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    fact sheets ICEERS PsychePlants ethnobotany ayahuasca iowaska 2021 technical report

    The Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca

    Therapeutic Potential Ayahuasca - fact sheet

    Fact Sheet

    The Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca

    The first studies relating to the therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca began in the 1980s. Since that time, research has shown several potential psychotherapeutic benefits related to pharmacological effects and to the subjective experience.

    About - - Ayahuasca Safety Profile

    What is ayahuasca?

    » Ayahuasca is a decoction of the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi. The word “ayahuasca” is a Quechua term commonly translated as “the vine of the dead” or “the rope of the dead.” Different Amazonian peoples have dozens of different names for the brew and its variations, which are embedded in complex lineages of traditional practices and knowledge.

    » The brew is made by combining the vine with other Amazonian medicine plants, most commonly Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (chaliponga or chagropanga). These admixture plants are responsible for the dimethyltryptamine (DMT) found in the brew, which is made orally available by the monoamine oxidase inhibiting (MAOI) action of the beta-carboline alkaloids.

    » Amazonian people use ayahuasca as a medicine, a channel of communication with the natural world, for divination and for strengthening social relations, and more. It is inherent to and inseparable from many Indigenous and traditional cosmologies and central to their cultural identity and political self-determination. In the last few decades, ayahuasca has traveled beyond its historical territories as people from all continents have become interested in its therapeutic and psychospiritual benefits.

    healing effects - ayahuasca fact sheets
    Healing Effects

    How can ayahuasca be therapeutic or increase wellbeing?

    » Ayahuasca can boost personal development, psychological and emotional wellbeing, social harmony and cohesion, and spiritual or religious experiences.

    » Promotes “decentering,”4 or the ability to observe thoughts and emotions as transitory events of the mind without being trapped by them.

    » Promotes mindfulness and cognitive flexibility,5 allowing people to contemplate events, situations and relationships from detached perspectives.

    » Ayahuasca has shown anti-depressant effects in patients with major depression, effects that were sustained for 21 days after the administration of a single dose. 6

    » Various forms of purging, such as vomiting, are sought after-effects that promote physical, emotional and energetic cleansing.1, 2

    » Confronting difficult emotional or psychological content can be transformative and healing.3

    » Positive outcomes in grief therapy, persisting at a one-year follow-up including some mechanisms of action previosuly undescribed in the literature.7

    » Potential neuroprotective8 and neurogenerative9,10 properties that might prove useful for the treatment of dementia and a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

    adverse effects - Ayahuasca Safety Profile

    What is “purging” and why is it important?

    » Purging, nausea and vomiting are not considered adverse reactions by session participants, but rather beneficial and desirable effects.1

    » It is considered an essential part of the therapeutic process. For many indigenous people, purging is the most important desired effect: it helps them stay physically, emotionally and energetically clean.2

    » It helps the body get rid of parasites, and also helps process emotional states or rid the mind from neurotic thoughts.

    addiction - Ayahuasca Safety Profile
    Mental Health

    Does ayahuasca improve mental health?

    » The therapeutic properties of ayahuasca are likely due to a combination of its psychoactive and pharmacological actions. Ayahuasca activates brain areas related to the memory of personal events (the so-called episodic memory) and the awareness of emotions and internal sensations.12

    » Ayahuasca can boost “decentering,”4 or the ability to observe thoughts and emotions as transitory events of the mind without being trapped by them, increasing mindfulness and cognitive flexibility.5

    » Most people who take ayahuasca are perfectly adapted and integrated in their social, working, and family environments and engage with ayahuasca for personal and spiritual growth.13

    evidence - ayahuasca fact sheets

    What does the
    research say about

    » A recent study reported antidepressant effects of ayahuasca in patients with major depression, effects that were sustained for 21 days after a single dose.6

    » The therapeutic effects were correlated with brain changes measured with neuroimaging techniques, thus providing an objective demonstration of therapeutic change.6

    » Clinical research has also shown a decrease in suicidal ideation.14

    » Assessment of cortisol levels after ayahuasca treatment show cortisol levels similar to normal subjects, which can be a biological marker for the reduction of depression and suicidal ideation.15

    What else might it be helpful for?

