This article first appeared as a side bar to my Scientific Shamanism article in New Dawn Special Issue Volume 10, Number 5, August 2016. © Brett Lothian.
Ayahuasca and DMT: The Spirit Medicine
For millennia the Amazonian Shaman have utilised Ayahuasca for diagnosing and treating illness, many Shaman even claim that their traditional knowledge and the often ingenious innovations of their people are a direct result of using Ayahuasca, to contact the ancestors and the spirit world for information and solutions to their problems. Such as in the case of Curare, the poison concoction used traditionally in the Amazon on blow darts and poison arrows, that often contains over forty different plants. The odds of making such an effective combination with so many different plants, through trial and error (as in the west) is unfathomable in the gigantic green ocean of plants that the Amazon jungle contains and is statistically speaking, virtually impossible to have achieved. And yet, here it is, thanks to the use of Ayahuasca. Traditionally in the cultures that utilise Ayahuasca, it is regarded as the teacher par excellence and with good reason. Whilst the science of Anthropology has known about the use of Ayahuasca for decades, it has only been recently that any scientific studies have been conducted to research the possible applications of this wonderful medicine in the west.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic tea that traditionally is made from Banisteriopsis caapi (the Ayahuasca vine) and Psychotria viridis, commonly known as Chacruna. The Ayahuasca vine contains N,N Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and the mono amine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) Harmine, Harmaline and Tetrahydroharmine which allow DMT to be orally active. Mono amine oxidase is an enzyme that destroys DMT in the stomach and thusly needs to be inhibited for the Ayahuasca to be effective as a drink. Chacruna contains DMT once again and is used to increase the potency of the brew. The addition of Chacruna is not strictly necessary, but is the common practice throughout its traditional use. Other admixture plants are also utilised traditionally for various reasons in the brew and recipes can vary quite a bit from tribe to tribe and Shaman to Shaman, with the Ayahuasca vine and Chacruna being the staples. Neo Shaman and psychedelic explorers have in modern times began to utilise other plants such as Syrian rue and various Acacia species in making what are known as Ayahuasca analogs, which have the same chemical components and effects of traditional Ayahuasca. The number of potential plant combinations that can be utilised in this way are almost never ending and make the attempted prohibition of Ayahuasca, laughably ridiculous and quite simply impossible to ever achieve in reality. DMT is one of the most common compounds ever found in nature, it is literally everywhere, on every continent except Antarctica, including within our own bodies. The fact that our own bodies produce DMT, technically makes all of us illegal drug labs and drug smugglers, under the current laws.
DMT does not necessarily need to be combined with a MAOI to be effective however (as in the traditional Ayahuasca brew), research has shown that it can be taken effectively as a suppository, vaporised, smoked, given intravenously and even insufflated as in the traditional practice among many Amazonian tribes of using hollow tubes to forcibly blow Yopo (Anadenanthera peregrina) and Cebil (Anadenanthera colubrina) seed snuff, up each others nostrils. There are numerous different forms of DMT found in nature, such a 5-MeO DMT (the active ingredient of Yopo), Bufotenin (the active ingredient of psychedelic toads) and even Psilocybin (the active ingredient in Magic mushrooms) which have different and yet similar and comparable effects. Whilst these different forms of DMT and other various Shamanic plant medicines such as Peyote, San Pedro, Iboga etc, have all been utilised traditionally for the same purposes, for eons around the world, the new studies being conducted on the cutting edge of psychedelic research have finally started to show that all psychedelics so far tested (even LSD and MDMA), are relatively safe, non habit forming and are by far the most effective mental health medicines ever discovered, or more correctly, re-discovered by modern science. After all, Shamanism was most likely the first science our people ever learned, many thousands of years ago, up and until today. Thankfully modern science has began to realise that the accumulated plant knowledge passed down through the ages by our Shaman, cannot be matched by our modern botanists or replaced, and has the ability to solve many of our modern health issues.
