Health, Psyche
comments 35

Ayahuasca, Neurogenesis and Depression

Ayahuasca, Neurogenesis and Depression

Recent scientific research suggests that neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells – is a key to curing depression.

People suffering depression have an enlarged amygdala, a structure deep in the brain, which produces amongst other things stress hormones. An enlarged, overactive amygdala may produce too much cortizol, a fight-or-flight stress hormone. Too much cortizol can whittle away neural structures – especially in the hippocampus which is the cortizol shut off valve. In depressed people, this structure can be 15% smaller than the statistical average.

With the hippocampus function reduced and the amygdala enlarged and in overdrive, a damaging positive feedback loop gets established and eventually other neural structures such as the prefrontal cortex get damaged – the dentrites (the connections) get sheared away, leading to a tragic reduction of the full potential of a person.

Thus, depression is both a somatic and psychologically self-reinforcing cycle that requires intervention on several levels. The commonly persued course of action is via anti-depressants such as SSRI’s which increase serotonin.

The old theory for administering selective serotonin reuptake Inhibitors is that the brain is suffering from a lack of available serotonin, and that Prozac and other drugs in its class help by increasing the amount of serotonin circulating in the brain by reducing their uptake. However, it is well known such drugs take weeks to take effect, despite the fact that serotonin levels are boosted straight away.

Scientists are discovering that the mechanism is a lot more complicated than a simple lack of serotonin, but is rather enmeshed in the damage rendered by cortizol and related stress hormones, and impeded function of the hippocampus.

Serotonin can promote neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells, and Prozac seems to work by promoting neurogenesis in the hippocampus. And not only SSRIs, but other antidepression treatments affect a type of protein that is involved in neurogenesis. It is established that SSRI’s help to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. A neurotrophic factor is a protein, such as nerve growth factor, that promotes nerve cell growth and survival.

BDNF is a growth, sustainer and protector factor in the brain ; a neurogenesis hormone. Antidepressants apparently help keep hippocampal cells alive by boosting BDNF levels, inducing neurogenesis. Raising serotonin ups a protein known as CREB inside nerve cells, which also give rise to neurogenesis. This means that SSRI’s help to regenerate the hippocampus thus keeping the amygdala in balance.

This path of action restores the neurological balance which contributes (or else, determines) a healthy emotional life.

Banisteriopsis caapi, the Ayahuaca vine, is regarded by many that use it as an antidepressant. The mono-amine oxidase inhibiting beta-carbolines in the vine reduce the clearing of serotonin from the synaptic cleft : i.e MAOI is another angle from which serotonin can be boosted, which qualifies the use of MAOI in the treatment of depression back in the mid twentieth century.

It has been indicated that one of the constituents of the vine, THH, actually causes an increase in the density of platelet serotonin uptake sites in long-term users. It is likely that the increase of density of serotonin uptake sites in longterm users be an adaption to more monoamines in the system. . Increases in serotonin transporters could well be an adaptation to increased serotonin levels caused by MAO inhibition.

The additional power of Ayahuasca over commonly prescribed SSRI’s is that it allows people to experientially approach the early causal factors to their depression and work to symbolically resolve them, and cathart the primal pain and energies bound up in those repressed early experiences. After all, whilst we can address the run-away neurological consequences of deep trauma or chronic stress, the experiential gestalts themselves must be catharted and integrated. Ayahuasca allows conscious realization of how those experiences effect ones constitution and patterns of behaviour, giving beneficial insights into how the effects of the damaging influences on ones life can be greatly negated by changes of attitude and lifestyle.

Recommended Reading :

How Prozac Affects the Brain

Repairing the Mind

The Anatomy of Dispair


  1. Barry Osborne says

    Thank you so much for the article; it has filled in answers to a number of questions that I’ve had!
    –Barry L. Osborne

  2. keith says

    You use hypocampus for hippocampus. I found it misleading in a well written article

  3. if someone has suffered depression for 10 years and can’t sleep at night time, could this still help? are there any side effects?

