Does Ayahuasca Modify Gene Expression?



Ayahuasca is an Indigenous Amazonian psychedelic plant brew made by combining the ayahuasca vine with one or more DMT-containing plants; most commonly leaves of a bush named "chacruna". The ayahuasca brew has is one of the most ancient and potent psychedelic substances with a long history of ceremonial use amongst the indigenous peoples of the Amazon from Peru to Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. The brew is celebrated for its medicinal qualities for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing.


Various past studies have demonstrated the healing qualities of the brew for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. A recent article published by Forbes highlighted an early-stage study by the Ayahuasca Foundation aimed to explore the impact of the ayahuasca brew on gene expression.


"Dr. Simon Ruffell of Kings College London led the observational study with fellow researchers Nige Netzband and WaiFung Tsang. The team looked at the use of ayahuasca by 63 mostly white participants who attended a traditional Shipibo retreat, and its effects on their mental health."


"We collected saliva samples in order to assess potential changes in gene expression—a field called epigenetics,” says Ruffell. His team assessed three genes related to trauma and neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to make new connections.


The study found that not only the participants experienced a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms as expected, but also a significant reduction in the negative impact of past traumatic memories. What was even more promising was that the results were long-lasting:


"Ayahuasca Foundation director Carlos Tanner, who founded its Riosbo research centre in 2017 and has witnessed thousands of ceremonies, says while he expected there to be improvements in participants’ mental health, he was surprised by the follow-up.


“I thought, like anyone who is familiar with pharmaceutical studies might think, that when the treatment stopped, there would be some return of symptoms,” he says. “That was the most jaw-dropping to me, because it suggests that in a singular treatment event—the retreat itself—there was a lasting effect that continued without treatment.”



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