It tastes foul and makes people vomit. But ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction that has been drunk in South America for centuries in religious rituals, may help people with depression that is resistant to antidepressants.
Tourists are increasingly trying ayahuasca during holidays to countries such as Brazil and Peru, where the psychedelic drug is legal. Now the world’s first randomised clinical trial of ayahuasca for treating depression has found that it can rapidly improve mood.
The trial, which took place in Brazil, involved administering a single dose to 14 people with treatment-resistant depression, while 15 people with the same condition received a placebo drink.
Shamans traditionally prepare the bitter, deep-brown brew of ayahuasca-using two plants native to South America. The first, Psychotria viridis, is packed with the mind-altering compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The second, the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), contains substances that stop DMT from being broken down before it crosses the gut and reaches the brain.
To fool placebo recipients into thinking they were getting the real thing, de Araújo and his team concocted an equally foul tasting brown-colored drink. They also carefully selected participants who had never tried ayahuasca or other psychedelic drugs before.
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