serotonin in the brain. Since serotonin is one of the brain’s key mood-regulating neurotransmitters, it’s also the target of commercial antidepressants.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), one of the leading psychedelic research institutions in the US, conducted the first-ever North American study of the safety and long-term effectiveness of ayahuasca treatment for addiction back in 2013.

According to their study results, ayahuasca-assisted therapy was linked with statistically significant improvements in mindfulness and reductions in problematic use of drugs like tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine.

However, although preliminary study results seem promising, more research is required to confirm whether ayahuasca is a viable option for treating depression and addiction.

For more ayahuasca knowledge, check out AsapSCIENCE’s video below.

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