Scientists from the Autonomous University of Spain, elucidated at the brain level the receptor involved in the visual effects of ayahuasca. Under the effects of the plant, changes in brain waves and subjective effects were analyzed in volunteer subjects, to understand how some of the psychoactive effects that have been associated with the controversial ayahuasca for years are produced.
In the Amazonian tribes the use of ayahuasca is allowed, but in countries it is considered illegal since it is classified as a hallucinogenic drug that can lead to loss of control, distortion of reality and altered states of consciousness, in which they observe changes in the sense of time, de-realization, where the individual feels strange with the outside and unreal world, depersonalization, that is, people feel strange with their body and with the environment, and dissolution of the ego.
Other effects among those who consume it include hallucinations, euphoria, anxiety, tachycardia, sweating and synesthesia, that is, the attribution of a sensation to a sense that does not correspond, for example: “light is heard” “sounds are seen” or “colors are heard”, among others. Its abuse can stimulate delusions and psychosis in susceptible people, and these symptoms can be aggravated in those with a psychiatric history.
Depends on the person
However, its effects do not occur in the same way in all people, since it will depend on the doses ingested, the susceptibility of each individual, if they have used other drugs previously or if, in their use, they have mixed doses of ayahuasca in synergy with other drugs such as alcohol and marijuana, for example.
Cleanse and purify the body
Currently, the recreational use of ayahuasca has been in fashion due to the considered positive effects that this plant produces, such as synesthesia and visual perceptions, one can even find various advertisements for its consumption on some social networks. However, it is not so simple to consume ayahuasca since to start an experience with this drug it is necessary to cleanse or purify the body for at least two weeks with a special diet, which includes acquiring healthy habits such as giving up coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol, among others.
Another important aspect to live the experience is that at the time of the ritual the person must enter Nature to internalize and connect with the spirit of ayahuasca, since this hallucinogenic plant has been used in a spiritual context to obtain healing of the body and spirit, where its action transcends a magical-religious dimension, the irrational is rational and the invisible is visible. It is believed to be a portal to interrelation with the superior beings that inhabit the forest, a gift from the gods to interact with them and with us.
In the Amazon basin there are approximately 700 ways to prepare ayahuasca and each indigenous culture has its own way of preparing it. Its use has an approximate age of 5000 years. The most common preparation consists of a concoction resulting from the combination of two essential plants: Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis.
The Psychotria viridis plant contains DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), which is a powerful psychotropic, which, when ingested orally, is rapidly degraded without generating psychedelic effects. Banisteriopsis caapi is a powerful purgative and contains substances capable of preventing the inactivation of the psychotropic DMT. The mixture between these two plants allows ayahuasca to be a concoction whose effects can last for hours.
The healers or shamans are the ones who give the ayahuasca and guide the ceremonies. These shamans collect the ayahuasca plants with songs and prayers, infusing the plant with tobacco. Then they crush the bark and boil it for two to three hours. While the process lasts, they continue with the prayers and songs, to finally obtain the “essence” of the boil, which is a brown watery liquid, this is the brew.
When taking it, its consumers report experiences where the body falls asleep and experiences a sensation of dizziness. Visions, shapes and colors begin, a sensation of cold or heat can be obtained. The senses increase and consciousness expands. Some people may vomit or even have a bowel movement due to the purgative properties of one of its plants. Increases alertness, visual, auditory and tactile abilities. These sensations can last up to 3 hours. It is in this instance where the plant is believed to heal, where the spirit of nature or the gods speak to you and advise you.
However, what does science think about it? Is there any scientific correlation that explains at the brain level any of the effects produced by ayahuasca?
Although the psychoactive effects of ayahuasca have been associated with a direct effect on the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor, the molecular target of most classic psychedelics, this has not been experimentally proven. This receptor has been implicated in mental disorders with complex etiologies that are not yet clearly understood, in processes such as learning, memory, and depression.
This is how a group of researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, led by Jordi Riva, studied the contribution of the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor to the neurophysiological and psychological effects of ayahuasca in humans, where the induced changes were measured. by drugs on brain oscillations measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG). Brain oscillations reflect the electrical activity of groups of neurons in different regions of the brain, which present different rhythms or frequencies known as brain waves.
Five types of brain waves are known, called gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves. Gamma waves are the fastest in frequency (40-100Hz) and are associated with sudden introspection. Beta waves (14-40Hz) are produced when the brain is awake and involved in intense mental activities. Alpha waves (7.5-14Hz) are slower waves, they represent a state of low brain activity and deep relaxation. Theta waves (4-7.5Hz) are reached under a state of deep calm. Delta waves (0.5-4Hz) are the slowest in frequency and are generated in a state of deep sleep.
In addition, subjective effects were measured through a series of questionnaires that reflected somatic effects, perception, cognition, derealization, and fear of ego dissolution, among others. Effects were controlled with placebo, which included oral administration of ayahuasca plus ketanserin, which is a serotonin 5-HT2A receptor antagonist. An antagonist is a drug that acts against and opposite to receptor activation.
Twelve healthy users who had already experimented with psychedelics participated in the study, who participated in four experimental sessions in which they received the following drug combinations: placebo + placebo, placebo + ayahuasca, ketanserin + placebo and ketanserin + ayahuasca.
In the group that received placebo plus ayahuasca, it was observed that ayahuasca decreased the power in the delta, theta and alpha frequency bands of the EEG. This decrease in the alpha band frequencies was inversely correlated with the intensity of the visual images induced by ayahuasca.
In simpler words, a decrease in alpha oscillations caused by ayahuasca increases the visual effects. However, when the investigators pre-treated patients with ketanserin, neurophysiological changes were inhibited, the correlation between alpha and visual effects was reduced, and the intensity of the subjective experience was attenuated.
The findings suggest that despite the chemical complexity of ayahuasca, 5-HT2A receptor activation plays a key role in the neurophysiological and visual effects of ayahuasca in humans. Therefore, according to the observed results, the serotonin receptor could be involved in the spiritual effects that have been associated for years with the miraculous and healing ayahuasca.
From a spiritual point of view, activating this receptor could be your inner god, who could trigger your deep fears, criticize your lifestyle, or heal your downcast spirit. However, we must be careful not to overstimulate this receptor, since it could cause a dissociation with reality if we are not careful with the doses ingested and with individual susceptibilities. In this sense, it is important that the consumption of ayahuasca be under the supervision of a specialized guide such as a shaman, since its consumption without proper preparation and without a guide can be dangerous.