|A new study from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil suggests that ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic plant-based tea used by Amazonian shamans, could be used as an effective way to treat depression.
Researchers found six patients who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), and were found to be unresponsive to at least one type of antidepressant. Out of this small group, ayahuasca was able to reduce the depression symptoms of 82% of the group, thus suggesting that the hallucinatory tea could serve as a promising alternative to antidepressants.
Ayahuasca is made by brewing the Banisteriopsis caapi vine — also known as the “spirit vine” — the shrub Psychotria viridis, and other psychedelic plants. For centuries, indigenous South American tribes have been using it medicinally and ritualistically, but now, tourists have been traveling to South America, seeking out ayahuasca’s therapeutic and spiritual benefits.
The tea causes euphoric feelings and intense visual and auditory hallucinations, opening drinkers’ minds to spiritual connections, insights, and deeper realities. Users have even said that the drink has allowed them to meet God.
Ayahuasca causes such experiences because it has DMT, a psychedelic compound that affects the brain’s serotonin, which has roles in a person’s sense of happiness and well-being. Antidepressants also target serotonin.
None of the participants had ever taken the tea, and each were given a mild dose. They then sat in a dimly lit room on a recliner for the entirety of their four-hour session, during which they were interviewed for depressive symptoms. After only one day, participants’ depression scores lowered.
The study’s findings are promising. Over 80% of depressed individuals do not seek out professional help, a sad statistic that may be reduced if an alternative is available. According to the study’s finding, ayahuasca may not only be an effective antidepressant, but a fast acting one, as well. Typically, antidepressants can take up to three weeks to start working.
However, the study is obviously quite limited, which means that further research is absolutely necessary. Not only was the sample size minuscule, but there was also no placebo group.
“This is an area that really does merit further work and serious consideration,” Dr. Brian Anderson, a psychiatrist who has worked with ayahuasca, told the Huffington Post. “There’s a need for effective treatments that can work in the short term.”