    » Ayahuasca is associated with positive outcomes amongst people grieving the loss of a loved one, with one recent study documenting persistent effects at one-year follow-up.7

    » Ayahuasca is associated with positive results in patients with eating disorders, according to exploratory studies.16

    » Ayahuasca could be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to several authors.17

    » Ayahuasca could be useful in the treatment of borderline personality disorder18 and range of “diseases of civilization.”19

    Can ayahuasca help with brain health?

    » Ayahuasca has been shown to improve the symptomatology of some severe physical conditions, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),20 although much more evidence is needed.

    » Harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine (the three main constituents of Banisteropsis caapi) were found to stimulate (in vitro) adult neurogenesis, while harmine showed proliferation of human neural progenitors.20

    » DMT promotes neurogenesis and neuroprotection both in cell cultures22 and animals.23

    adverse reactions - Ayahuasca Safety Profile
    Difficult Experiences

    Can a difficult psychological experience
    be positive?

    » Most intense difficult psychological experiences tend to be positive and therapeutic in the long term3 and do not lead to long-term negative consequences, except in rare cases.

    » Difficult experiences can help the participant confront shadow content, painful memories, personality or character flaws, outdated cultural, social or religious ideas, and repressed trauma.

    » In many Amazonian traditions, difficult experiences are understood to be tests provided by the plants themselves, who challenge initiates to ensure they are progressing on their learning path.

    » While these can be transformative, it is essential to work with responsible and qualified facilitators and providers.

    references - Ayahuasca Safety Profile
    References and resources


    • 1. Callaway et al., 1999; Riba et al., 2001; Riba, 2003; Riba & Barbanoj, 2005; dos Santos, 2011; dos Santos et al., 2012.
    • 2. Luna, 1986, 2011.
    • 3. Gómez-Sousa et al., 2021.
    • 4. Franquesa et al., 2018; Soler et al., 2016.
    • 5. Murphy-Beiner & Soar, 2020; Sampedro et al., 2017; Soler et al., 2018.
    • 6. Osório et al., 2015; Sanches et al., 2016; Palhano-Fontes et al., 2017.
    • 7. González et al, 2019; González et al., 2020.
    • 8. Dakic et al., 2016.
    • 9. Berthoux et al., 2019.
    • 10. Morales-García et al., 2020.
    • 11. Grob et al., 1996; Doering-Silveira et al., 2005a; Berlowitz et al., 2019; Fernández et al., 2015; Loizaga-Velder & Verres, 2014; Thomas et al., 2013; Talin & Sanabria, 2017; Apud & Romaní, 2017.
    • 12. Riba et al., 2006; de Araujo et al., 2011.
    • 13. Bouso et al., 2012; Bouso et al., 2015; Soler et al., 2016; Palhano-Fontes, 2015.
    • 14. Palhano-Fontes et al., 2017; Zeifman et al., 2019.
    • 15. Galvão et al., 2018.
    • 16. Lafrance et al., 2017; Renelli et al., 2018.
    • 17. Nielson and Megler, 2013.
    • 18. Domínguez-Clavé et al., 2019.
    • 19. Frecksa et al., 2016.
    • 20. Dakic et al., 2016; Morales-García et al., 2017.
    • 21. Djamshidian et al., 2015; Fisher et al., 2018.
    • 22. Berthoux et al., 2019.
    • 23. Morales-García et al., 2020.


