Study Shows Ayahuasca’s Painkiller Effects in Mice, No Toxic Effects

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that has been used for centuries by Indigenous cultures in South America for divination, spiritual ceremonies and healing. It is made from the Psychotria viridis shrub and the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which contain DMT and harmala alkaloids, respectively.

Interest in ayahuasca has grown in Europe and the United States over the last couple of years as people learn more about the brew’s potential therapeutic benefits in treating mental-health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Now, new research has found that the brew can be used as a painkiller without any toxic effects. When the brew is consumed, it causes altered states of consciousness, which include emotional revelations, introspection and visions.

For their research, the investigators obtained 257 male mice weighing no more than 25 grams each, aged three to six months from Gonçalo Moniz Institute’s animal facilities. They kept each mouse in a ventilated cage at room temperature and provided unrestricted access to water and food.

The investigators then induced pain using different techniques, which included pressure application using nylon threads, hot-water tail immersion and formaldehyde injections. They then administered different concentrations of ayahuasca to the mice and compared their analgesic effects to reference analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications, such as dexamethasone and morphine.

They discovered that ayahuasca administered in concentrations above 120μL/kg had analgesic effects. However, the psychoactive brew had no anti-inflammatory effects nor did it alter the pain threshold of mice when their tails were dipped in hot water.

The investigators also explored the effects of repeated treatments, which included harmine; varying ayahuasca doses; gabapentin, which is used to manage neuropathic pain; and water, which was given to mice in the control group. Next, they observed how the mice behaved after receiving these treatments.

Harmine, a primary ingredient in ayahuasca, is a type of harmala alkaloid. This ingredient prevents DMT breakdown and allows it to induce psychedelic effects in the brain, which contributes to the psychedelic experience.

In their report, the investigators explained that the most effective ayahuasca dose was 600μL/kg, with optimum effects occurring seven hours after treatment. They explained that the brew’s effects lasted five to eight hours, with higher doses lasting for an additional two hours. They compared this to gabapentin, noting that the drug’s optimum effect could be felt about three hours after it was administered.

In addition, they observed that the daily administration of ayahuasca doses consistently decreased pain.

This research highlights the potential use of ayahuasca to manage pain. It should be noted, however, that it used mice instead of humans, which doesn’t guarantee that comparable outcomes will be observed when similar studies are done on humans.

The research’s findings were reported in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Other start-ups such as Compass Pathways PLC (NASDAQ: CMPS) are also seeking to leverage the therapeutic potential of other psychedelics, including psilocybin, to develop formulations that meet FDA approval requirements.

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