  4. Jocelyn Blais says

    Since many years, I have a question and I can’t find any answer…
    I ask myself what can be the consequences of the amygdala removing chirurgy?…
    You know…a lot of children have serious problems with amygdala and doctors often simply remove it…
    What can be the effect on one’s health…on the brain equilibrium?…
    Thank you !
    P.S….I am french-canadian…so…sorry for my poor english…

  5. There aren’t really side effects other than vomiting from the ayahuasca brew (which is symbolically seen as a cleansing and integral part of the experience by shamans). There are some dietary restrictions for consuming an MAOI (cheese and aged meat mainly). Don’t eat anything high in tyramine for 12-24 hours before. People generally fast for about that amount of time to decrease nausea. Gotta hold the stuff down for a bit!

    Also keep in mind if you are on SSRI you cant take this because SSRI+MAOI = bad news. Amazing how the government has already screwed people with depression from using this wonderful medicine that features the illegal chemical DMT which is found in our own bodies. Go figure!

  6. Scott Brackeen says

    Thank you for the hypothesis; it sounds valid, but can you site any research that states Ayahuasca is proven to do this? This article mentions that, ” …THH, actually causes an increase in the density of platelet serotonin uptake sites in long-term users.” Can you please provide the study or research that states that?

    The article is well thought out and well written, by the way.


  7. admin says

    Callaway JC, Airaksinen MM, McKenna DJ, Brito GS, Grob CS.
    Platelet serotonin uptake sites increased in drinkers of ayahuasca.
    Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1994 Nov;116(3):385-7.
    PMID: 7892432 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


    The binding of [3H]citalopram to the platelet 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) transporter was measured in a group of healthy male drinkers of ayahuasca, a psychoactive sacrament indigenous to Amazonia, and a group healthy male controls. An increased number of binding sites (Bmax) in the platelets of ayahuasca drinkers was found, while the dissociation constant (Kd) remained the same for both groups. If indicative of neuronal 5-HT uptake activity, these results would suggest a decreased concentration of extracellular 5-HT, or a response to increased production and release of 5-HT. Such changes in 5-HT synaptic activity, in this case, should not be misinterpreted as an indication of developing neurological or psychiatric illness.

  8. hauscawon says

    i m floored. great contribution, i didnt know this

    peace and love

    the huasca won :]

  9. Scott Brackeen says

    I found this research report, which also proves Danial Mirante’s article is correct. The report is written by Dr. Callaway, Dr. D. Mckenna and Dr. C. Grob, (on “”, using the search word Ayahuasca). The title of the report is “The Scientific Investigation of Ayahuasca: A Review of Past and Current Research.” Dr. Calloway used “Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography”, to see what Ayahuasca was doing to his own brain, and found that …
    “… Another interesting self-experiment related to this finding was carried out by one of the investigators,
    Jace Callaway, following his return to Finland after the field phase of the study was completed. Dr.
    Callaway has access to Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT) scanning
    facilities in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Kuopio. Suspecting that the causative
    agent of the unexpected upregulation might be tetrahydroharmine (THH), Dr. Callaway took
    SPECT scans of his own brain 5-HT uptake receptors prior to beginning a six week course of daily dosing
    with tetrahydroharmine, repeating the scan after the treatment period. He did indeed find that the density of central 5-HT receptors in the prefrontal cortex had increased; when he discontinued THH, their density gradually returned to previous levels over the course of several weeks. While this experiment only had one subject, if it is indicative of a general effect of THH that can be replicated and confirmed, the implications are potentially significant.”
    — I like the use of the SPECT here, it’s easier for me to understand—

  10. John Kewitz says

    Wow it seems ayahuasca if prepared correctly and used in the correct manner can be exponentially better at “raising spirits” or curing one of ones illness say than an ssri or an antidepressant. Stop me if im wrong?

  11. Maya says

    Wonderful article. Many thanks!
    Yet HELP, anybody who managed to get to read The Anatomy of Despair, and Repairing the Mind, from newscientist! They make you have to pay too steeply for the steeply required annual subscription, but I’m dying to read them! Anyone? Or we could share the subsciption;) ?!

  12. Thank you for promoting what may be a good cure for those suffering from long term depression. By the comments so far I can see that small matters of detail may cause some readers to prematurely discount your credibility. In that spirit, I offer the following.
    1) Hippocampus morphology in depressives is atrophied or misshapen but not enlarged.

