OPEN Foundation

J. Riba

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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N,N-dimethyltryptamine compound found in the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, regulates adult neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo

Abstract

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a component of the ayahuasca brew traditionally used for ritual and therapeutic purposes across several South American countries. Here, we have examined, in vitro and vivo, the potential neurogenic effect of DMT. Our results demonstrate that DMT administration activates the main adult neurogenic niche, the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, promoting newly generated neurons in the granular zone. Moreover, these mice performed better, compared to control non-treated animals, in memory tests, which suggest a functional relevance for the DMT-induced new production of neurons in the hippocampus. Interestingly, the neurogenic effect of DMT appears to involve signaling via sigma-1 receptor (S1R) activation since S1R antagonist blocked the neurogenic effect. Taken together, our results demonstrate that DMT treatment activates the subgranular neurogenic niche regulating the proliferation of neural stem cells, the migration of neuroblasts, and promoting the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, therefore enhancing adult neurogenesis and improving spatial learning and memory tasks.

Morales-Garcia, J. A., Calleja-Conde, J., Lopez-Moreno, J. A., Alonso-Gil, S., Sanz-SanCristobal, M., Riba, J., & Perez-Castillo, A. (2020). N,N-dimethyltryptamine compound found in the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, regulates adult neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Translational psychiatry, 10(1), 331. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-01011-0

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Prospective examination of synthetic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine inhalation: effects on salivary IL-6, cortisol levels, affect, and non-judgment

Abstract

Rationale

5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine is a psychotropic substance found in various plant and animal species and is synthetically produced. 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine is used in naturalistic settings for spiritual exploration, recreation, or to address negative affect and mood problems. However, scientific knowledge on the effects of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in humans is scarce.

Objectives

The first objective was to assess the effects of inhalation of vaporized synthetic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine on neuroendocrine markers. The second objective was to assess effects of the substance on affect and mindfulness. In addition, we assessed whether ratings of subjective measures were associated with changes in stress biomarkers (i.e., cortisol) and immune response (i.e., IL-6, CRP, IL-1β), as well as the acute psychedelic experience.

Methods

Assessments (baseline, immediately post-session, and 7-day follow-up) were made in 11 participants. Salivary samples were collected at baseline and post-session and analyzed by high-sensitivity enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

Results

5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine significantly increased cortisol levels and decreased IL-6 concentrations in saliva immediately post-session. These changes were not correlated to ratings of mental health or the psychedelic experience. Relative to baseline, ratings of non-judgment significantly increased, and ratings of depression decreased immediately post-session and at follow-up. Ratings of anxiety and stress decreased from baseline to 7-day follow-up. Participant ratings of the psychedelic experience correlated negatively with ratings of affect and positively with ratings of non-judgment.

Conclusion

Inhalation of vaporized synthetic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine produced significant changes in inflammatory markers, improved affect, and non-judgment in volunteers. Future research should examine the effect of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamineamine with healthy volunteers in a controlled laboratory setting.

Uthaug, M. V., Lancelotta, R., Szabo, A., Davis, A. K., Riba, J., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2019). Prospective examination of synthetic 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine inhalation: effects on salivary IL-6, cortisol levels, affect, and non-judgment. Psychopharmacology, 1-13., 10.1007/s00213-019-05414-w
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Ayahuasca improves emotion dysregulation in a community sample and in individuals with borderline-like traits

Abstract

Background

Research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions may improve mindfulness-related capacities (e.g., decentering, non-judging, and non-reacting) and emotion regulation. Previously, our group reported that ayahuasca could be a potential analogue of mindfulness practice. The main aim of the current study was to examine the effects of ayahuasca on emotional regulation and mindfulness-related capacities. Secondarily, we sought to explore the effects of ayahuasca on individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits.

Method

This is an observational study of 45 volunteers who participated in an ayahuasca session. The volunteers completed various self-report instruments designed to measure emotional dysregulation (Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS)) and mindfulness traits (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ)–Short Form and Experiences Questionnaire (EQ)) prior to and 24 h after the ayahuasca session. The volunteers were divided into two subgroups based on their score on the McLean Screening Instrument for BPD (MSI-BPD). Twelve participants were grouped into the BPD-like traits subgroup while the rest of them were included in the non-BPD-like subgroup. We performed within-subjects and between-group analyses.

Results

Overall, the participants showed significant improvements on the FFMQ subscales observingacting with awarenessnon-judging, and non-reacting and also significantly improved on decentering (EQ scale) and on the DERS subscales emotional non-acceptanceemotional interference, and lack of control. The BPD-like subgroup also showed significant improvements on the DERS subscales emotional interference and lack of control but not in mindfulness capacities.

Conclusions

These findings suggest a potential therapeutic effect for ayahuasca in emotion regulation and mindfulness capacities (including decentering, acceptance, awareness, and sensitivity to meditation practice). Based on these results, we believe that ayahuasca therapy could be of value in clinical populations, such as individuals with BPD, affected by emotion dysregulation.