    • For access to the referred research citations, and for more detailed information on the topics highlighted in this Fact Sheet, please visit the latest edition of the Ayahuasca Technical Report [pdf].
    • For general information about ayahuasca, its history of use, and legal status in various countries, please visit:
    bibliography - - Ayahuasca Safety Profile
    • Apud, I., and Romaní, O. (2017). Medicine, religion and ayahuasca in Catalonia. Considering ayahuasca networks from a medical anthropology perspective. International Journal of Drug Policy, 39, 28-36.
    • Berlowitz, I., Walt, H., Ghasarian, C., Mendive, F., and Martin-Soelch, C. (2019). Short-term treatment effects of a substance use disorder therapy involving traditional Amazonian medicine. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51(4), 323-334.
    • Berthoux, C., Barre, A., Bockaert, J., Marin, P., and Bécamel, C. (2019). Sustained activation of postsynaptic 5-HT2A receptors gates plasticity at prefrontal cortex synapses. Cerebral Cortex, 29(4), 1659-1669.
    • Bouso, J. C., Fábregas, J. M., Antonijoan, R. M., Rodríguez-Fornells, A., and Riba, J. (2013). Acute effects of ayahuasca on neuropsychological performance: Differences in executive function between experienced and occasional users. Psychopharmacology, 230(3), 415-424.
    • Bouso, J. C., and Riba, J. (2015). Ayahuasca and the treatment of drug addiction. In: Labate, B. C., and Cavnar, C. (Eds.): The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca. Berlin: Springer, pp. 95-109.
    • Callaway, J. C. (2005). Various alkaloid profiles in decoctions of Banisteriopsis caapi. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 37(2), 151-155.
    • Dakic, V., Maciel, R. M., Drummond, H., Nascimento, J. M., Trindade, P., and Rehen, S. K. (2016). Harmine stimulates proliferation of human neural progenitors. PeerJ, 4, e2727.
    • de Araujo, D. B., Ribeiro, S., Cecchi, G. A., Carvalho, F. M., Sanchez, T. A., Pinto, J. P., de Martinis, B. S., Crippa, J. A., Hallak, J. E., and Santos, A. C. (2011). Seeing with the eyes shut: Neural basis of enhanced imagery following ayahuasca ingestion. Human Brain Mapping, 33(11), 2550-2560.
    • Djamshidian, A., Bernschneider-Reif, S., Poewe, W., and Lees, A. J. (2015). Banisteriopsis caapi, a forgotten potential therapy for Parkinson’s disease? Movement Disorders Clinical Practice, 3(1), 19-26.
    • Doering-Silveira, E., Grob, C. S., Dobkin de Rios, M., Lopez, E., Alonso, L. K., Tacla, C., and da Silveira, D. X. (2005a). Report on psychoactive drug use among adolescents using ayahuasca within a religious context. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 37(2), 141-144.
    • Domínguez-Clavé, E., Soler, J., Pascual, J. C., Elices, M., Franquesa, A., Valle, M., Alvarez, E., and Riba, J. (2019). Ayahuasca improves emotion dysregulation in a community sample and in individuals with borderline-like traits. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 236(2), 573-580.
    • dos Santos, R. G. (2011). Ayahuasca: Physiological and subjective effects, comparison with d-amphetamine, and repeated dose assessment. Doctoral thesis, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona. Available at:
    • dos Santos, R. G., and Strassman, R. (2011). Ayahuasca and psychosis. In: dos Santos, R. G. (Ed.): The Ethnopharmacology of Ayahuasca. Trivandrum: Transworld Research Network.
    • Fisher, R., Lincoln, L., Jackson, M. J., Abbate, V., Jenner, P., Hider, R., Lees, A., and Rose, S. (2018). The effect of Banisteriopsis caapi (B. caapi) on the motor deficits in the MPTP-treated common marmoset model of Parkinson’s disease. Phytotherapy Research, 32(4), 678-687.
    • Franquesa, A., Sainz-Cort, A., Gandy, S., Soler, J., Alcázar-Córcoles, M. Á., and Bouso, J. C. (2018). Psychological variables implied in the therapeutic effect of ayahuasca: A contextual approach. Psychiatry Research, 264, 334-339.
    • Frecska, E., Bokor, P., and Winkelman, M. (2016). The therapeutic potentials of ayahuasca: Possible effects against various diseases of civilization. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 7, 35.
