A Single Dose Of Ayahuasca Modulates Salivary Cortisol In Treatment-Resistant Depression


Major depression is a highly prevalent mood disorder, affecting about 350 million people, and around 30% of the patients are resistant to currently available antidepressant medications. Recent evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial supports the rapid antidepressant effects of the psychedelic ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression. The aim of this study was to explore the effect of ayahuasca on plasma cortisol and awakening salivary cortisol response, in the same group of treatment-resistant patients and in healthy volunteers. Subjects received a single dose of ayahuasca or placebo, and both plasma and awakening salivary cortisol response were measured at baseline (before dosing) and 48h after the dosing session. Baseline assessment (D0) showed blunted awakening salivary cortisol response and hypocortisolemia in patients (DM), both with respect to healthy controls group (C). Salivary cortisol also was measured during dosing session and we observed a large increased for both C and DM that ingested ayahuasca, than placebo groups. After 48h of the dosing session (D2) with ayahuasca, awakening salivary cortisol response (for both sexes) of treated patients became similar to levels detected in controls. This was not observed in patients that ingested placebo. No changes in plasma cortisol were observed after 48 hours of ayahuasca or placebo ingestion for both groups and sexes. Therefore, these findings point to new evidence of modulation of ayahuasca on salivary cortisol levels, as cortisol acts in regulation of distinct physiological pathways, emotional and cognitive processes related to etiology of depression, this modulation could be an important part of the antidepressant effects observed with ayahuasca. Moreover, this study highlights the importance of psychedelics in the treatment of human mental disorders.

Galvao, A. C. M., Almeida, R. N., dos Santos Silva, E. A., de Morais Freire, F. A., Palhano-Fontes, F., Onias, H., … & Galvao-Coelho, N. L. (2018). A Single Dose Of Ayahuasca Modulates Salivary Cortisol In Treatment-Resistant Depression. bioRxiv, 257238. 10.1101/257238
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