Objective: To conduct a systematic literature review of animal and human studies reporting anxiolytic or antidepressive effects of ayahuasca or some of its isolated alkaloids (dimethyltryptamine, harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline).
Methods: Papers published until 3 April 2015 were retrieved from the PubMed, LILACS and SciELO databases following a comprehensive search strategy and using a predetermined set of criteria for article selection.
Results: Five hundred and fourteen studies were identified, of which 21 met the established criteria. Studies in animals have shown anxiolytic and antidepressive effects of ayahuasca, harmine, and harmaline, and experimental studies in humans and mental health assessments of experienced ayahuasca consumers also suggest that ayahuasca is associated with reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms. A pilot study reported rapid antidepressive effects of a single ayahuasca dose in six patients with recurrent depression.
Conclusion: Considering the need for new drugs that produce fewer adverse effects and are more effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptomatology, the described effects of ayahuasca and its alkaloids should be further investigated.