    2) The adrenal glands actually produce Cortisol when directed by the pituitary via the hypothalamus (the “HPA axis”). A damaged amygdala may cause an overproduction of cortisol through complicated interactions of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems.

  13. admin says

    Thanks Basil. But I didn’t say the hippocampus was enlarged in depressives, I said the amygdala was enlarged.

    Enlarged Amygdala Volume and Reduced Hippocampal Volume in Young Women With Major Depression
    Lange C, Irle E
    Psychol Med
    vol. 34, 1059 – 1064, 2004

    Enlargement of the amygdala in patients with a first episode of major depression
    Biological Psychiatry, Volume 51, Issue 9, Pages 708-714

    That said, there is also evidence in long term depression that the amygdala may be smaller. There are many ways for people to get depressed so no doubt there are many different types of physical indicators.

  14. Rogério says

    Hello ! Is there a way for Ayuaska and shamn conbined to heal schizophrenia ?Thanks

  15. There is also much research out there on Ketamine producing rapid neurogenesis. I myself suffer from clinical depression and decided that the medicine path is the path of a true healing and not just a temporary fix…however it has been quite a decision for me to give up the drugs that help me function on a daily basis to pursue a longer term alternative. I have been researching for a safe anti-depressant that can be taken with ayahuasca. I took for a period of time a european drug not available directly in the states called “Stablon”. It is actually an SSRE…a reuptake enhancer that works the opposite of SSRIs and yet is mild, but effective for many people. I can’t find any info on mixing this drug with the medicine. If anyone has any thoughts or info…it’s welcomed. Thank you for the article!! It seems to be only the most up to date and informed doctors are aware that these drugs don’t work so much based on the serotonin reuptake hypothosis as the creation of neurogenesis. Depression is brain damage from stress and the damage has to be addressed.

  16. Chad says

    I have suffered with extream clinical depression my whole life…I have wanted to try ayahuasca for quite some time to expirience God and also its medicinal effects. I currently take welbutrin and zoloft, how long do I need to be off my medicine in order for the ayahuasca not to cause nasty side effects?

  17. M. Riley says

    I have had Chronic Fatigue for six years now. I stopped going to my doctors as all they wanted to do is put me on Prozac. I have a sense my body is too fragile for that and would be detrimental to my physiology. I have had many(many) traumas and much drama stress in my life. I am too exhausted to research and know what to do. They refuse tests on my hormonal system. I have flight or fight reflex when someone walk in a room.
    I started trying Ayahuasca. I have done it five times at two different times. Three night in spring and two nights a month ago. The third, fourth and fifth time I had very difficult times. My nervous system was having convulsion type activity. My arms were flailing uncontrollably and my face nerves were twitching uncontrollably as well, for a very long time and I felt a very high vibrating frequency. I had fear that It could do nerve damage and that I would end up with a continued twitch. My eye lids still twitch a bit but I think they were doing that before the Ayahuasca. I have been looking for information in regards to this. Is there a possibility for nerve damage taking this, or was what was happening healing my nervous system. I know I need much healing and want to make sure I am safe to do more. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks. So far every thing I have seen has sounded positive. Needing to know any science on this.

  18. Jose says

    M. Riley, is it possible that you’ve suffered from a hypertensive reaction due to improper fasting prior to your Ayahuasca experience?

    Related – foods you should avoid on MAOIs:

    The other issue I would consider is that the lack of guidance from a Shaman could make self-medicating on Ayahuasca a less than positive experience.

  19. Robert says

    I was tested at the Amen clinics here in California and was shown on my scan that I had a larger than typical Amygdala, Suicides and depression have haunted my family for generations. I believe there is something to this and I want to test the effects of Ayahuasca at which time I will repost to offer my findings.