Which brings us to the modern research into Ayahuasca and DMT. Dr Rick Strassman began the new research into DMT in the early nineties by studying the effects of DMT given intravenously and wrote about his findings in the book, DMT: The spirit molecule, which is well worth reading. Numerous studies have been conducted since then but have largely not taken the form of clinical trials and rely on anecdotal evidence, but their findings are very promising to say the least, especially in the areas of drug addiction, treating depression and other mental health issues. A study by the Department of Neuro sciences and Behaviour, Ribeirão Preto Medical School at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, was the first designed specifically to assess clinical efficacy of ayahuasca for medical disorders, and involved three female participants with a clinical diagnosis of recurring depressive disorder and current mild/severe depressive episode without psychotic symptoms. Subjects received an oral dose of 3ml/kg of ayahuasca. After a single ayahuasca dose, depressive symptoms were significantly decreased from 40 minutes after intake until day 14, when symptoms began to reach baseline levels. They are now conducting larger studies that they hope will shore up their findings.
A team of scientists at Debrecen University believe that DMT may play a vital role in enabling brain cells to survive for longer periods when oxygen is cut off. Though the team admits that their hypothesis is based on indirect evidence, lead researcher Ede Frecska believes that there are enough clues to suggest that this may well be the function of DMT in the body. For instance, DMT is among the few internally-produced compounds that bind to the sigma-1 receptor, which is believed to play a protective role during a type of cellular stress, called oxidative stress, that can arise from a lack of oxygen. Additionally, the fact that the brain has an active uptake method which enables the transport of DMT through the blood-brain barrier suggests that the organ must require it for something. The team has therefore postulated that the role of DMT may be to protect cells from oxidative stress, thereby prolonging the period of time they can survive in the absence of oxygen and preventing brain damage. If this hypothesis is confirmed, the researchers believe it could have significant practical applications, enabling survivors of strokes and heart attacks to recover with minimal risk of losing their mental capacities. Having now secured funding for the trial via a crowd funding campaign, the team intends to investigate the effect of DMT on oxidative stress in neural tissue cultures, with the hope of one day progressing to human trials. However, the fact that DMT is classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration – implying a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value – may well present a barrier to research using live subjects. This is in spite of an array of evidence previously put forward by Frecska that the molecule may play a vital role in immunoregulation. For instance, he suggests that DMT may help to coordinate the immune responses that fight cancer. This is based on the fact that the molecule's synthesis requires an enzyme called indolethylamine-N-methyltransferase (IMNT), which is produced by the IMNT gene, the expression of which has been found to prevent the recurrence of malignant lung and prostate cancers.
Whilst many of the studies that have been conducted so far are merely anecdotal, and/or rely on a small sample size, the ongoing research will hopefully lead to a greater understanding and irrefutable proof of Ayahuasca and DMT’s medical applications. Because this is what we need if we are ever going to see a change in our ridiculous and socially destructive drug laws. We have to be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt what the indigenous Shaman from all around the world have been saying for millenia, that Ayahuasca and DMT are medicines, and that they save lives. This has been the case with the Cannabis law reform that is spreading throughout the world. An ever increasing number of countries around the world, now allow people to utilise Cannabis for medicinal reasons, despite the decades of misinformation, scare tactics and blatant lies of the “War on Drugs,” which has for so long told us that Cannabis is merely a dangerous drug of dependance. That fraudulent representation of a harmless plant and life saving medicine, can no longer be upheld as the science has proven it to be wrong, over and over again, at the cost how many people their lives? How many people had to and still have to die needlessly all around the world because of our government’s ignorance? Far too many I would suggest. Although the tide is slowly turning on the medicinal Cannabis front, the illegalisation of Ayahuasca and DMT (and all the other Shamanic plant medicines) is largely left unchallenged in most countries around the world and if it is being challenged, it is being challenged on the wrong grounds to ever really be effective. The average hard working citizen, let alone our governments, is never going to be swayed by the religious protestations of a few long haired hippies, or the anecdotal evidence of people travelling to the Amazon or self medicating at home. They are far too easily dismissed as “druggies” and will never be taken seriously in the mainstream. We have to do the science, report the science and generate a movement of serious people that is based on hard scientific facts. No average Joe, politician or law maker can argue with irrefutable proof, and once we have that behind us, the whole world will change for the better.
*Please note as this article was word restricted and originally a side bar piece, there are no references.
By Brett Lothian.