For centuries, if not millennia, indigenous Amazonian shamans have used ayahuasca to heal the physical, emotional and spiritual ills of their communities. This visionary brew contains the psychoactive compound DMT, as well as other chemicals called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) which block the enzymes in the human body that normally break down DMT before it reaches the brain.

Like many psychedelics, DMT interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain in order to elevate mood and enhance emotional wellbeing. Because of this, the compound has been successfully used to treat psychological disorders like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though much more research is needed in order to illuminate the neurobiological mechanisms behind this therapeutic effect.

Our research with ayahuasca/DMT

Studies carried out by the Beckley/Sant Pau Research Programme have revealed that ayahuasca use leads to an increase in several key traits associated with mindfulness, such as ‘decentering’, which refers to the ability to observe one’s thoughts and feelings in an objective and non-judgmental way. This, in turn, has been shown to help sufferers of depression, anxiety, grief and PTSD to overcome their conditions.

Our brain-imaging studies have revealed how ayahuasca reduces the control of a brain network called the default mode network, and provide compelling evidence that this may be behind the brew’s therapeutic power. Intriguingly, we also showed how certain compounds in ayahuasca stimulate the birth of new neurons from stem cells in a petri dish. This opens the door to the possibility of using ayahuasca to regenerate damaged brain cells, potentially pointing the way to a new pathway to treating Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Research Highlights

Ongoing and Planned Studies

Published Papers of Completed Studies