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Spanish Scientists Discover That Ayahuasca Stimulates The Birth Of New Neurons

The ayahuasca is a beverage shamanic consumed in the Amazon region of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia and is made from the bark of a jungle liana ( Banisteriopsis caapi) and leaves of a bush ( Psychotria viridis ). It contains the psychoactive compound N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is known to produce visions and intense hallucinations . Its ingredients are illegal in most countries of the world and, it has been used for centuries in supposed healing ceremonies given by shamans. Now, a study carried out by Spanish researchers, specifically from the Complutense University of Madrid, has discovered that ayahuascain rodents it promotes the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus , a part of the brain that is largely responsible for memory and learning.

In fact, its function as a potential treatment for neurological and emotional disorders (such as depression) has caused a great increase in the interest of the Western scientific community in recent years towards this psychedelic Amazonian drink, as it contains compounds such as harmine and tetrahydroharmine, which they are known to stimulate the formation of neurons from stem cells in a Petri dish.

Experts have concluded that even dimethyltryptamine (DMT) , one of its main ingredients, promotes neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons and, in addition, induces the formation of other neural cells such as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.


"This ability to modulate brain plasticity indicates that it has great therapeutic potential for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases", comments José Ángel Morales, researcher at the Department of Cell Biology at the UCM and CIBERNED and co-author of the work published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

The results of the mouse experiment showed that its administration caused neural stem cells within the subgranular area of ​​the brain to proliferate and differentiate into neurons, as well as neuronal support cells such as astroglia and oligodendrocytes . To determine whether these cells had become functional, the scientists injected ayahuasca into a second group of mice over a period of three weeks, before presenting them with a variety of tasks designed to assess their memory and learning.

The fact that rodents performed better at these tasks after receiving ayahuasca treatment suggests that the newly formed neurons had become functional, increasing the cognitive abilities of these animals.

"The study reports the results of four years of in vitro and in vivo experimentation in mice , showing that they exhibit greater cognitive ability when treated with this substance ", continues José Antonio López, researcher at the UCM School of Psychology and co-author of the study.

Great potential

The DMT compound in ayahuasca tea binds to a type 2A serotonergic brain receptor, increasing its hallucinogenic effect. In this study, the receptor was modified to a sigma-like receptor that does not have this effect, which "greatly facilitates its future administration to patients." “In neurodegenerative diseases , it is the death of certain types of neurons that causes the symptoms of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Although humans can generate new neuronal cells, this depends on several factors and is not always possible, "says Morales.

Scientists believe that the chemical function of DMT is to drive and trigger certain chemical reactions in the body. And because it also occurs naturally in ayahuasca, scientists wonder if this external application could work within the body in the same way. Experimental mice did not taste small cups of tea, but were given injections of the compound at regular intervals.

“ The challenge is to activate our latent ability to form neurons and thus replace neurons that die as a result of disease. This study shows that DMT is capable of activating neural stem cells and forming new neurons ”, concludes the expert.Reference: Jose A. Morales-Garcia et al, N, N-dimethyltryptamine compound found in the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, regulates adult neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo, Translational Psychiatry (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41398-020-01011-0

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