Human pharmacology of ayahuasca: subjective and cardiovascular effects, monoamine metabolite excretion, and pharmacokinetics

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2003 Jul;306(1):73-83. doi: 10.1124/jpet.103.049882. Epub 2003 Mar 26.

Abstract

The effects of the South American psychotropic beverage ayahuasca on subjective and cardiovascular variables and urine monoamine metabolite excretion were evaluated, together with the drug's pharmacokinetic profile, in a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. This pharmacologically complex tea, commonly obtained from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, combines N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an orally labile psychedelic agent showing 5-hydroxytryptamine2A agonist activity, with monoamine oxidase (MAO)-inhibiting beta-carboline alkaloids (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine). Eighteen volunteers with prior experience in the use of psychedelics received single oral doses of encapsulated freeze-dried ayahuasca (0.6 and 0.85 mg of DMT/kg of body weight) and placebo. Ayahuasca produced significant subjective effects, peaking between 1.5 and 2 h, involving perceptual modifications and increases in ratings of positive mood and activation. Diastolic blood pressure showed a significant increase at the high dose (9 mm Hg at 75 min), whereas systolic blood pressure and heart rate were moderately and nonsignificantly increased. Cmax values for DMT after the low and high ayahuasca doses were 12.14 ng/ml and 17.44 ng/ml, respectively. Tmax (median) was observed at 1.5 h after both doses. The Tmax for DMT coincided with the peak of subjective effects. Drug administration increased urinary normetanephrine excretion, but, contrary to the typical MAO-inhibitor effect profile, deaminated monoamine metabolite levels were not decreased. This and the negligible harmine plasma levels found suggest a predominantly peripheral (gastrointestinal and liver) site of action for harmine. MAO inhibition at this level would suffice to prevent first-pass metabolism of DMT and allow its access to systemic circulation and the central nervous system.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Banisteriopsis / chemistry*
  • Biogenic Monoamines / urine*
  • Cardiovascular System / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / pharmacokinetics
  • Hallucinogens / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacokinetics
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology

Substances

  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Hallucinogens
  • Plant Extracts