Recent advances in the study of the neural mechanisms and therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca
Background: Ayahuasca induces an introspective experience characterized by emotion, visions and autobiographic memories. Increasing evidence suggests that ayahuasca has therapeutic potential. However, the mechanisms underlying these benefits are poorly understood. Objectives: Here we present data on the neural and psychological mechanisms associated with ayahuasca. Methods: Studies of brain oscillations, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and psychological facets. Results: Ayahuasca disinhibits posterior sensory processing areas, sub-acutely decreases neurometabolic markers of functional activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, and reduces judgmental processing of experiences. Conclusions: Ayahuasca modifies ordinary neural hierarchies, decreases activity of key areas of the default mode network and allows an accepting and detached view of one’s own thoughts and emotions. We argue that these mechanisms may be useful in the treatment of several psychiatric conditions.
Jordi Riba holds a PhD in Pharmacology and a Masters Degree in Biomedical Engineering. He has specialized in the study of psychoactive drugs on the central nervous system using, among others, neurophysiological and neuroimaging techniques. He currently leads the Human Neuropsychopharmacology Research Group at Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona. He has a broad interest in centrally-acting drugs with publications on the acute and long-term effects of psychedelics, psychostimulants, cannabinoids, sedatives, and kappa-opioid receptor agonists. He has been studying ayahuasca for over fifteen years and has published around thirty journal articles and book chapters on the subject. His more recent research deals with the neural and psychological mechanisms that could underlie the beneficial effects of ayahuasca in the treatment of various psychiatric conditions.
You can find our interview with Dr. Riba here.