  20. I’ve had treatment resistant depression since the age of 16y/o, have tried over 100 labeled and off labeled medications in the USA and UK, had 70 ECT (shock treatments /p high school in 1985 and 1986 all without help, but the MAOI type A inhibitors have worked the best for me + patinets I’ve seen myself! The restriction on foods has changed dramatically since the old days /p a study done in Toronto (J. Clinical Psychiatry 1999;60(3)191-193) showed a glass of red wine or several is fine. Definitely avoid aged cheeses (Nozzerella + American OK), avoid tap beer, fava beens (L-dopa), sauerkraut, aged/cured meats-all, soy sauce (said no soy sauce once + they put tons-premade-throbbing HA), no tofu unles made that day. Careful /c left over pizza as the protein in the cheese may have broken down increasing tyramine content. There are many natural MAOI’s in naturre like Curcumin but each with different properties beyond MAOI-See Wikipedia Herbs MAOI. First time I’ve herd about Ayahuasaca unless its under some other name like deoxygedunin from the Indian neen tree which may be the most potent BDNF mimicker yet as I do believe BDNF is kind of the root cause of depression in atrophy/hypertrophy of brain areeas along with overactivity or too much glucose uptake. I’m interested and have been following brain changes following deep brain stimulation for years especially Helen Mayberg (Neurologist @Emory).

  21. Just wanted to point out and don’t know if it’s true or not, but the WHO predicted back in 2002-2003 or earlier that suicide would be the second cause of disability and possibly the second leading cause of death second only to heart disease. Treatment resistant depression has ruled my life since I was 16y/o and I’m currently 44y/o so I made it my life specialty and became a medical professional, PA and self taught naturopath until I could no longer work because I could no longer use the two main adjunctive treatments with the MAOIs I was using; two or three nights a week sleep deprivation (very powerful-couldn’t have done it without SD), and “EXTREME” physical exercise 2-3x day (powerful too but not as much as SD) as I now have osteoarthric knees and shoulders as well as cold shower/bath therapy but hope to write a medical autobiography in what techniques I’ve learned to help me survive all of these years from daily, chronic TRD and hopefully prevent others from committing suicide in the future espcially before 2020.

  22. hello Jeff,

    I have a younger brother that is in a very bad way right now. He is 36 years old, unable to work and is suicidal, this has been going on for many years also. He had gotten worse over the last three months because of some stressful situations he got himself into. He has tried just about every anti-depressant drug to which nothing works. He lives with our mother who is also prone to depression. I am desperate to get him some help because he has given up and stated he no longer wants to live. I have come across this site and seen that Ayahuasca may help with his severe depression. He lives in Canada, I have a place in Phoenix that i am sending him to for the winter to see if the change in environment and sunshine might help his situation. He has just started taking the natural product True Hope. Is there anywhere in Arizona he can go to too try the Ayahuasca tea under supervision to see if that helps his situation.

  23. Hi

    Soon, I will take ayahuasca by myself. I am quite depressed but not on any anti depressants. I am just looking for some advice. I certainly cannot afford to go to Peru or other country to do a ceremony and I think, since I have no insurance, that I must take care of myself the best way I know how.

    Any suggestions? I have read some information about taking it solo, but am always looking for more. I want and need a change for the better.


  24. Doug,

    You may want to check out the forums at The participants there have put together a guide for solitary drinkers, and while no one can give you real advice as to if you should drink the tea or not, the Guide contains useful information and things to consider should you decide to.

  25. Hi All,

    Some additional info – this neurological basis corresponds with your cognition. The dominance of an area of your brain in learning and memory parallels your dominant ways of perceiving many situations. That may not sound very important, but this means that changing the way you think and learning to reevaluate your experiences can result in your brain changing to reflect the new balance between brain areas. I don’t wish to speak against ayahuasca, just to remind that it is not even close to your only option if the pill-pushers refuse to help you.

