Ayahuasca is a plant tea containing the psychedelic 5-HT2A agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine and harmala monoamine-oxidase inhibitors. Acute administration leads to neurophysiological modifications in brain regions of the default mode network, purportedly through a glutamatergic mechanism. Post-acutely, ayahuasca potentiates mindfulness capacities in volunteers and induces rapid and sustained antidepressant effects in treatment-resistant patients. However, the mechanisms underlying these fast and maintained effects are poorly understood. Here, we investigated in an open-label uncontrolled study in 16 healthy volunteers ayahuasca-induced post-acute neurometabolic and connectivity modifications and their association with mindfulness measures.
Using 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy and functional connectivity, we compared baseline and post-acute neurometabolites and seed-to-voxel connectivity in the posterior and anterior cingulate cortex after a single ayahuasca dose.
Magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed post-acute reductions in glutamate+glutamine, creatine, and N-acetylaspartate+N-acetylaspartylglutamate in the posterior cingulate cortex. Connectivity was increased between the posterior cingulate cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, and between the anterior cingulate cortex and limbic structures in the right medial temporal lobe. Glutamate+glutamine reductions correlated with increases in the “nonjudging” subscale of the Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire. Increased anterior cingulate cortex-medial temporal lobe connectivity correlated with increased scores on the self-compassion questionnaire. Post-acute neural changes predicted sustained elevations in nonjudging 2 months later.
These results support the involvement of glutamate neurotransmission in the effects of psychedelics in humans. They further suggest that neurometabolic changes in the posterior cingulate cortex, a key region within the default mode network, and increased connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobe structures involved in emotion and memory potentially underlie the post-acute psychological effects of ayahuasca. Sampedro, F., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Valle, M., Roberto, N., Domínguez-Clavé, E., Elices, M., … & Friedlander, P. (2017). Assessing the psychedelic “after-glow” in ayahuasca users: post-acute neurometabolic and functional connectivity changes are associated with enhanced mindfulness capacities. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 10.1093/ijnp/pyx036