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The effects of ayahuasca: what does this hallucinogen do?

The effects of ayahuasca: what does this hallucinogen do?

July 14, 2024

In recent decades it has become very popular ayahuasca, a drink with hallucinogenic effects used by the peoples of the Amazon many millennia ago to which they attributed mystical properties. In particular, they related their consumption to the 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 . In addition we will talk about the chemical and pharmacological properties of this substance and the possible therapeutic applications of some of its components.

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What is ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a drink with psychoactive properties that has its origin in the Amazon region. Along the history has been prepared and used by tribal shamans of this zone as part of curative and religious ceremonies, and multiple magical features and health benefits have been attributed to it.


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

It is often prepared by boiling Banisteriopsis caapi, a plant of the class of lianas that is also known as ayahuasca and that contains alkaloids that inhibit the MAO enzyme, along with another that contains The main psychoactive factor: N, N-Dimethyltryptamine or DMT . The most usual is that this second plant is Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana.


The term "ayahuasca" comes from Quechua "ayawaska", which can be translated as "liana of the spirits" ; According to the tradition of this people, this substance allows the soul of those who consume it to leave their body without the need to die. In other Latin American languages ​​it is called "caapi", "nishi cobin", "nixi pae", "natem" and "shori".

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Pharmacology and mechanism of action

Ayahuasca (Banisteropsis caapi) contains several alkaloids from the class of beta-carbolines, which inhibit the activity of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) and sometimes also the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. The most studied are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine.

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


DMT is a very common endogenous hallucinogenic compound : it is present naturally in many plants, but also in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid of human beings. However, at the moment it is not known with certainty what is the function that fulfills in the organism.

Effects of this drug

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

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

On the other hand it is usual that the consumption of ayahuasca causes adverse physical reactions, especially nausea and diarrhea , as well as acute emotional distress. Excessive consumption can cause the serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by the appearance of tremors, spasms, hyperthermia and sweating and can even cause death.

In comparison with other hallucinogenic substances, among which the psilocybin fungus and LSD stand out, ayahuasca acts with greater speed and intensity, but the duration of its effects is lower. If orally ingested they are kept for about 3 hours , but they only last between 5 and 15 minutes if they are administered by inhalation or intravenously.

The therapeutic potential of ayahuasca

Currently, research is being carried out on the possible therapeutic effects of ayahuasca in different medical applications.However, this field of scientific literature is still at a very early stage.

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

It should also be borne in mind that since ancient times the natives of the Amazon have used ayahuasca as a purgative to eliminate parasites (especially worms) and "negative energies" of the body and mind. In this last sense ayahuasca is attributed a relaxing character, although it is true that its consumption can cause anxiety.

Bibliographic references:

  • Barker, S.A., McIlhenny, E. H. & Strassman, R. (2012). A critical review of reports of endogenous psychedelic N, N-dimethyltryptamines in humans: 1955-2010. Drug Test Anal, 4 (7-8): 617-35.
  • Frecska, E., Bokor, P. & Winkelman, M. (2016). The therapeutic potentials of ayahuasca: possible effects against various diseases of civilization. Front Pharmacol, 7:35.

Your Brain On Ayahuasca: The Hallucinogenic Drug (July 2024).


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