Domínguez-Clavé, E., Soler, J., Pascual, J. C., Elices, M., Franquesa, A., Valle, M., … & Riba, J. (2018). Ayahuasca improves emotion dysregulation in a community sample and in individuals with borderline-like traits. Psychopharmacology, 1-8., 10.1007/s00213-018-5085-3
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Four weekly ayahuasca sessions lead to increases in “acceptance” capacities: a comparison study with a standard 8-week mindfulness training program

Abstract

Background: The therapeutic effects of the Amazonian plant tea ayahuasca may relate to its ability to enhance mindfulness capacities. Ayahuasca induces a modified state of awareness through the combined action of its active principles: the psychedelic N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and a series of centrally acting β-carbolines, mainly harmine and tetrahydroharmine. To better understand the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca, here we compared the impact on mindfulness capacities induced by two independent interventions: (a) participation in four ayahuasca sessions without any specific purpose related to improving mindfulness capacities; and (b) participation in a standard mindfulness training course: 8 weeks mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), with the specific goal of improving these skills.

Methods: Participants of two independent groups completed two self-report instruments: The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and the Experiences Questionnaire (EQ). The MINDSENS Composite Index was also calculated, including those EQ and FFMQ items that have proven to be the most sensitive to meditation practice. Group A (n = 10) was assessed before and after the last of four closely spaced consecutive ayahuasca sessions. Group B (n = 10) was assessed before and after completion of a standard 8-week MBSR course.

Results: MBSR training led to greater increases in overall mindfulness scores after the 8-week period. MBSR but not ayahuasca led to increases in the MINDSENS Composite Index. However, the ayahuasca sessions induced comparable increases in the Non-Judging subscale of the FFMQ, specifically measuring “acceptance.” Improving this capacity allows for a more detached and less judgmental stance toward potentially distressing thoughts and emotions.

Conclusion: The present findings suggest that a small number of ayahuasca sessions can be as effective at improving acceptance as more lengthy and costly interventions. Future studies should address the benefits of combining ayahuasca administration with mindfulness-based interventions. This will allow us to investigate if ayahuasca will improve the outcome of psychotherapeutic interventions.

Soler, J., Elices, M., Dominguez-Clave, E., Pascual, J. C., Feilding, A., Navarro-Gil, M., … & Riba, J. (2018). Four weekly ayahuasca sessions lead to increases in “acceptance” capacities: a comparison study with a standard 8-week mindfulness training program. Frontiers in Pharmacology9, 224. 10.3389/fphar.2018.00224
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The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro

Abstract

Banisteriopsis caapi is the basic ingredient of ayahuasca, a psychotropic plant tea used in the Amazon for ritual and medicinal purposes, and by interested individuals worldwide. Animal studies and recent clinical research suggests that Bcaapi preparations show antidepressant activity, a therapeutic effect that has been linked to hippocampal neurogenesis. Here we report that harmine, tetrahydroharmine and harmaline, the three main alkaloids present in Bcaapi, and the harmine metabolite harmol, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. In neurospheres prepared from progenitor cells obtained from the subventricular and the subgranular zones of adult mice brains, all compounds stimulated neural stem cell proliferation, migration, and differentiation into adult neurons. These findings suggest that modulation of brain plasticity could be a major contribution to the antidepressant effects of ayahuasca. They also expand the potential application of Bcaapi alkaloids to other brain disorders that may benefit from stimulation of endogenous neural precursor niches.
Morales-García, J. A., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Alonso-Gil, S., Rodríguez-Franco, M. I., Feilding, A., Perez-Castillo, A., & Riba, J. (2017). The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. Scientific reports7, 5309. 10.1038%2Fs41598-017-05407-9
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The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro

Abstract

Banisteriopsis caapi is the basic ingredient of ayahuasca, a psychotropic plant tea used in the Amazon for ritual and medicinal purposes, and by interested individuals worldwide. Animal studies and recent clinical research suggests that Bcaapi preparations show antidepressant activity, a therapeutic effect that has been linked to hippocampal neurogenesis. Here we report that harmine, tetrahydroharmine and harmaline, the three main alkaloids present in Bcaapi, and the harmine metabolite harmol, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. In neurospheres prepared from progenitor cells obtained from the subventricular and the subgranular zones of adult mice brains, all compounds stimulated neural stem cell proliferation, migration, and differentiation into adult neurons. These findings suggest that modulation of brain plasticity could be a major contribution to the antidepressant effects of ayahuasca. They also expand the potential application of Bcaapi alkaloids to other brain disorders that may benefit from stimulation of endogenous neural precursor niches.
Morales-García, J. A., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Alonso-Gil, S., Rodríguez-Franco, M. I., Feilding, A., Perez-Castillo, A., & Riba, J. (2017). The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. Scientific Reports7. 10.1038%2Fs41598-017-05407-9
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The Endogenous Hallucinogen and Trace Amine N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) Displays Potent Protective Effects against Hypoxia via Sigma-1 Receptor Activation in Human Primary iPSC-Derived Cortical Neurons and Microglia-Like Immune Cells

