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Ayahuasca

When Plants Dream: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Shamanism and the Global Psychedelic Renaissance

When Plants Dream: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Shamanism and the Global Psychedelic Renaissance. David Pinchbeck. Watkins Publishing. ISBN: 9781786780799

Focusing specifically on Ayahuasca, the authors look at the economic, social, political, cultural, and environmental impact that this plant is having on society, both good and bad. This is the first book of its kind to look at the science and expanding culture of ayahuasca, from its historical use to its appropriation by the West and the impact it is having on cultures beyond the Amazon.

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Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca

PSYCHEDELIC MEDICINE: THE HEALING POWERS OF LSD, MDMA, PSILOCYBIN, AND AYAHUASCA. Dr. Richard Louis Miller. Park Street Press. ISBN: 978-1620556979

Clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Louis Miller discusses what is happening today in psychedelic medicine. Dr. Miller and his contributors explore the ongoing efforts to restore psychedelic therapies to the health field. They also discuss the newly shifting political climate and the push for new research, offering hope for an end to the War on Drugs and a potential renaissance of research into psychedelic medicines around the world.

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Risk assessment of ayahuasca use in a religious context: self-reported risk factors and adverse effects

Abstract

Objective: Whether for spiritual, recreational, or potential therapeutic use, interest in ayahuasca has grown remarkably. Ayahuasca’s main active substances are N,N-dimethyltryptamine and certain monoamine oxidase inhibitor β-carbolines. Possible drug interactions are a major concern, and research is lacking in this area. The objective of this study was to evaluate the safety of ritual ayahuasca use regarding adverse effects and risk factors.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, ayahuasca users from a religious institution answered an online questionnaire about its safety. Adverse effects, safety measures, and possible risk factors (psychiatric diagnosis and medications) were investigated.

Results: The most frequent adverse effects among the 614 participants were transient gastrointestinal effects (nausea and vomiting). Fifty participants self-reported a psychiatric diagnosis (depression and anxiety were the most prevalent), and these participants experienced adverse effects more frequently. Psychiatric medication use was reported by 31 participants. No indication of increased adverse effects due to drug-drug interactions was found.

Conclusion: A minority of participants reported being very negatively affected by persistent adverse effects. Psychiatric medication use while participating in ayahuasca rituals was not associated with increased adverse effects. For the most part, the institution’s practices seem sufficient to prevent exacerbated reactions. Future studies may focus on negatively affected users.

Durante, Í., Dos Santos, R. G., Bouso, J. C., & Hallak, J. E. (2021). Risk assessment of ayahuasca use in a religious context: self-reported risk factors and adverse effects. Revista brasileira de psiquiatria (Sao Paulo, Brazil : 1999), 43(4), 362–369. https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-4446-2020-0913

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Effects of Ayahuasca on the Recognition of Facial Expressions of Emotions in Naive Healthy Volunteers: A Pilot, Proof-of-Concept, Randomized Controlled Trial

Abstract

Background: The recognition of emotions in facial expressions (REFE) is a core aspect of social cognition. Previous studies with the serotonergic hallucinogens lysergic acid diethylamide and psilocybin showed that these drugs reduced the recognition of negative (fear) faces in healthy volunteers. This trial assessed the acute and prolonged effects of a single dose of ayahuasca on the REFE.

Methods: Twenty-two healthy volunteers participated in a pilot, proof-of-concept, randomized trial. Study variables included a REFE task performed before and 4 hours after drug intake, subjective effects (self-reports/observer impressions), tolerability measures (cardiovascular measures, self-reports), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor plasma levels. The REFE task was applied again 1, 7, 14, and 21 days and 3 months after drug intake. Stability of ayahuasca alkaloids during the study was also assessed (room temperature, 18 months).

Findings: Compared with placebo, ayahuasca did not modify the REFE. No significant effects were observed on cardiovascular measures and brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels. Volunteers reported visual effects, tranquility/relaxation, and well-being, with few reports of transient anxiety/confusion. Ayahuasca was well tolerated, producing mainly nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, and vomiting. A significant time-dependent deterioration of alkaloids was observed, especially for dimethyltryptamine.

Conclusions: Absence of significant effects on the REFE task could be due to lack of effects of ayahuasca (at the doses used), alkaloid degradation, learning effects, and the high educational level of the sample. Further trials with different samples are needed to better understand the effects of ayahuasca and other serotonergic hallucinogens on the REFE. Future trials should improve methods to guarantee the stability of ayahuasca alkaloids.

