The effects of ayahuasca: what does this hallucinogen do?

In recent decades it has become very popular ayahuasca, a drink with hallucinogenic effects used by the peoples of the Amazon several millennia ago to which they attributed mystical properties. In particular, they linked their consumption to transit between the world of the living and that of the spirits.

In this article we will describe what is ayahuasca and what are its psychological and physical effects. We will also talk about the chemical and pharmacological properties of this substance and the possible therapeutic applications of some of its components.

    What is ayahuasca?

    Ayahuasca is a drink with psychoactive properties that originates in the Amazon region. Throughout history was prepared and used by tribal shamans of this area as part of healing and religious ceremonies, and has been attributed multiple magical traits and health benefits.

    It is primarily known for its effects on the psychological experience: Many people who have consumed ayahuasca claim that it has helped them gain a sense of spiritual significance, in some cases maintained long after consumption. In this sense, ayahuasca it can be compared to drugs like psilocybin and LSD.

    It is frequently prepared by boiling BANISTERIOPSIS CAAPI, a plant in the lianas class which is also known as ayahuasca and contains alkaloids which inhibit the MAO enzyme, along with another which contains the main psychoactive factor: N, N-Dimethyltryptamine or DMT. The most common is that this second plant is Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana.

    The term “ayahuasca” comes from the Quechua “ayawaska”, which can be translated as “liana of the spirits”; according to the tradition of this people, this substance allows the soul of the one who consumes it to leave his body without having to die. In other Latin American languages, it is called “caapi”, “nishi cobin”, “nixi pae”, “natem” and “shori”.

      Pharmacology and mechanism of action

      Ayahuasca (Banisteropsis caapi) contains several alkaloids of the beta-carboline class, which inhibit the activity of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) and sometimes also absorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin. The most studied are harmina, harmaline and tetrahydroharmina.

      This MAO inhibition allows blood and brain diffusion of N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the active ingredient in ayahuasca as a drink, although, as we said, it is not found in the plant itself but in others), which causes the characteristic psychoactive effects of this compound.

      DMT is a very common endogenous hallucinogenic compound: It is naturally present in many plants, but also in human blood and cerebrospinal fluid. However, at the moment it is not clear what role it plays in the body.

      Effects of this medication

      The DMT molecule causes, according to people who have consumed it, feelings of euphoria accompanied by dynamic hallucinations. These are characterized mainly by the presence of geometric shapes and their transcendental character; in many cases, they include perceptions of gods, a collective consciousness of earthly beings, etc.

      Many people who have tried this substance claim that it has helped them gain spiritual revelations about themselves or their relationship with the environment, even the cosmos. In some cases, accounts of these experiences include supernatural phenomena such as travel to other dimensions and contact with charitable spirits.

      On the other hand, it is common for ayahuasca consumption to cause unwanted physical reactions, especially nausea and diarrhea, As well as acute emotional distress. Excessive consumption can cause serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by the appearance of tremors, spasms, hyperthermia and sweating and can lead to death.

      Compared to other hallucinogens, including the mushroom psilocybin and LSD, ayahuasca works faster and more intensely, but the duration of its effects is shorter. If ingested orally, they are kept for about 3 hours, But only lasts between 5 and 15 minutes if administered by inhalation or intravenously.

      The therapeutic potential of ayahuasca

      Research is currently being carried out on the possible therapeutic effects of ayahuasca in different medical applications. However, this area of ​​scientific literature is still at a very early stage.

      A very striking line of research is that carried out by the Beckley Foundation, which connects ayahuasca with neurogenesis, that is, the formation of neurons in the brain.

      It should also be noted that since ancient times, the natives of the Amazon have used ayahuasca as a laxative to remove parasites (especially worms) and “negative energies” from the body and mind. In the latter sense, ayahuasca is attributed a relaxing character, although it is true that its consumption can cause anxiety.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Barker, SA, McIlhenny, EH and Strassman, R. (2012). A critical review of the reports of endogenous psychedelic N, N-dimethyltryptamine in humans: 1955-2010. Anal drug test, 4 (7-8): 617-35.
      • Frecska, E., Bokor, P. and Winkelman, M. (2016). The therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: possible effects against various diseases of civilization. Front Pharmacol, 7:35 a.m.

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