Psychiatry News and Blog
Drug Improves Depression
Although it tastes foul and is known for making people vomit, ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic mixture that many South Americans have drank for centuries in their religious rituals. Ayahuasca has also been known to help people that are suffering from depression and are resistant to antidepressants.
Many tourists of South America have begun trying the drug, ayahuasca, during their vacations to countries were the psychedelic drug has been legalised like Brazil and Peru. Today, there is the world’s first randomised clinical trial if the drug in terms of treating depression, that has resulted in a rapid improvement in the patients’ moods. This trial took place in Brazil, and it included one drop of ayahuasca being administered to 14 people who have treatment-resistant depression, whilst the other 15 who had the same condition were given a placebo drink.
Over a week later the patients who had been administered the ayahuasca drug showed dramatic improvements as their moods moved from severe to, mild on the standard depression scale. The subsequent evidence was then that ayahuasca and its antidepressant effects are superior this those of the placebo effect as said by Dràulio de Araùjo of the Brain Institute at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal who was leading in this trial. The bitter, deep- drown brown ayahuasca is made by mixing two plants that are native to South America. The first being the Psychotria virdis, which is packed with a mind-altering compound called dimetheytryptamine (DMT). The second one being the ayahuasca vine which contains a substance that stops DMT from being broken down prior to it crossing the gut and getting to the brain.
In order to trick the placebo patients into thinking they were getting the real thing de Araùjo and his team created an equally foul tasting brown coloured drink. They also took special care in selecting the participants who hadn’t tried ayahuasca or other psychedelic drugs. On the day before their dose, the participants who had been selected had to complete a standard questionnaire to rate their depression. On the following day, they spent 8 hours in a quiet and supervised environment. This environment was, were the participants either received the placebo or the potion, which caused hallucinations for at least 4 hours. They were then asked to complete the questionnaire again one, two and seven days later.
Both groups reported some improvements one and two after the treatment, with the placebo participants reporting scores as high as those of the ones who had taken the drug. de Araùjo then said that with new antidepressant drug trials it is very common for at least 40% of the participants to respond positively to placebos. David Mischoulon from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston said that the findings suggested rapid antidepressant benefits for ayahuasca for at least the short term. He further mentioned that we need studies that follow patients for much longer periods in order to see if the effects are sustained.
Charles Grob from the University of California, Los Angeles added and said that there was clear potential to explore further on the most ancient of plant medicines that have a salutary effect in modern day treatment settings specially with patients who don’t respond to conventional medication. Should the findings hold for longer periods they will provide valuable new tools in assisting people that have treatment-resistant depression. There is an estimate of about 350 million people worldwide who suffer from depression and about a third to a half do not improve with the standard antidepressants. Ayahuasca is not the only psychedelic drug that is being investigated as a potential treatment for depression. There have been some benefits that researchers identified with ketamine and psilocybin, that are extracted from magic mushrooms, psilocybin however, has not been tested against a placebo.