Call 413.540.1234 to
schedule an appointment
CONCERN/EAP: 413.534.2625
Billing questions? Call: 413.540.1212
CRISIS: 413.733.6661

Depression: Depression & Related Conditions
Basic Information
Introduction and Types of Depressive DisordersRelated Disorders / ConditionsHistorical and Current UnderstandingsBiology, Psychology and SociologyTreatment - Medication and PsychotherapyAlternative Medicine and Self-Help ResourcesSpecial IssuesReferences
More InformationTestsLatest News
Facebook Posts May Hint at DepressionDo Dimmer Days in Pregnancy Raise Postpartum Depression Risk?Depression Strikes Nearly 1 in 5 Young Adults With Autism: StudyNew Dads Can Get the Baby Blues, TooHealth Tip: Help a New Mom With Postpartum DepressionCould a Blood Test Help Spot Severe Depression?Treating Depression May Prevent Repeat Heart AttackSupportive Managers Key When a Worker Is DepressedIs Depression During Pregnancy on the Rise?Know the Signs of Postpartum DepressionAre Your Meds Making You Depressed?Depression, Money Woes Higher in Heart Patients With Job LossSnubbed on Social Media? Your Depression Risk May RiseNever Ignore DepressionStudy Affirms What Many Know: Antidepressants May Lead to Weight GainECT Effective for Treatment-Resistant DepressionRates of Major Depression Up Among U.S. Insured, Esp. YouthResistance Exercise May Reduce Depressive Symptoms in AdultsDepression Striking More Young People Than EverDepression May Dampen MemoryCould Mom-to-Be's Antidepressants Have an Upside for Baby's Brain?Exercise Your Blues AwayGrip Strength Indicative of Cognition in Major DepressionKetamine Nasal Spray Shows Promise Against Depression, SuicideTelltale Clues That Your Child Is DepressedPrenatal Exposure to SSRI Tied to Fetal Brain DevelopmentDepressive Symptoms Tied to Diabetes Self-ManagementAbandoning Your Workouts May Bring on the BluesMany Grad Students Struggle With Anxiety, DepressionRelapse in Major Depression Linked to Brain Cortical ChangesIL-6 Levels Predict Response to ECT in Depressive Disorder1 in 20 Younger Women Suffers Major DepressionHeart-Healthy 'DASH' Diet May Also Help Lower Depression RiskGuidelines Updated for Managing and ID'ing Adolescent Depression21 Reviewed Antidepressants Top Placebo for Major DepressionAntidepressants Do Work, Some Better Than Others: StudyTreatment Initiation for Depression Low in Primary CareDuring 2013 to 2016, 8.1 Percent of U.S. Adults Had DepressionDepression Common in U.S., Women Hit HardestNo Proof At-Home 'Cranial Stimulation' Eases DepressionAcne Linked to Increased Risk of Major Depressive DisorderMany With Depression Delay, Avoid TreatmentPostnatal Depression Tied to Child Behavioral ProblemsTalk Therapy May Be Worth It for Teen DepressionCognitive Behavioral Therapy Cost-Effective in Depressed TeensWomen Seem More Prone to Winter BluesTransdermal Estradiol May Help Prevent Depressive SymptomsHormone Therapy May Ease Depression Linked to MenopauseEsketamine Safe, Effective for Treatment-Resistant DepressionDermatologists Often Undervalue Depression, Anxiety in Patients
Questions and AnswersLinksBook Reviews
Related Topics

Anxiety Disorders
Bipolar Disorder
Addictions: Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Pain Management

Psychedelic Amazonian Drug Might Ease Symptoms of Depression, Alcoholism

HealthDay News
by By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter
Updated: Nov 14th 2017

new article illustration

TUESDAY, Nov. 14, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- A powerful psychedelic drug out of South America might help battle both depression and alcoholism, a new British survey suggests.

Ayahuasca is a brew made from a combination of Amazonian plants, including the Psychotria viridis bush and the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, said study author Will Lawn. "It is thought to have been used for several hundred years by indigenous people in the Amazon," he said.

Lawn is a research associate with the clinical psychopharmacology unit at University College London.

Ayahuasca is also becoming more widely used recreationally in the United States by people seeking a cathartic "trip."

But after researchers questioned ayahuasca users, what was the bottom line on its effects?

"People who had used ayahuasca in the last year reported better well-being than comparison survey respondents," Lawn said. "Ayahuasca users also had lower problematic drinking than comparison drug users who had used LSD or magic mushrooms in the last year."

That said, psychiatrists and Lawn stressed the results did not come from a controlled trial, so the results should be viewed with caution.

"Our survey does not demonstrate a causal link between ayahuasca use and better well-being or more controlled alcohol consumption," Lawn noted. So "this data should not be used as evidence that ayahuasca can treat depression and problematic alcohol consumption."

Of the nearly 97,000 people polled in the study, only about 18,000 said they had experimented with either LSD or so-called "magic mushrooms," and a little more than 500 said they had tried ayahuasca.

"Bad trips" while on ayahuasca were relatively common, the study found. Among those who had tried both ayahuasca and LSD or magic mushrooms, more said that ayahuasca prompted these less pleasurable experiences. They also said they were less inclined to repeat the ayahuasca experience going forward.

But on the upside, in the year leading up to the survey, feelings of well-being were higher among ayahuasca users than among nonusers.

Compared with those who had tried either LSD or magic mushrooms, ayahuasca users were less likely to struggle with alcohol-related addiction problems, the study found.

The findings were published Nov. 9 in the journal Scientific Reports.

But Lawn added that while ayahuasca appeared to have a better side effect "profile" than classic Western psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, taking the drug is not without risk.

There are bad trips, "in which the subjective effects are very strong and anxiety-provoking. However, this is a risk with any psychedelic drug, and it is mitigated by a positive 'set and setting,' " Lawn explained.

Lawn added that patients taking antidepressants should avoid ayahuasca, given the risk for bad drug interactions.

Andrew Littlefield, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said the notion that hallucinogens might have medicinal benefits is "an old idea." He was not involved with the study.

But, "I would personally be cautious regarding the strength of evidence that the current study lends to concluding ayahuasca has clinically significant benefits on psychological well-being and problematic drinking," he said.

Littlefield noted, for example, that the differences observed in terms of both well-being and drinking abuse were statistically very small and "do not represent causality."

Dr. John Krystal, chair of Yale University's department of psychiatry, said the study authors "are very sophisticated in their understanding of psychedelic drugs." But "this type of study is somewhat difficult to interpret," he added.

"For example, we do not know whether the results reflect the attributes of people who seek the various substances evaluated in the study, the expectations that they have regarding how the drug affects [them], or the impact of the use of these substances on the lives of the individuals," said Krystal, who also had no role in the study.

Krystal called for more rigorous research before drawing any conclusions. And "because the safety and effectiveness of ayahuasca has yet to be determined, it should only be used in the context of careful research studies, designed to protect the safety of patients, while generating data that could inform the overall balance of risks and benefits associated with this drug," he said

More information

There's more on hallucinogenic drugs at U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.