People have been using ayahuasca as a healing medicine and spiritual tool for thousands of years. Many believe it can help heal emotional trauma, foster spiritual growth, and even connect them with deities.
Research suggests that ayahuasca benefits include anxiolytic and antidepressant effects, as well as improved mindfulness. It has also been shown to stimulate neurogenesis and improve psychotherapeutic outcomes.
1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Taking the herbal medicine ayahuasca during a spiritual ceremony in a natural setting can help people suffering from stress and anxiety find peace. Ayahuasca’s benefits include reducing feelings of fear and worry, and it can even improve mood in people with mild depression. Ayahuasca also helps people connect with their core Self, a source of wisdom and compassion that may have been previously inaccessible. This connection to the core Self can provide an enduring therapeutic benefit, particularly for those with treatment-resistant conditions like PTSD and major depressive disorder.
In a recent study, scientists found that participants with anxiety symptoms experienced improved mood after participating in an ayahuasca ritual. The study used a placebo-controlled research methodology to ensure the integrity of the results. During the session, participants were given either capsules or a drink containing ayahuasca or a placebo. During the session, at least two facilitators from the host organization were present in the room to guide participants through their experiences. Participants were told not to discuss their experiences with the other researchers or with anyone outside of the group. In this way, the research team was able to determine whether or not the effects of the ayahuasca were caused by learning associations with enhanced well-being, as opposed to placebo-induced effects.
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Ayahuasca can increase the level of serotonin in the brain, which can be useful for reducing anxiety and stress. However, it is important to note that the drug should not be taken with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can cause an overdose of serotonin and lead to a dangerous condition known as serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome can include shivering, diarrhea, hyperthermia, and muscle rigidity.
Some studies have reported that ayahuasca can also increase levels of mindfulness, which can aid in reducing stress and anxiety. In addition, ayahuasca can facilitate the introspection that is necessary for overcoming negative emotional states. Other studies have shown that ayahuasca increases activity in the frontal cortex and other parts of the brain associated with memory processing.
At the one-month follow-up, many of the participants in the study no longer met the diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric disorder. This suggests that the effects of ayahuasca can be beneficial for those with psychiatric disorders, but these results must be replicated with larger sample sizes and control groups.
2. Boosts Mood
One of the most striking findings in the ayahuasca research community is that many users experience a substantial improvement in their overall mental health and quality of life in the months and years after drinking this powerful plant. Psychiatric researchers have linked these changes to ayahuasca’s psychotherapeutic processes that involve introspection, emotional processing, and gaining insights and perspectives about an individual’s life.
In a recent study, participants who had suffered from depression and anxiety reported significantly lower levels of self-reported symptoms after consuming this ancient plant. The participants also demonstrated improved levels of mindfulness, hopefulness, and empowerment, and decreased use of tobacco and alcohol. However, the improvement did not reach statistical significance at the 1-month follow-up. This may be because some ayahuasca drinkers report experiencing a re-traumatization of painful memories or experiences.
The ayahuasca effect can also be accompanied by the feeling of being supported and guided by an intelligent power, a sense of connectedness with all living things, and an increase in empathy and compassion for others. These experiences have been linked to increased levels of “decentring,” which is the meta-cognitive ability to detach from negative emotions and thoughts and focus on the positive aspects of ones experience (Fresco et al., 2007).
This mystical experience is likely caused by harmine, which inhibits the breakdown of DMT in the digestive tract. Laboratory studies have linked harmine to reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as to increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which supports the growth of neurons and their connections.
In addition to the introspection and emotional processing effects of ayahuasca, it is also possible for these experiences to uncover and reveal deeply buried traumas, or even bring up memories from early childhood. This type of experience can be very therapeutic for those with PTSD and other trauma disorders. It is often described as a profound healing process, or a reversal of the vicious cycle that often leads to substance misuse and re-traumatization. This reversal is often followed by a period of integration and a sense of meaning and purpose.
3. Improves Memory
Ayahuasca may enhance memory by triggering molecular events like the reorganization of homo and heteroreceptor complexes at the synapse, synaptic plasticity, and epigenetic modulation of gene expression. It is also a natural anti-depressant and improves mood, boosts mindfulness, and increases self-esteem, though more research needs to be done in these areas.
The psychedelic plant’s active ingredients, such as harmine, have been shown to protect brain cells and promote neuronal cell growth. It’s also been linked to higher levels of the protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps nerve cells grow and maintain connections between them.
Studies on animals have found that long-term ayahuasca consumption affects cellular and cognitive mechanisms involved in memory and anxiety processes. Animals that were administered ayahuasca performed better on behavioral paradigms related to hippocampus-dependent and associative emotional learning, including the Morris water maze, elevated plus maze and fear conditioning models. These results suggest that ayahuasca can improve memory by affecting the hippocampus and amygdala, as well as increasing inhibitory amino acids and monoamines in these brain structures.
In a more clinical study, long-term ayahuasca users scored significantly better on a variety of mental health scales than their non-use counterparts at 1-month and 6-month follow-up assessments, including the HAM-D and WHOQOL quality of life measures. They also showed improvements in the self-transcendence and hopefulness dimensions of the Temperament and Character Inventory, as well as a reduction in their use of tobacco, cocaine, and alcohol.
Ayahuasca’s psychedelic effects are not for everyone, however. It’s not recommended for those with a history of psychiatric disorders and can cause high blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature fluctuations. It can also exacerbate the symptoms of some psychiatric conditions and increase agitation, confusion, and paranoia in people with bipolar disorder. It is also not advised for pregnant women or those with heart problems.
The most effective way to experience the healing properties of Ayahuasca is to take part in a ceremony with trained shamans and therapists, known as healers. They can prepare the medicinal tea, guide participants through an ayahuasca journey, and help them integrate their experiences with psychological support afterward.
4. Treats Depression
In the same way that antidepressants work, ayahuasca may help treat depression and anxiety. A small preliminary study published in a medical journal earlier this year found that drinking ayahuasca helped reduce depressive symptoms in people with treatment-resistant depression. The researchers gave six people with severe depression ayahuasca, while another group of participants received a placebo. A week later, the people who drank ayahuasca showed significant improvement in their moods, with their depression shifting from severe to mild on a standard depression scale. The researchers say ayahuasca appears to work because of its ability to increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to have an antidepressant effect.
The study also found that those who reported experiencing a greater number of insights during their ayahuasca experience had lower K10 scores for both depression and anxiety, suggesting that mystical experiences may be beneficial for mental health. The study’s authors suggest that these findings support previous research suggesting that ayahuasca may improve the psychological well-being of those with a variety of conditions, including PTSD (Nielson and Megler, 2014); suicidality (Zeifman et al., 2019); eating disorders (Lafrance et al., 2017); and borderline personality disorder (Dominguez-Clave et al., 2019).
Ayahuasca is a powerful drug that is used in several South American countries for healing purposes and as part of religious ceremonies and tribal rituals. It is made by soaking or boiling the stems of the B. caapi vine and mixing it with leaves from the chacruna plant or the Psychotria viridis plant, both of which contain MAO inhibitors. These substances stop the digestive system from breaking down DMT, which allows ayahuasca’s psychedelic effects to appear. Neuroimaging studies have shown that ayahuasca increases blood flow to regions of the brain that regulate emotions and memory.
Ayahuasca may boost mood, improve mindfulness, and treat depression and anxiety, but the research is still in the early stages. It is important to note that ayahuasca should not be taken by those with certain psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, as it could exacerbate their symptoms and cause mania. Also, those with heart problems should avoid ayahuasca as it can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.