Rocha, J. M., Rossi, G. N., de Lima Osório, F., Bouso, J. C., de Oliveira Silveira, G., Yonamine, M., Campos, A. C., Bertozi, G., Cecílio Hallak, J. E., & Dos Santos, R. G. (2021). Effects of Ayahuasca on the Recognition of Facial Expressions of Emotions in Naive Healthy Volunteers: A Pilot, Proof-of-Concept, Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 41(3), 267–274. https://doi.org/10.1097/JCP.0000000000001396

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Examining changes in personality following shamanic ceremonial use of ayahuasca

Abstract

The present study examines the association between the ceremonial use of ayahuasca-a decoction combining the Banistereopsis caapi vine and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine-containing plants-and changes in personality traits as conceived by the Five-Factor model (FFM). We also examine the degree to which demographic characteristics, baseline personality, and acute post-ayahuasca experiences affect personality change. Participants recruited from three ayahuasca healing and spiritual centers in South and Central America (N = 256) completed self-report measures of personality at three timepoints (Baseline, Post, 3-month Follow-up). Informant-report measures of the FFM were also obtained (N = 110). Linear mixed models were used to examine changes in personality and the moderation of those changes by covariates. The most pronounced change was a reduction in Neuroticism dzself-reportT1-T2 = – 1.00; dzself-reportT1-T3 = – .85; dzinformant-reportT1-T3 = – .62), reflected in self- and informant-report data. Moderation of personality change by baseline personality, acute experiences, and purgative experiences was also observed.

Weiss, B., Miller, J. D., Carter, N. T., & Keith Campbell, W. (2021). Examining changes in personality following shamanic ceremonial use of ayahuasca. Scientific reports, 11(1), 6653. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84746-0

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Hallucinogenic/psychedelic 5HT2A receptor agonists as rapid antidepressant therapeutics: Evidence and mechanisms of action

Abstract

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is among the most prevalent mental health disorders worldwide, and it is associated with a reduced quality of life and enormous costs to health care systems. Available drug treatments show low-to-moderate response in most patients, with almost a third of patients being non-responders (treatment-resistant). Furthermore, most currently available medications need several weeks to achieve therapeutic effects, and the long-term use of these drugs is often associated with significant unwanted side effects and resultant reductions in treatment compliance. Therefore, more effective, safer, and faster-acting antidepressants with enduring effects are needed. Together with ketamine, psychedelics (or classic or serotoninergic hallucinogens) such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and ayahuasca are among the few compounds with recent human evidence of fast-acting antidepressant effects. Several studies in the 1950s to 1970s reported antidepressive and anxiolytic effects of these drugs, which are being confirmed by modern trials (LSD, one trial; psilocybin, five trials; ayahuasca, two trials). The effects of these drugs appear to be produced primarily by their agonism at serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) receptors, especially the 5-HT2A receptor. Considering the overall burden of MDD and the necessity of new therapeutic options, the promising (but currently limited) evidence of safety and efficacy of psychedelics has encouraged the scientific community to explore more fully their beneficial effects in MDD.

Dos Santos, R. G., Hallak, J. E., Baker, G., & Dursun, S. (2021). Hallucinogenic/psychedelic 5HT2A receptor agonists as rapid antidepressant therapeutics: Evidence and mechanisms of action. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 453–458. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120986422

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A placebo-controlled study of the effects of ayahuasca, set and setting on mental health of participants in ayahuasca group retreats

Abstract

Ayahuasca is a plant concoction containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and certain β-carboline alkaloids from South America. Previous research in naturalistic settings has suggested that ingestion of ayahuasca can improve mental health and well-being; however, these studies were not placebo controlled and did not control for the possibility of expectation bias. This naturalistic observational study was designed to assess whether mental health changes were produced by ayahuasca or by set and setting. Assessments were made pre- and post-ayahuasca sessions in 30 experienced participants of ayahuasca retreats hosted in the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany. Participants consumed ayahuasca (N = 14) or placebo (N = 16). Analysis revealed a main effect of time on symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Compared to baseline, symptoms reduced in both groups after the ceremony, independent of treatment. There was a main treatment × time interaction on implicit emotional empathy, indicating that ayahuasca increased emotional empathy to negative stimuli. The current findings suggest that improvements in mental health of participants of ayahuasca ceremonies can be driven by non-pharmacological factors that constitute a placebo response but also by pharmacological factors that are related to the use of ayahuasca. These findings stress the importance of placebo-controlled designs in psychedelic research and the need to further explore the contribution of non-pharmacological factors to the psychedelic experience.

