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Bringing ayahuasca to the clinical research laboratory.

ABSTRACT

Since the winter of 1999, the authors and their research team have been conducting clinical studies involving the administration of ayahuasca to healthy volunteers. The rationale for conducting this kind of research is twofold. First, the growing interest of many individuals for traditional indigenous practices involving the ingestion of natural psychotropic drugs such as ayahuasca demands the systematic study of their pharmacological profiles in the target species, i.e., human beings. The complex nature of ayahuasca brews combining a large number of pharmacologically active compounds requires that research be carried out to establish the safety and overall pharmacological profile of these products. Second, the authors believe that the study of psychedelics in general calls for renewed attention. Although the molecular and electrophysiological level effects of these drugs are relatively well characterized, current knowledge of the mechanisms by which these compounds modify the higher order cognitive processes in the way they do is still incomplete, to say the least. The present article describes the development of the research effort carried out at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, commenting on several methodological aspects and reviewing the basic clinical findings. It also describes the research currently underway in our laboratory, and briefly comments on two new studies we plan to undertake in order to further our knowledge of the pharmacology of ayahuasca.