Effects of ayahuasca and its alkaloids on substance use disorders: an updated (2016-2020) systematic review of preclinical and human studies

This review (2021; s=9) of ayahuasca for substance use disorders (SUDs; e.g. alcoholism) found improvements in both rodents and humans who were suffering from SUDs (also on scores of anxiety and depression). The human studies were observational (vs RCTs) thus lacking the power to (confidently) infer causality.


“Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic/psychedelic traditionally used for ritual and therapeutic purposes. One such therapeutic use is related to Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). A previous systematic review of preclinical and human studies published until 2016 suggested that ayahuasca and its alkaloids have therapeutic effects in the treatment of SUDs. To conduct an update of this previous review. A systematic review of quantitative studies which analyzed the effects of ayahuasca and its alkaloids on drug use (primary outcome) and other measures (secondary outcomes) related to SUDs was conducted, including articles from 2016 to 2020. Nine studies (four preclinical, five observational) were included in the review. Preclinical studies in rodents reported reductions in amphetamine self-administration and anxiety, and in alcohol- and methylphenidate-induced conditioned place preference. Observational studies among healthy ritual ayahuasca users and patients with SUDs reported reductions in drug use, anxiety, and depression, and increases in quality of life and well-being. We replicated the findings of the previous review suggesting that ayahuasca and its alkaloids have therapeutic effects in the treatment of SUDs. However, translation of preclinical data to humans is limited, observational studies do not allow us to infer causality, and there is a lack of standardization on ayahuasca doses. Although promising, randomized, controlled trials are needed to better elucidate these results.”

Authors: Lucas S. Rodrigues, Giordano N. Rossi, Juliana M. Rocha, Flávia L. Osório, José C. Bouso, Jaime E. C. Hallak & Rafael G. Dos Santos


This review is a follow-up/update of Nunes et al (2016).

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