Personality, psychopathology, life attitudes and neuropsychological performance among ritual users of Ayahuasca: a longitudinal study

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42421. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042421. Epub 2012 Aug 8.

Abstract

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychoactive plant beverage containing the serotonergic 5-HT(2A) 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. 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. 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. In conclusion, we found no evidence of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration or cognitive impairment in the ayahuasca-using group.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Banisteriopsis / adverse effects
  • Banisteriopsis / metabolism*
  • Brazil
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects
  • Ceremonial Behavior
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Neuropsychology / methods*
  • Personality / drug effects*
  • Psychopathology / methods*
  • Reward

Grant support

Funding for this study was provided by IDEAA, Instituto de Estopsicología Amazónica Aplicada, Barcelona (Spain)/Prato Raso (Brazil). We also would like to thank the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research & Service (ICEERS Foundation; www.iceers.org) for funding the edition costs of this publication. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.