    • Galvão, A. C. M., de Almeida, R. N., Silva, E. A. D. S., Freire, F. A. M., Palhano-Fontes, F., Onias, H., Arcoverde, E., Maia-de-Oliveira, J. P., de Araújo, D. B., Lobão-Soares, B., and Galvão-Coelho, N. L. (2018). Cortisol modulation by ayahuasca in patients with treatment resistant depression and healthy controls. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 185.
    • Gómez-Sousa, M., Jiménez-Garrido, D. F., Oña, G., dos Santos, R. G., Hallak, J. E. C., Alcázar-Córcoles, M. Á., and Bouso, J. C. (2021). Acute psychological adverse reactions in first-time ritual ayahuasca users: A prospective case series. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 41(2), 163-171.
    • González, D., Cantillo, J., Pérez, I., Farré, M., Feilding, A., Obiols, J. E., and Bouso, J. C. (2020). Therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in grief: A prospective, observational study. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 237(4), 1171-1182.
    • Grob, C. S., McKenna, D. J., Callaway, J. C., Brito, G. S., Neves, E. S., Oberlaender, G., Saide, O. L., Labigalini, E., Tacla, C., Miranda, C. T., Strassman, R. J., and Boone, K.B. (1996). Human psychopharmacology of hoasca, a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brazil. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 184(2), 86-94.
    • Lafrance, A., Loizaga-Velder, A., Fletcher, J., Renelli, M., Files, N., and Tupper, K. W. (2017). Nourishing the spirit: Exploratory research on ayahuasca experiences along the continuum of recovery from eating disorders. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 49(5), 427-435.
    • Loizaga-Velder, A., and Verres, R. (2014). Therapeutic effects of ritual ayahuasca use in the treatment of substance dependence – qualitative results. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 46(1), 63-72.
    • Luna, L. E. (1986a). Vegetalismo shamanism among the mestizo population of the Peruvian Amazon. Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion #27. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International.
    • Luna, L. E. (2011). Indigenous and mestizo use of ayahuasca: An overview. In: dos Santos, R. G. (Ed.): The Ethnopharmacology of Ayahuasca. Trivandrum: Transworld Research Network.
    • Morales-García, J. A., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Alonso-Gil, S., Rodríguez-Franco, M. I., Feilding, A., Perez-Castillo, A., and Riba, J. (2017). The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 5309.
    • Morales-Garcia, J. A., Calleja-Conde, J., Lopez-Moreno, J. A., Alonso-Gil, S., Sanz-SanCristobal, M., Riba, J., and Perez-Castillo, A. (2020). N,N-dimethyltryptamine compound found in the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, regulates adult neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Translational Psychiatry, 10(1), 331.
    • Murphy-Beiner, A., and Soar, K. (2020). Ayahuasca’s ‘afterglow’: improved mindfulness and cognitive flexibility in ayahuasca drinkers. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 237(4), 1161-1169.
    • Nielson, J. L., and Megler, J. D. (2015). Ayahuasca as a candidate therapy for PTSD. In: Labate, B. C., and Cavnar, C. (Eds.): The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca. Berlin: Springer, pp. 41-58.
    • Osório, F. L., Sanches, R. F., Macedo, L. R., dos Santos, R. G., Maia-de-Oliveira, J. P., Wichert-Ana, L., Araujo, D. B., Riba, J., Crippa, J. A., and Hallak, J. E. (2015). Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: A preliminary report. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, 37(1), 13-20.
    • Palhano-Fontes, F., Andrade, K. C., Tofoli, L. F., Santos, A. C., Crippa, J. A., Hallak, J. E., Ribeiro, S., and de Araujo, D. B. (2015). The psychedelic state induced by ayahuasca modulates the activity and connectivity of the default mode network. PLoS One, 10(2), e0118143.
