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Psychedelic Amazonian Drug (Hallucinogen) Treats Depression & Alcoholism

S u m m a r y :
A psychedelic drug traditionally used in the Amazons thought to enhance people’s sense of well-being becomes a candidate for the treatment of depression and alcoholism. The new study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

What Are Psychedelic Drugs?

Psychedelic drugs are substances that alter cognition and perception; they are, basically, hallucinogens. Common examples are magic mushrooms and LSD. The visual and auditory changes that they bring are typically associated with an enhanced state of consciousness. One such ‘drug’ used as a traditional brew in South America has recently been shown to provide a heightened sense of well-being, and scientists think that it might be useful in the fight against depression and alcoholism; it is to be noted that previous research has linked similar drugs with the treatment of alcohol and nicotine addiction.

Amazonian hallucinogen named Ayahuasca. Photo Credits: Rafael Guimarães dos Santos.

Meet Ayahuasca from the Amazons

The Amazonian brew, called Ayahuasca, has been tested by a team of researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London. It is a cocktail of Psychotria Viridis bush, and stems of the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine; one of its major ingredients is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an illegal drug in the UK.

The findings show that ayahuasca users report a lower problematic alcohol use than those using magic mushrooms or LSD. Moreover, the former also mention a higher general well-being than the other participants of the study.

“These findings lend some support to the notion that ayahuasca could be an important and powerful tool in treating depression and alcohol use disorders,” says lead author Dr Will Lawn.

“Recent research has demonstrated ayahuasca’s potential as a psychiatric medicine, and our current study provides further evidence that it may be a safe and promising treatment.

Ayahuasca Users Also Drink TOO MUCH Alcohol

These findings are described as “notable” because they constitute the largest survey documenting ayahuasca users. However, the ones who participated in this study also had an average drinking level that would normally be tagged as dangerous. The authors, therefore, caution that their data are “purely observational”, and that their study does not show causality. Randomized controlled experiments should be conducted to analyse the effects of ayahuasca on mood and addiction disorders.

Don’t Hallucinate Your Way Out of Depression Just Yet

Senior author Celia Morgan points out that the short and long-term effects of ayahuasca should be investigated, given that it might be an efficient treatment. Otherwise, many observational studies have looked into its religious use, explains Morgan; these works suggest that the Amazonian brew is linked with “less problematic alcohol and drug use, and better mental health and cognitive functioning.”

On the other hand, the survey also shows a greater incidence of lifetime mental illness diagnoses among the ayahuasca users. These happen to be people from countries where ayahuasca is not traditionally used.

The authors highlight the need for more studies to analyse the effects of ayahuasca.

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