Ayahuasca's therapeutic potential: What we know - and what not

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2023 Jan:66:45-61. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2022.10.008. Epub 2022 Nov 8.


The therapeutic potential of the psychedelic brew ayahuasca has been investigated in preclinical and clinical studies. Currently, the most consistent evidence refers to depression. However, various studies suggest that ayahuasca may comprise therapeutic benefits in other health conditions. This narrative review provides a comprehensive, up-to-date overview of ayahuasca's therapeutic effects in diverse clinical conditions in human (clinical, cross-sectional, observational, and qualitative) and preclinical (animal and in vitro) studies. In addition to summarizing and discussing the most commonly studied conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders (SUD), we also examine less frequently studied psychiatric, neurological, and physical conditions. Moreover, we discuss evidence from epidemiological studies on the impact of regular, long-term ayahuasca use on health and psychosocial outcomes. Overall, evidence for depression and SUD is more consistent, with numerous and diverse studies. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that other conditions equally relevant to public health might be promising targets for ayahuasca's therapeutic effects. This includes preliminary studies indicating potential for grief, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, and severe physical illnesses (e.g., cancer, chronic conditions). Moreover, preliminary evidence in long-term ayahuasca users does not suggest detrimental effects but possible benefits for individual and collective health. In light of the emerging evidence of psychedelic drugs as therapeutic agents, it is essential to further investigate in rigorous designs the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in conditions other than depression.

Keywords: 5-HT2A receptor; Ayahuasca; Neurodegenerative diseases; Psychedelics; Psychiatric disorders; Serious illness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Banisteriopsis*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hallucinogens* / pharmacology
  • Hallucinogens* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Personality Disorders / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Hallucinogens