Psychoactive medicinal plants from the Amazonian Rain Forest


The preparation generically called Ayahuasca contains B-carbolines (harmine, harmaline, or tetrahydroharmine) and tryptamine (Dimethyltryptamine -DMT). It has been extracted mainly from the psychoactive plants Banisteriopsi Caapi and Psycotria Viridis, and it's widely used throughout the amazon basin by Indian tribes and shamans, for healing, developing spirituality, and for magic powers. In the tribes from northeast of Brazil, the psychoactive plant used for this extraction is Mimosa Hostilis, that has the same content as the Psychotria Viridis (DMT). Plutarco Naranjo mentions that the "oldest know object related to the use of ayahuasca, is a ceremonial cup, hewn out of stone, with engraved ornamentation, which has been found in the area of the Pastaza culture, Amazonian Ecuador), forming part of the collection of the Ethnological Museum of the Central University (Quito). This culture covers the period 500B.C. to 50 A.D.(Naranjo, P 1983). Under a diverse variety of names (ne'pe, xono, date'm, kamarampi, pilde, natema, yage', caa-pi, mihi, iona, mii, nixi, pae, etc.) tribes widely separated from one another manifest an intimate knowlegde of ayahuasca use. How could those people at those times draw the connection between the properties of the banisteriopsi caapi and its ability to potentiate and render orally active still DMT or other tryptamines containing plants? Early 1920's, the indigenous tradition arrived for the white man, and different churches were founded in Brazil like the Santo Daime, Uniao do Vegetal and
Barquinha, and later brought to the urban environment. Chemically, the compounds in ayahusca of current interest have an indole structure in common, and through several mechanisms, they influence the actions of the central nervous system (CNS). Most apparent here are their chemical similarities to the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT).`The harmala alkaloids in ayahuasca, primarily harmine, reversibly inhibit the neuronal enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). This allows for the oral activity of DMT as well as the accumulation of biogenic amines, such as 5-HT, which are normally metabolized by MAO.(Callaway) DMT can be a very powerful psychedelic agent when consumed via ayahuasca. It is know to be 5-HT 1A agonist and a 5-HT 2 receptors (Deliganis et al 1991)
A study with 2 groups, one of ayahuasca drinkers from the UDV (Uniao do Vegetal), and a control group took place in Manaus. This study included physical as well as psychological evaluations of both groups, in addition to the analysis of botanical and biological samples. To examine the possibility of long term effects, blood platelets were collected from UDV members who had used ayahuasca for at least 10 years, and who had not consumed the beverage for at least one week. (In ceremonial usage, this beverage is seldom consumed once every other week). Blood platelets were also colletcted from the control group as well. 5-HT uptake activity was measured in platelets by displacing [3 H]citalopram with unlabelled paroxetine. A statistically significant (p= 0.006) difference was found between the two groups; the tea drinkers had a higher density (Bmax) of 5-HT uptake sites when compared to the control group and literature values, with an overall "up-regulation" of about 25%. (Callaway et al.1994)
An up-regulation of the 5-HT uptake is of interest because of its implications on our present understanding of depressive disorders. Increased serotonergic activity is exactly what current medications attempt to provide for such devastating states of mind. Should this neurological change be precipitated by ayahuasca, then further studies on the minimal dosage needed to induce this change, the time it takes for it to occur, and its durability would be important questions to answer. Should it be so that individuals with naturally high densities of the
5-HT uptake site are found to be significant numbers among drinkers of ayahuasca, then a novel treatment modality for depression disorders may be on the horizon which could include other psychedelic substance as well.(Callaway 1994).
The combination of specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, such as Prozac), and some other antidepressants, with ayahuasca or other MAO inhibitors can and have resulted in death and life threatening situations.(Callaway 1994)
In therapy, ayahuasca has, among other things, two great properties, cathartic and abreactive. The cathartic property will work not only on the physical level as a detox and cleansing agent, but also on a metaphysical level as people throw up garbage from their entire life time. The abreaction will take the person into a regression to the situation or the source from where the problem or trauma has originated, and symbolicly reliving that and gaining understanding through insights into the situation, he/her will be able to free themselves and to reshape the consequent patterns. It enters transpersonal areas with lots of focus on perinatal experiences and psychodynamics'. Its entheogenic property facilitates the link with spirituality and the meeting with the divine within, fulfilling the spiritual search from the ones who benefits from its ritualistic use.
Up to date, the ayahuasca compound has been investigated for use in the treatment of drug dependency in Holland, by the Foundation "Friends of the Forest", who has created rituals with the ayahuasca compounds using the combination of plants such as Banisteriopsi Caapi, Psycotria Viridis, Peganum Harmala and Mimosa Hostilis to research into different settings to introduce its clinical use, medical and therapeutical applications and to integrate the culture of here and now into the drink, to explore different belief systems, to attend to the scientific/ educational/ informative needs and to support the new set of values that follows the process and the community work. As with most pharmacological agents, We believe that ayahuasca is indicated for use in conjunction with behavioral therapy techniques in the treatment of drug addiction, depression and other disorders.
Ayahuasca is the hope for the future on many levels, and we believe that the addict is a shaman using the wrong carburetor, lost in his own spiritual search. With ayahuasca, we can cover the many needs in the different stages of the treatment and face the cure of addiction, fulfilling also the spiritual search.