Researchers in Brazil are thinking on another level.
They are trying to use monkeys to prove that the ancient psychoactive substance known as ayahuasca is a better anti-depressant than modern pharmaceuticals.
Checkout the full study here.
Via Discover Magazine:
In a recent first, researchers at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil gave ayahuasca, a potent entheogenic brew from the Amazon Basin, to common marmosets. Ayahuasca has been studied in rodents and humans before, but not non-human primates. And strangely — or not-so-strangely, depending on who you ask — the drug seemed to help the monkeys’ depression.
These days, ayahuasca is often conflated with kale-crunchers in San Francisco or New York who join shaman-led, soul-searching group therapy sessions with plenty of vomiting—the drink can cause great gastrointestinal distress.
But its use dates back hundreds of years among Amazonian tribes, and according to one study, regular ayahuasca users “performed better in neuropsychological tests, scored higher in spirituality and showed better psychosocial adaptation.” Ayahuasca has been shown to be generally safe and non-addictive, illuminating well-being with fast-acting anti-depressive effects in just one dose.
Despite a recent study in The Lancet, which showed that 21 antidepressants work better than placebo, we need better treatments for depression. About a third of people still don’t respond to treatment, while it can take weeks for a drug to begin working. For the majority, reaching full remission is unobtainable.
This is why researchers are looking to classic psychedelics — including ketamine and psilocybin— to see if they hold greater promise. And with the case of the marmosets, ayahuasca did rapidly reduce depression symptoms.
So how do you depress a monkey? Well, similar to humans, marmosets are social primates, so the researchers simply isolated them for eight weeks in cages where they could still hear and smell their colony members. This disruption in social relationships caused the juvenile monkeys — eight males and seven females — to exhibit stress behaviors, such as excessive sleepiness, scratching and grooming, while also losing weight and eating less. Researchers also measured cortisol, a hormone that regulates stress, by sampling the marmosets’ feces.
“After the ingestion of ayahuasca we observed the stress behavior reduced,” says Nicole Galvão-Coelho, the study’s lead author. “Ayahuasca regulated the cortisol levels to that similar to the family groups.”
Within 24 hours, the monkeys’ began to eat more, they stopped scratching excessively, and later, their weight returned to baseline levels. Galvão-Coelho’s team compared these results with a previous study they designed using isolated, depressed marmosets that were given nortriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant. In this case, the ayahuasca produced faster, better results.
Hit the jump to learn more about ayahuasca’s history and modern uses.