Abstract

Ayahuasca is a South American psychoactive plant brew used as traditional medicine in spiritual and in cultural rituals. This is a review of the current understanding about the pharmacological mechanisms that may be interacting in ayahuasca. Searches were performed using PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web of Science databases and 16 papers were selected. As hypothesized, the primary narrative in existing research revolved around prevention of deamination of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (N,N-DMT, also referred to as DMT) by monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) in ayahuasca. Two of the constituents, DMT and harmine, have been studied more than the secondary harmala alkaloids. At present, it is unclear whether the pharmacological interactions in ayahuasca act synergistically or additively to produce psychoactive drug effects. The included studies suggest that our current understanding of the preparation’s synergistic mechanisms is limited and that more complex processes may be involved; there is not yet enough data to determine any potential synergistic interaction between the known compounds in ayahuasca. Our pharmacological understanding of its compounds must be increased to avoid the potential risks of ayahuasca use.

Ruffell, S., Netzband, N., Bird, C., Young, A. H., & Juruena, M. F. (2020). The pharmacological interaction of compounds in ayahuasca: a systematic review. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry42(6), 646-656.; 10.1590/1516-4446-2020-0884

Link to full text