Ayahuasca has been studied before for its ability to fight depression, but in the latest research, published in PeerJ, one of the main substances present in the drink, harmine, was exposed to human neural cells.
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“It has been shown in rodents that antidepressant medication acts by inducing neurogenesis. So we decided to test if harmine, an alkaloid with the highest concentration in the psychotropic plant decoction ayahuasca, would trigger neurogenesis in human neural cells,” one of the study’s authors, Vanja Dakic, told Science Daily.
The results found that the protein encoding gene DYRK1A, which is over-activated in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome, was prevented from working when exposed to the substance.
Stevens Rehen, also involved in the study, said the results opened up speculation about future studies into its “potential therapeutic role over cognitive deficits observed in Down syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases.”
Harmine also produced the same effect as antidepressant drugs but without the side-effects, according to Rehen.
Ayahuasca has been used by Amazonians for centuries in ceremonies to contact spirits and spread good and bad wishes to friends and enemies. In some areas of Brazil, it is also used for its medicinal purposes.
Made from the leaves of Psychotria viridis, which contains the hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine, combined with the vine Banisteriopsis caapi, the drink can elicit a psychedelic experience lasting for up to six hours.