Abstract

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a potent endogenous hallucinogen present in the brain of humans and other mammals. Despite extensive research, its physiological role remains largely unknown. Recently, DMT has been found to activate the sigma-1 receptor (Sig-1R), an intracellular chaperone fulfilling an interface role between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondria. It ensures the correct transmission of ER stress into the nucleus resulting in the enhanced production of antistress and antioxidant proteins. Due to this function, the activation of Sig-1R can mitigate the outcome of hypoxia or oxidative stress. In this paper, we aimed to test the hypothesis that DMT plays a neuroprotective role in the brain by activating the Sig-1R. We tested whether DMT can mitigate hypoxic stress in in vitro cultured human cortical neurons (derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, iPSCs), monocyte-derived macrophages (moMACs), and dendritic cells (moDCs). Results showed that DMT robustly increases the survival of these cell types in severe hypoxia (0.5% O2) through the Sig-1R. Furthermore, this phenomenon is associated with the decreased expression and function of the alpha subunit of the hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) suggesting that DMT-mediated Sig-1R activation may alleviate hypoxia-induced cellular stress and increase survival in a HIF-1-independent manner. Our results reveal a novel and important role of DMT in human cellular physiology. We postulate that this compound may be endogenously generated in situations of stress, ameliorating the adverse effects of hypoxic/ischemic insult to the brain.

Szabo, A., Kovacs, A., Riba, J., Djurovic, S., Rajnavolgyi, E., & Frecska, E. (2016). The Endogenous Hallucinogen and Trace Amine N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) Displays Potent Protective Effects against Hypoxia via Sigma-1 Receptor Activation in Human Primary iPSC-Derived Cortical Neurons and Microglia-Like Immune Cells. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10, 423. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00423
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Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking

Abstract

Introduction: Ayahuasca is a South American psychotropic plant tea traditionally used in Amazonian shamanism. The tea contains the psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), plus β-carboline alkaloids with monoamine oxidase-inhibiting properties. Increasing evidence from anecdotal reports and open-label studies indicates that ayahuasca may have therapeutic effects in treatment of substance use disorders and depression. A recent study on the psychological effects of ayahuasca found that the tea reduces judgmental processing and inner reactivity, classic goals of mindfulness psychotherapy. Another psychological facet that could potentially be targeted by ayahuasca is creative divergent thinking. This mode of thinking can enhance and strengthen psychological flexibility by allowing individuals to generate new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies. The present study aimed to assess the potential effects of ayahuasca on creative thinking.

Methods: We visited two spiritual ayahuasca workshops and invited participants to conduct creativity tests before and during the acute effects of ayahuasca. In total, 26 participants consented. Creativity tests included the “pattern/line meanings test” (PLMT) and the “picture concept test” (PCT), both assessing divergent thinking and the latter also assessing convergent thinking.

Results: While no significant effects were found for the PLMT, ayahuasca intake significantly modified divergent and convergent thinking as measured by the PCT. While convergent thinking decreased after intake, divergent thinking increased.

Conclusions: The present data indicate that ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking. They suggest that ayahuasca increases psychological flexibility, which may facilitate psychotherapeutic interventions and support clinical trial initiatives.

Kuypers, K. P. C., Riba, J., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Barker, S., Theunissen, E. L., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2016). Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking. Psychopharmacology, 1-9. 10.1007/s00213-016-4377-8

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Antidepressive, anxiolytic, and antiaddictive effects of ayahuasca, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): a systematic review of clinical trials published in the last 25 years

Abstract

To date, pharmacological treatments for mood and anxiety disorders and for drug dependence show limited efficacy, leaving a large number of patients suffering severe and persistent symptoms. Preliminary studies in animals and humans suggest that ayahuasca, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) may have antidepressive, anxiolytic, and antiaddictive properties. Thus, we conducted a systematic review of clinical trials published from 1990 until 2015, assessing these therapeutic properties. Electronic searches were performed using the PubMed, LILACS, and SciELO databases. Only clinical trials published in peer-reviewed journals were included. Of these, 151 studies were identified, of which six met the established criteria. Reviewed studies suggest beneficial effects for treatment-resistant depression, anxiety and depression associated with life-threatening diseases, and tobacco and alcohol dependence. All drugs were well tolerated. In conclusion, ayahuasca, psilocybin and LSD may be useful pharmacological tools for the treatment of drug dependence, and anxiety and mood disorders, especially in treatment-resistant patients. These drugs may also be useful pharmacological tools to understand psychiatric disorders and to develop new therapeutic agents. However, all studies reviewed had small sample sizes, and half of them were open-label, proof-of-concept studies. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with more patients are needed to replicate these preliminary findings.

dos Santos, R. G., Osório, F. L., Crippa, J. A. S., Riba, J., Zuardi, A. W., & Hallak, J. E. (2016). Antidepressive, anxiolytic, and antiaddictive effects of ayahuasca, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): a systematic review of clinical trials published in the last 25 years. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2045125316638008.

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21 March - Ketamine Discussion with Celia Morgan, Filip Tylš & Will Barone

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