    • Palhano-Fontes, F., Barreto, D., Onias, H., Andrade, K. C., Novaes, M. M., Pessoa, J. A., Mota-Rolim, S. A., Osório, F. L., Sanches, R., dos Santos, R. G., Tófoli, L. F., de Oliveira Silveira, G., Yonamine, M., Riba, J., Santos, F. R., Silva-Junior, A. A., Alchieri, J. C., Galvão-Coelho, N. L., Lobão-Soares, B., Hallak, J. E. C., Arcoverde, E., Maia-de-Oliveira, J. P., and Araújo, D. B. (2019). Rapid antidepressant effects of the psychedelic ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 49(4), 655-663.
    • Renelli, M., Fletcher, J., Tupper, K. W., Files, N., Loizaga-Velder, A., and Lafrance, A. (2018). An exploratory study of experiences with conventional eating disorder treatment and ceremonial ayahuasca for the healing of eating disorders. Eating and Weight Disorders, 25(2), 437-444.
    • Riba, J. (2003). Human pharmacology of ayahuasca. Doctoral thesis, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona. Available at:
    • Riba, J., and Barbanoj, M. J. (2005). Bringing ayahuasca to the clinical research laboratory. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 37(2), 219-230.
    • Riba, J., and Barbanoj, M. J. (2006). Ayahuasca. In: Peris, J. C., Zurián, J. C., Martínez, G. C., and Valladolid, G. R. (Eds.): Tratado SET de Transtornos Adictivos. Madrid: Ed. Médica Panamericana.
    • Riba, J., Rodríguez-Fornells, A., Urbano, G., Morte, A., Antonijoan, R., Montero, M., Callaway, J. C., and Barbanoj, M. J. (2001). Subjective effects and tolerability of the South American psychoactive beverage ayahuasca in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 154(1), 85-95.
    • Riba, J., Valle, M., Urbano, G., Yritia, M., Morte, A., and Barbanoj, M. J. (2003). Human pharmacology of ayahuasca: Subjective and cardiovascular effects, monoamine metabolite excretion, and pharmacokinetics. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 306(1), 73-83.
    • Riba, J., Romero, S., Grasa, E., Mena, E., Carrió, I., and Barbanoj, M. J. (2006.) Increased frontal and paralimbic activation following ayahuasca, the pan-Amazonian inebriant. Psychopharmacology, 186(1), 93-98.
    • Sampedro, F., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Valle, M., Roberto, N., Domínguez-Clavé, E., Elices, M., Luna, L. E., Crippa, J. A. S., Hallak, J. E. C., de Araujo, D. B., Friedlander, P., Barker, S. A., Álvarez, E., Soler, J., Pascual, J. C., Feilding, A., and Riba, J. (2017). Assessing the psychedelic “after-glow” in ayahuasca users: Post-acute neurometabolic and functional connectivity changes are associated with enhanced mindfulness capacities. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 20(9), 698-711.
    • Sánchez Avilés, C., and Bouso, J. C. (2015). Ayahuasca: From the Amazon to the Global Village. Drug Policy Briefing, no. 43. Transnational Institute / ICEERS Foundation.
    • Soler, J., Elices, M., Franquesa, A., Barker, S., Friedlander, P., Feilding, A., Pascual, J. C., and Riba, J. (2016). Exploring the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: Acute intake increases mindfulness-related capacities. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 233(5), 823-829.
    • Soler, J., Elices, M., Domínguez-Clavé, E., Pascual, J. C., Feilding, A., Navarro-Gil, M., García-Campayo, J., and Riba, J. (2018). Four weekly ayahuasca sessions lead to increases in “acceptance” capacities: A comparison study with a standard 8-week mindfulness training program. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9, 224.
    • Talin, P., and Sanabria, E. (2017). Ayahuasca’s entwined efficacy: An ethnographic study of ritual healing from ‘addiction’. International Journal of Drug Policy, 44, 23-30.
    • Thomas, G., Lucas, P., Capler, N. R., Tupper, K. W., and Martin, G. (2013). Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction: Results from a preliminary observational study in Canada. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 6(1), 30-42.
    • Zeifman, R. J., Palhano-Fontes, F., Hallak, J., Arcoverde, E., Maia-Oliveira, J. P., and Araujo, D. B. (2019). The impact of ayahuasca on suicidality: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 10, 1325.