Ayahuasca as a emerging therapeutic tool: from molecules to meta-cognition and back
Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant tea combining biologically active beta-carboline alkaloids with the psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Its acute administration to humans induces an introspective state of awareness characterized by dream-like visions, enhanced self-reflection, and recollection of autobiographical memories in an intensely emotional experience. In my talk I will review the neuroscience of ayahuasca, from receptor-level interactions to its modulation of brain dynamics. I will also present evidence of its capacity to change pathological patterns of thought and behaviour, such as those observed in depression and addiction. I will discuss how these changes in life attitudes may result from the enhancement of certain meta-cognitive capacities that allow individuals to observe their own thoughts and emotions in a more detached manner, and to reduce negative judgmental attitudes and inner reactivity. I will also present neuroimaging data on the neural underpinnings of these post-acute psychological changes. Finally, I will return to the cellular level to show our most recent findings on the neurogenic potential of the active principles found in ayahuasca. Using this comprehensive approach, I will try to show the remarkable capacity of ayahuasca to interact at multiple levels with the brain-mind complex, and to stimulate the debate on its potential therapeutic applications.