Ayahuasca, a psychoactive beverage used by indigenous and religious groups, is generally prepared by the coction of Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi plants containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and β-carboline alkaloids, respectively. To investigate the acute toxicity of ayahuasca, the infusion was administered by gavage to female Wistar rats at doses of 30X and 50X the dose taken during a religious ritual, and the animals observed for 14 days. Behavioural functions were investigated one hour after dosing at 15X and 30X using the open field, elevated plus maze, and forced swimming tests. Neuronal activation (c-fos marked neurons) and toxicity (Fluoro-Jade B and Nissl/Cresyl staining) were investigated in the dorsal raphe nuclei (DRN), amygdaloid nucleus, and hippocampal formation brain areas of rats treated with a 30X ayahuasca dose. The actual lethal oral dose in female Wistar rats could not be determined in this study, but was shown to be higher than the 50X (which corresponds to 15.1mg/kg bw DMT). The ayahuasca and fluoxetine treated groups showed a significant decrease in locomotion in the open field and elevated plus-maze tests compared to controls. In the forced swimming test, ayahuasca treated animals swam more than controls, a behaviour that was not significant in the fluoxetine group. Treated animals showed higher neuronal activation in all brain areas involved in serotoninergic neurotransmission. Although this led to some brain injury, no permanent damage was detected. These results suggest that ayahuasca has antidepressant properties in Wistar female at high doses, an effect that should be further investigated.
Keywords: Acute doses; Ayahuasca; Behavioural tests; Neurotoxicity; Rat.
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