Can I take Ayahuasca
if I have depression?

Many people with depression are afraid to take Ayahuasca because they assume it can worsen their mental state. At the same time, they also think that depression will make the ceremonial experience unpleasant and scary.
Let's see if it is actually true.

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Is it true that I should avoid taking Ayahuasca
if I'm depressed?

To make the long story short - absolutely not.
On the opposite modern scientific researches show that Ayahuasca can treat depression and help you to come back to the normal way of life if taken responsibility.

Let's find out why Ayahuasca is so effective against depression and how you should prepare for Ayahuasca ceremony to avoid risks. (spoiler - risks do exist if you violate preparation process)

First of all, to understand how Ayahuasca works we should promptly look into its composition.
Traditionally Ayahuasca is made out of 2 plants:

1) Banisteriopsis caapi - Ayahuasca vine that contains MAOIs.
2) Psychotria Viridis (Chacruna) / Mimosa tenuiflora (Jurema) / Diplopterys cabrerana (Chaliponga) - One of these plants depending on the region of the Amazon. These plants are the natural source of DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine)

So Ayahuasca basically contains two main active compounds:

1) 3 different MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) - harmine harmaline and tetrahydroharmine.
2) DMT - the main psychoactive compound.

Ayahuasca vine (MAOIs) blocks the enzyme in our body that is breaking DMT down and makes DMT that comes from Chacruna orally active.

Alright, if it's clear please keep in mind that the enzyme that we block (monoamine oxidase) is in our body not only to break DMT down but to regulate our neurotransmitters such as Serotonin, Dopamine, Noradrenaline. At the same time, Tetrahydroharmine blocks SERT that removes serotonin from the synaptic cleft back into the synaptic boutons.

That is why the very first rule is that you should be completely free of SSRIs (antidepressants) before taking Ayahuasca as well as some other types of drugs. The reason is that in combination with MAOIs that come from the Ayahuasca vine, SSRIs will cause an adverse reaction and possibly serotonin syndrome that can lead to death. So if you are willing to use Ayahuasca taper off your medication in advance. Do not forget to consult with your doctor before doing it.

Ok, now you are free from antidepressants, how Ayahuasca is going to help you with your depression?

Surprisingly on the opposite to the common belief, DMT is not the main compound that produces antidepressant activity although it affects Sigma-1 receptors and 5-HT receptors in our brain that can help to combat depression. Also, we should not underestimate the effect of the spiritual experience on the healing process as well as a work of a shaman during the ceremony.

The main antidepressant effect comes from the presence of B-Carbolins (MAOIs) in the brew.
Harmine appears to exert pharmacological properties that might be translated into new clinical drugs [1]. In fact, harmine and other harmala alkaloids that inhibit MAO have been long used as antidepressants in humans outside clinical practice, proving to modulate mood and anxiety.

Moreover, chronic administration of MAOIs (harmine) reduces immobility time, reverses anhedonia, increases adrenal gland weight, and increases BDNF levels in the hippocampus (Fortunato et al., 2010a, 2010b). All of these are compatible with antidepressant effects.

Aside from this Ayahuasca stimulate neurogenesis of human neural progenitor cells, derived from pluripotent stem cells (Dakic et al., 2016), and progenitor cells from adult mice brains (Morales-García et al., 2017), a mechanism also observed in rodents following antidepressant treatment.

Also recent researches found that a single ayahuasca session in patients with depression increases blood flow in brain regions consistently implicated in the regulation of mood and emotions, such as the left nucleus accumbens, right insula and left subgenual area (Otte et al., 2016; Sanches et al., 2016). Moreover, research has shown that ayahuasca reduces the activity of the Default Mode Network (Palhano-Fontes et al., 2015), a brain network found to be hyperactive in depression (Sheline et al., 2009).

Over the last two decades, mental health evaluations of regular ayahuasca consumers have shown preserved cognitive function, increased well-being, reduction of anxiety, and depressive symptoms when compared to non-ayahuasca consumers (Grob et al., 1996; Bouso et al., 2012; Barbosa et al., 2016). Moreover, a recent study observed that a single dose of ayahuasca enhanced mindfulness-related capacities (Soler et al., 2016), and meditation practices have been associated with antidepressant effects (Segal et al., 2010).

Can Ayahuasca help me to cope with depression?

Based on all the information above, yes Ayahuasca can help you to treat depression. Moreover, in some cases, Ayahuasca can be more effective than pharmaceutical SSRIs that reduce symptoms but do not help to actually find healing.

For centuries Ayahuasca has been treated by Amazonian people as a medicine and has been used as a tool for healing. So if you suffer from depression, Ayahuasca can be a great tool for you to heal both on the physical and mental levels. It is possible because Ayahuasca affects our brain and balances the way it works.

At the same time, the spiritual journey during the ceremony helps to look inside and find the root of the depression. It helps to understand what holds us back into our depressive state and how we can find a way out.

But what if my Ayahuasca experience will be dark because of my depression?

Don't be afraid of challenging Ayahuasca ceremonies, because sometimes these ceremonies are the most healing ones. The reason is that Ayahuasca helps us to come back to the place in our life when the trauma happened and our depression started. By reliving these emotions we can separate ourselves from this experience and doesn't allow it to affect our day-to-day life anymore. It helps to leave the past in the past, enjoy the present and look into the future.

We hope now you clearly understand how Ayahuasca can help you to cope with depression and that with the right way of preparation you should not be afraid of your upcoming, healing ceremonial experience.


Boris
2020
Sources:

1) Toxicokinetics and Toxicodynamics of Ayahuasca Alkaloids N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Harmine, Harmaline and Tetrahydroharmine: Clinical and Forensic Impact by Andreia Machado Brito-da-Costa,1 Diana Dias-da-Silva,1,2,* Nelson G. M. Gomes,1,3 Ricardo Jorge Dinis-Oliveira,1,2,4,*and  Áurea Madureira-Carvalho1,3

2) Rapid antidepressant effects of the psychedelic ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression: a randomized placebo-controlled trial by Fernanda Palhano-Fontes,1,2 Dayanna Barreto,2,3 Heloisa Onias,1,2 Katia C. Andrade,1,2 Morgana M. Novaes,1,2Jessica A. Pessoa,1,2 Sergio A. Mota-Rolim,1,2 Flávia L. Osório,4,5 Rafael Sanches,4,5 Rafael G. dos Santos,4,5Luís Fernando Tófoli,6 Gabriela de Oliveira Silveira,7 Mauricio Yonamine,7 Jordi Riba,8 Francisco R. Santos,9Antonio A. Silva-Junior,9 João C. Alchieri,10 Nicole L. Galvão-Coelho,5,11 Bruno Lobão-Soares,5,12Jaime E. C. Hallak,4,5 Emerson Arcoverde,2,3,5 João P. Maia-de-Oliveira,2,3,5 and  Dráulio B. Araújo1,2