This longitudinal field study (n=242) assessed personality, mental health, life attitudes, and neuropsychological performance in a large number of long-term ritual ayahuasca users and control participants that were matched for age, sex, educational level, and religious background. Long-term ayahuasca use indicated a lower presence of psychopathological symptoms, better performance in neuropsychological tests, higher degrees of spirituality, and better psychosocial adaptation as reflected by some attitudinal traits such as Purpose in Life and Subjective Well-Being, and benefits on mental health were still observable in a one-year follow-up.
“Introduction: Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychoactive plant beverage containing the serotonergic 5-HT2A agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and monoamine oxidase-inhibiting alkaloids (harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine) that render it orally active. Ayahuasca ingestion is a central feature in several Brazilian syncretic churches that have expanded their activities to urban Brazil, Europe and North America. Members of these groups typically ingest ayahuasca at least twice per month. Prior research has shown that acute ayahuasca increases blood flow in prefrontal and temporal brain regions and that it elicits intense modifications in thought processes, perception and emotion. However, regular ayahuasca use does not seem to induce the pattern of addiction-related problems that characterize drugs of abuse.
Methods: To study the impact of repeated ayahuasca use on general psychological well-being, mental health and cognition, here we assessed personality, psychopathology, life attitudes and neuropsychological performance in regular ayahuasca users (n = 127) and controls (n = 115) at baseline and 1 year later. Controls were actively participating in non-ayahuasca religions.
Results: Users showed higher Reward Dependence and Self-Transcendence and lower Harm Avoidance and Self-Directedness. They scored significantly lower on all psychopathology measures, showed better performance on the Stroop test, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the Letter-Number Sequencing task from the WAIS-III, and better scores on the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale. Analysis of life attitudes showed higher scores on the Spiritual Orientation Inventory, the Purpose in Life Test and the Psychosocial Well-Being test. Despite the lower number of participants available at follow-up, overall differences with controls were maintained one year later.
Discussion: In conclusion, we found no evidence of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration or cognitive impairment in the ayahuasca-using group.”
Authors: José Carlos Bouso, Débora González, Sabela Fondevila, Marta Cutchet, Xavier Fernández, Paulo César Ribeiro Barbosa, Miguel Ángel Alcázar-Córcoles, Wladimyr Sena Araújo, Manel J. Barbanoj, Josep Maria Fábregas & Jordi Riba