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One dose of ayahuasca could result in lasting changes in important brain networks

ayahuasca dose

One of the most extraordinary hallucinogenes we often talk about here on Avalon Magic Plants, is Ayahuasca. This Amazonian brew has been used by indigenous tribes for centuries and contains the powerful psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine, better known as simply DMT. New research shows this psychedelic concoction can produce lasting changes in higher-order cognitive brain networks.

Long-lasting effects

The study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and suggests that ayahuasca may produce long-lasting effects on the human body by altering the functional functional connectivity of the brain’s salience and default mode networks. Ayahuasca is typically prepared using leaves from the Psychotria viridis shrub and the bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. The first contains DMT, while the second contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors which enable the DMT to do it’s work inside the body. 

“As a clinical neuroscientist, I am interested in approaches that can improve the life of patients with neuropsychiatric disorders,” said study author Lorenzo Pasquini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Pasquini is one of the few people who was responsible for this new neuroimaging study. 

The potential of ayahuasca

“Psychedelic substances were almost completely banned from academic research for the last 70 years. The revival of psychedelic research of the last years provides an exciting opportunity to study the clinical potential of psychedelic therapy sessions on mood disorders affecting millions of persons worldwide”, he told PsyPost. 

“As a computational neuroscientist, I am particularly interested in the role that specific neural circuits play in social-emotional behavior. Psychedelic substances, and the associated altered state of consciousness elicited by their serotonergic action, provide us with a novel way to study how these neural systems support human emotions and social behavior.”

So what exactly did they do to come to their results? Well, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brain structure of 50 healthy participants one day before and one day after they received either a single low dose of ayahuasca or a placebo substance. None of the participants had ever experienced ayahuasca or DMT before this study. 

“While most studies so far have explored the neuronal correlates of altered states of consciousness during the acute phase of a psychedelic session, our study focuses on the subacute effects by assessing changes in brain functional organization one day after the session,” Pasquini explained. 

Conceptual framework

He found that ayahuasca could have “a long-lasting effect on the functional organization of brain networks supporting higher order cognitive and affective functions (...) We found that ayahuasca had an impact on two important brain networks that support interoceptive (processing of bodily sensations, like from the guts and other internal organs), affective, and motivational functions, while primary sensory networks (visual, sensorimotor) were not affected one day after the session,” he continued. 

“Consistently, functional changes in these networks related to altered levels of affect, interoception, and motivation assessed during the acute session, providing a link between long-lasting brain changes and altered states of consciousness elicited by ayahuasca. Importantly, these findings may provide a conceptual framework to further explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances in mood and affective disorders.”

Don’t try this at home

If all of the above was motivating you to try replicating these effects at home, the study authors have one advice: don’t. “The field is just beginning to understand the impact that psychedelic substances and the associated altered state of consciousness have on brain function and affect, not only during the acute sesion but also in the long-term,” Pasquini said. 

“Importantly, the pharmacological properties of these substances cannot be dissociated from the setting where the experience takes place. In other words, the right dosage, the right guidance, and a safe environment are all factors that critically impact the therapeutic potential of entheogens.”