  26. Maxwell says

    I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, I started taking psychotherapy and anti depresants SRRI (celexa/citalopram) for about a year, I didn’t want to be living taking those medications and whenever I tried to stop the SSRI I had bad withdrawal symptoms, such as dizziness, headaches, and general mental agility decreased, I researched about half life of the SSRI and decided to stop it for 48 hours and then take ayahuasca, I have to say that since I took ayahuasca for the first time I stopped totally the SSRI, my doctor was surprised about it and I have felt more optimistic and gave me lots of insights, I have taken ayahuasca four times in a period of about 10 months, It has helped me to overcome fears, to increase my mood and to look at my self and the world in to a more deep and positive way, they call it plant teacher, and must be taken with respect, I don’t consider it a simple drug or antidepressant, it has pharmacological effects but there are many psychological effects as well, i watched many documentaries about it and have been focused lately in spirituality and science, together, I knowledge of both has helped me to have a right state of mind for taking the ayahuasca by myself, but I can see that for people not too prepared mentally is important to have a guide while taking it. (I have not touched any antidepressants whatsoever since my first ayahuasca experience)

  27. Bruce says

    I’d like to know how the posters got their hand on this herb ayahuasca. Isn’t it illegal?

  28. Heather says

    Two oppotunities for ayahausca cerimonies have presented themselves to me in the last 24 hours and i believe things happen for a reason. Before i venture down this path i have a few questions regarding trauma to my head. as a small child i had a head injury that resulted in in swelling of the brain and loss of all vision for 12 hours. I also experienced on three occasions covulsions and fevers of 107 following childhood vaccinations. Throughout life mutiple smaller blows to the head.IT is my vulnerable point.Then almost 4 years ago i fell from some scaffolding my head receiving the blow against a stack of block, thus crushing the back of the skull.My daughter kept me conscious and i brought it under controll with copious amounts of fresh tumeric gotu kola and rosemary from the garden.The site still has a very active omnipresence and has shed bone shard on two different occasions. To compound matters, last january i suffered a heart attack and aneurism. I survived this again thanks to my daughter bleeding me out and administering the proper plants.Since then, i have thwarted off two smaller ones but feel the aneurisms pressure with every move of my head. I am very fortunate but do not know how much longer i can keep this up. My daughter is only 14 and my love for her is what has made strong enough to to beat this, but i feel it gaini9ng the upper hand lately. I for many years have suffered from the inability to relax and solidy focus mixed with emotional turmoil etc.. all feed into this. I feel i can adress so much with the ayahausca but im at the edge of the cliff. What do you think?

  29. Tonya says

    Hi. I’ve only recently heard of this. I stumbled across this information in two ways. First, I have recently “awakened” as they say to the realization of higher demensions and a different spiritual outlook. Second, I research a lot for my now 26 year old son. He suffered a traumatic brain injury at 14 and was then diagnosed with schizophrenia.
    We have been through many many doctors and centers through the years and well, the history is a long one and is best brought to another forum.
    In the meantime, I’ve discovered that alot of what he tries to tell me regarding spirituality and demensions etc, can be coaborrated by tens of thousands of others. There are books and websites that expand on the things that he’s been explaining to me.
    So much of the information regarding the experiences of those whove used ayahuasca are very similar to what my son has been telling me he experiences. I’m wondering if the DMT in his brain, or the part of his brain that produces the DMT, may be the cause. Possibly due to the traumatic brain injury? Or, if there are any studies specifically with patients living with schizophrenia being helped with ayahuasca?

  30. […] "Ayahuasca visions can reduce the power and influence of some traumatic memories which lie buried and hidden in our unconscious but nevertheless affect our day-to-day lives." – Ayahuasca as an Addiction Treatment: Shamanic Visions to Cure Your Addiction?…tion-treatment (quoted above) also shares a study of a doctors clinic results in addiction treatment. Really I think he might like this one:…nd-depression/ […]

  31. Diana says

    Ayahuasca INCREASES cortisol levels (according to various scientific papers I’ve read). This concerns me. We all know that Aya is meant to be good for healing PTSD, stress and trauma. Stress increases cortisol – which plays havoc in the body. Ive had chronically high cortisol levels my whole life due to severe stress. I’ve been doing Aya to help my PTSD, and help heal my traumatised endocrine system. However I’ve just found out that neurologically, Aya actually INCREASES cortisol! I’d have thought it would decrease cortisol / since it’s meant to have a therapeutic , anti-stress effect. This seems like such a contradiction. Does anyone know any more about this? I’m doing everything I can to reduce my cortisol, so it’s a shame that Aya – the tool I’ve been using to heal stress – actually increases cortisol! Any info , anyone?

Leave a Reply