MADRID — Ayahuasca tea, a powerful hallucinogenic drink used in native American ceremonies, could emerge as a strong natural treatment for mental illnesses and neurological problems like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, a new study suggests.
Ayahuasca is an ancient brew, made from the ayahuasca vine and chacruna shrubs. The tea has been used for 1,000 years to bring on vivid visions in ceremonies by natives of the Amazon rainforest. Many western tourists travel to South America to try the tea in the hopes of gaining spiritual enlightenment or to experience hallucinations recreationally.
But scientists in Spain, who have been researching ayahuasca’s main psychoactive ingredient, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT, say it could be used as a medicine. The study, carried out at the University of Madrid, reveals the shamanic beverage could cause the brain to form new brain cells, called neurons. Tests also suggested that after being given DMT, mice showed improved learning and memory skills.
The team behind the study also points to previous experiments which suggest DMT could have antidepressant effects.
“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,” says Dr. José Ángel Morales, a researcher in the university’s department of cellular biology and an author of the paper, in a media release.
Drinking ayahuasca tea may help the brain form new neurons lost to disease
The death of certain types of neuron causes the symptoms of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Published in the journal Transitional Psychiatry, findings show that consuming ayahuasca tea could prompt the brain to make the cells needed to repair itself.
“The challenge is to activate our dormant capacity to form neurons and thus replace the neurons that die as a result of the disease,” explains Dr. Morales. “This study shows that DMT is capable of activating neural stem cells and forming new neurons.”
The team now hopes to carry out more research on DMT.
“The versatility and complete neurogenic capacity of the DMT guarantee future research regarding this compound,” the authors write. “In addition, its ability to modulate brain plasticity indicates its therapeutic potential for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, among which are neurodegenerative diseases.”
Story by SWNS reporter William Janes