Uthaug, M. V., Mason, N. L., Toennes, S. W., Reckweg, J. T., de Sousa Fernandes Perna, E. B., Kuypers, K., van Oorsouw, K., Riba, J., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2021). A placebo-controlled study of the effects of ayahuasca, set and setting on mental health of participants in ayahuasca group retreats. Psychopharmacology, 238(7), 1899–1910. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-021-05817-8

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Within-treatment changes in a novel addiction treatment program using traditional Amazonian medicine

Abstract

Aims: The therapeutic use of psychedelics is regaining scientific momentum, but similarly psychoactive ethnobotanical substances have a long history of medical (and other) uses in indigenous contexts. Here we aimed to evaluate patient outcomes in a residential addiction treatment center that employs a novel combination of Western and traditional Amazonian methods.

Methods: The study was observational, with repeated measures applied throughout treatment. All tests were administered in the center, which is located in Tarapoto, Peru. Data were collected between 2014 and 2015, and the study sample consisted of 36 male inpatients who were motivated to seek treatment and who entered into treatment voluntarily. Around 58% of the sample was from South America, 28% from Europe, and the remaining 14% from North America. We primarily employed repeated measures on a psychological test battery administered throughout treatment, measuring perceived stress, craving frequency, mental illness symptoms, spiritual well-being, and physical and emotional health. Addiction severity was measured on intake, and neuropsychological performance was assessed in a subsample from intake to at least 2 months into treatment.

Results: Statistically significant and clinically positive changes were found across all repeated measures. These changes appeared early in the treatment and were maintained over time. Significant improvements were also found for neuropsychological functioning.

Conclusion: These results provide evidence for treatment safety in a highly novel addiction treatment setting, while also suggesting positive therapeutic effects.

O’Shaughnessy, D. M., Berlowitz, I., Rodd, R., Sarnyai, Z., & Quirk, F. (2021). Within-treatment changes in a novel addiction treatment program using traditional Amazonian medicine. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 11, 2045125320986634. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125320986634

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The acute effects of classic psychedelics on memory in humans

Abstract

Rationale: Memory plays a central role in the psychedelic experience. The spontaneous recall and immersive reliving of autobiographical memories has frequently been noted by researchers and clinicians as a salient phenomenon in the profile of subjective effects of classic psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca. The ability for psychedelics to provoke vivid memories has been considered important to their clinical efficacy.

Objective: This review aims to examine and aggregate the findings from experimental, observational, and qualitative studies on the acute modulation of memory by classic psychedelics in humans.

Method: A literature search was conducted using PubMed and PsycInfo as well as manual review of references from eligible studies. Publications reporting quantitative and/or qualitative findings were included; animal studies and case reports were excluded.

Results: Classic psychedelics produce dose-dependently increasing impairments in memory task performance, such that low doses produce no impairment and higher doses produce increasing levels of impairment. This pattern has been observed in tasks assessing spatial and verbal working memory, semantic memory, and non-autobiographical episodic memory. Such impairments may be less pronounced among experienced psychedelic users. Classic psychedelics also increase the vividness of autobiographical memories and frequently stimulate the recall and/or re-experiencing of autobiographical memories, often memories that are affectively intense (positively or negatively valenced) and that had been avoided and/or forgotten prior to the experience.

Conclusions: Classic psychedelics dose-dependently impair memory task performance but may enhance autobiographical memory. These findings are relevant to the understanding of psychological mechanisms of action of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

Healy C. J. (2021). The acute effects of classic psychedelics on memory in humans. Psychopharmacology, 238(3), 639–653. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05756-w

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The ritual use of ayahuasca during treatment of severe physical illnesses: a qualitative study

Abstract

Diseases that threaten life raise existential questions that can be a source of psychological distress. Studies with psychedelics demonstrate therapeutic effects for anxiety and depression associated with life-threatening illnesses. Ayahuasca has been proposed as a possible therapeutic agent in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Preliminary studies suggest that ayahuasca could promote therapeutic effects for people with physical illnesses. The aim of this study was to explore how the ritual use of ayahuasca during the treatment of severe physical illnesses (SPI) may influence the way people understand and relate to their illness, using qualitative methods to assess the participants’ perspectives. Participants who consumed ayahuasca ritualistically during the period of treatment for SPI were purposely chosen. Data were obtained through semi-structured interviews. A thematic analysis was performed with 14 individuals. The ritual experience with ayahuasca acted on the participants’ illness understanding through multiple psychological mechanisms, including introspection, self-analysis, emotional processing and catharsis, recall of autobiographical memories subjectively related to illness origin, illness resignification, and perspective changes. This study suggests that the experience with ayahuasca may facilitate illness acceptance through an influence on the meanings of the illness, life, and death. These changes may favor a more balanced relationship with illness and treatment.

Maia, L. O., Daldegan-Bueno, D., & Tófoli, L. F. (2021). The ritual use of ayahuasca during treatment of severe physical illnesses: a qualitative study. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 53(3), 272–282. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2020.1854399

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