Ritual use of ayahuasca, an amazonian Amerindian medicine turned sacrament in syncretic religions in Brazil, is rapidly growing around the world. Because of this internationalization, a comprehensive understanding of the pharmacological mechanisms of action of the brew and the neural correlates of the modified states of consciousness it induces is important. Employing a combination of electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings and quantification of ayahuasca’s compounds and their metabolites in the systemic circulation we found ayahuasca to induce a biphasic effect in the brain. This effect was composed of reduced power in the alpha band (8–13 Hz) after 50 minutes from ingestion of the brew and increased slow- and fast-gamma power (30–50 and 50–100 Hz, respectively) between 75 and 125 minutes. Alpha power reductions were mostly located at left parieto-occipital cortex, slow-gamma power increase was observed at left centro-parieto-occipital, left fronto-temporal and right frontal cortices while fast-gamma increases were significant at left centro-parieto-occipital, left fronto-temporal, right frontal and right parieto-occipital cortices. These effects were significantly associated with circulating levels of ayahuasca’s chemical compounds, mostly N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine and some of their metabolites. An interpretation based on a cognitive and emotional framework relevant to the ritual use of ayahuasca, as well as it’s potential therapeutic effects is offered.

Schenberg E.E., Alexandre J.F.M., Filev R., Cravo A.M., Sato J.R., Muthukumaraswamy S.D., et al. (2015) Acute Biphasic Effects of Ayahuasca. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137202. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0137202

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