For South America's indigenous societies, Ayahuasca has been a "teacher plant" in regular rituals. Ayahuasca, also known as yage, is a blend of two plants - the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis), which contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT). But, the most interesting part about it is the kind of trip it sends you on.
Psychedelic sensations are an interesting phenomenon. Although it is not advised to induce psychedelic feelings with drugs, we must understand why this sensation is sought.
When one consumes or injects psychedelic substances, these substances alter the non-ordinary states of consciousness by binding with their Serotonin 2A receptors, producing a chemical reaction that allows one to feel psychedelic sensations. These sensations are often called hallucinations, altered states of hearing and thinking, vivid dreams, among many other things.
Drugs that induce psychedelic sensations are called psychedelics, which are a part of psychoactive medications. Drugs like LSD, Opium, etc., are some well known psychedelic drugs. However, it is not recommended to indulge in psychedelics since these can lead to severe drug addiction.
Ayahuasca- The Beneficial Psychedelic
Science has seen potential benefits in such drugs. One of them is the Ayahuasca tea. The Ayahuasca tea is derived from the Caapi or the Ayahuasca plant scientifically named Banisteriopsis caapi.
The leaves are brewed to make a decoction and then made into tea, which is primarily used as an entheogenic medium, i.e., it is used for spiritual purposes and experiences. It is traditionally consumed in South America by native Americans and is a very ancient form of a psychedelic drug. Many people across the world especially visit South America to experience the sensations induced by this drug.
Banisteriopsis caapi is a sacred plant and holds an important place in Native American culture. Scientists are now discovering potential medicinal uses of Ayahuasca for treating diseases in the future.
What makes the hallucinations unique?
One of the ways an LSD trip is different from an ayahuasca drug experience is the fact that most people say they know they’re hallucinating, and instead of imagining voices, they usually just hear exaggerated sounds that are actually occurring around them. There seems to be a consensus that for many people who use ayahuasca they are more self-aware of what’s really going on, and less of a loss of reality, although for every person the experience can be different. There is no way to predict how you will feel or react to the use of ayahuasca.
The ayahuasca drug is often used by people as a way to deal with past painful or traumatic experiences or to cope with certain thoughts or emotions. Other popular hallucinogens around the world in addition to the ayahuasca drug include MDMA and mushrooms.
A Study by The University of Madrid
The University of Madrid had conducted studies on the benefits of consuming Ayahuasca. The researchers were particularly interested in Ayahuasca’s main compound, which induces psychedelic sensations- The chemical compound N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). This compound is mainly responsible for causing psychedelic feelings and is available in its synthetic form as well. Since DMT, in this case, is synthesized by a plant, it is more bioactive and hence easily absorbed into the bloodstream of a Human. DMT is also responsible for initiating and boosting various chemical reactions and can be found in multiple human and animal compounds.
The study was conducted on mice. It was seen that the drug initiated a new growth of brain cells or neurons in the hippocampus region of the mice. A piece of groundbreaking evidence has also affirmed the researchers’ beliefs that this could be used further to treat various brain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Effects and Observations
It was observed in the study that the drug affected the hippocampus region significantly. The hippocampus region is located deep inside the temporal and is responsible for learning and memory. However, this complex structure is quite fragile and gets easily damaged by several psychiatric and neurological disorders. However, this study could turn the tables for many diseases.
It was observed that when the mice were administered the drug, it led to several neurons being synthesized in the Hippocampi, which led the mice to have improved memory functions and learning skills. These mice also performed better on memory tests as compared to mice with no Ayahuasca. The study was published in the journal of Transitional Psychiatry. (You can find the review here)
Speaking to a media outlet, Dr. José Ángel Morales, a researcher in the university’s department of cellular biology and the author of the paper, said that, “This capacity to modulate brain plasticity suggests that it has great therapeutic potential for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases.”
What Does the Future Hold?
The authors of the research paper explained: “The versatility and complete neurogenic capacity of the DMT guarantee future research regarding this compound. Also, its ability to modulate brain plasticity indicates it’s therapeutic potential for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, among which are neurodegenerative diseases.”
Research on entheogenic recipes in the past had revealed that these spiritual experiences had mental health benefits and may also have antidepressant effects. Although the study has cleared that neither does it prove the existence or non-existence of God nor does it encourage any form of indulgence into psychedelic drugs, it was aimed at analyzing the potential effects of psychedelic experiences.
So, it is safe to say that maybe drugs are not always bad after all. But it is essential to know that all of these are preliminary research with limited evidence, and it does not in any form encourage the usage of drugs. Additional research needs to be conducted to certify that these drugs can 100% cure certain disorders.