Ayahuasca brings cheer without side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressants

A new study shows that ayahuasca offers an option in dealing with depression

Indigenous peoples in South America prepare ayahuasca by combining elements of two plants. Eskymaks/Getty Images


Ayahuasca presents an alternative for people wary of medicating with antidepressants to lighten their mood.

A new study shows for one thing that the psychedelic brew has a big impact on “affective symptoms” of depression.

To explain, ayahuasca enhances feelings of hope and happiness, like what pharmaceutical antidepressants do.

However, the potion derived from plants native to South America does not produce negative side effects commonly associated with medications.

Hence, “individuals more concerned about happiness and hopelessness might prefer ayahuasca to standard antidepressants”.

Moreover, such option becomes appealing “particularly if rapid onset and minimal side-effects seem critical”.

The authors also wrote that ayahuasca “might enhance happiness and hope enough to encourage consistent attendance in psychotherapy”.

The Journal of Psychedelic Studies published the study titled ‘Symptom specificity of ayahuasca’s effect on depressive symptoms’ online on April 17, 2021.

Cody Sykes Gilbert, Mitch Earleywine, Maha N. Mian, and Brianna R. Altman, all with the University at Albany of the State University of New York, authored the paper.

Moreover, a total of 120 people participated in the study. They completed an assessment one month before and one month after using ayahuasca.

The paper indicated that the pyschedelic brew’s effect on affective symptoms “exceeded changes in somatic and cognitive symptoms”.

The word ‘somatic’ refers to physical conditions like “sleep disturbances”, while ‘cognitive’ includes symptoms like “impaired focus”.

Ayahuasca trumps antidepressants

The authors noted that available treatments to depression pose “serious drawbacks”.

As an example, antidepressant medications “frequently create aversive side-effects”.

These include dry mouth, poor sexual functioning, and increased mortality.

In addition, the authors noted that nearly half or 46 percent of those who use medications report “severe withdrawal after discontinuation, which can often last for months”.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy represents another form of treatment for depression.

The authors noted that although psychotherapy “lacks side effects and withdrawal”, this mode “can require considerable time, effort, and expense”.

“In addition, both pharmacological and psychological interventions rarely create much relief for the initial few weeks,” the researchers explained.

Also, standard serotonergic antidepressants also do “not address hallmark decreases in pleasure, interest, energy, and positive affect”.

Common antidepressants include Prozac and Zoloft.

These medications increase the level of serotonin in the brain.

To explain, serotonin, popularly known a happiness chemical, transmits signals between brain nerve cells.

The authors noted that ayahuasca’s “actions in the serotonin system differ from the impact of standard antidepressants”.

The brew does “not share the side effects…or potential withdrawal…attributed to the medications”.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter: @carlitopablo

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