Symptom specificity of ayahuasca’s effect on depressive symptoms

This retrospective survey study (n=120) found that ayahuasca improved specific depressive symptoms (CESD-10) namely hope, depressed mood, and happiness, more than other symptoms such as cognitive, interpersonal, sleep, loneliness, and focusing.


“Background Ayahuasca’s effects on symptoms of depression have generated considerable optimism. Clients frequently report more concern about some symptoms than others, and available treatments alter symptoms differentially. Few studies address the symptom specificity of this psychoactive brew.

Aims We examined self-reported effects of ayahuasca on the individual symptoms of depression assessed by the 10-item short-form of Center for Epidemiological Studies of Depression (CESD-10).

Methods We asked over 120 participants to complete a retrospective assessment of CESD-10 symptoms one month before and one month after using ayahuasca.

Results Participants indicated that ayahuasca had a larger influence on affective symptoms like hope, depressed mood, and happiness, than cognitive, interpersonal, and somatic symptoms like restless sleep, loneliness, and difficulty focusing.

Conclusions Potential clients might appreciate identifying if different treatments provide more relief for some depressive symptoms than others. We examined retrospective reports of ayahuasca’s potential for differential impact. Those eager to alter hope, happiness, and other affective symptoms will likely find ayahuasca more helpful than those who want an intervention for restless sleep, loneliness, or trouble focusing. This symptom specificity parallels the effects of serotonergic antidepressant medications, suggesting that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy using ayahuasca might have considerable appeal for those who seek comparable relief but would rather not use prescription serotonergic medications. Jumpstarting psychotherapy with the rapid onset of ayahuasca-induced relief also appears to have potential.

Authors: Cody S. Gilbert, Mitch Earleywine, Maha N. Mian & Brianna R. Altman


Participants had on average used ayahuasca 40 times, were between 30-50 (52%), Caucasian (87%), and had at least a bachelors degree (61%).

The participants recalled their symptoms one month before, and one month after their last trip.

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Symptom specificity of ayahuasca's effect on depressive symptoms

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Published in
Journal of Psychedelic Studies
April 17, 2021
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