Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), harmaline & harmine

Ayahuasca is an ancient South American brew. While many forms of ayahuasca can be made by combining different plant materials, the basic recipe combines a DMT-containing plant (commonly Mimosa hostilis rootbark) with a harmala-containing plant (Banisteriopsis caapi). DMT is not normally bioactive when taken orally - the body breaks it down too quickly. However, as Amazonian tribes discovered long ago, there’s a solution to this.

Harmalas act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), or molecules which inhibit (slow/stop from working) the liver enzyme monoamine oxidase, itself responsible for breaking down monoamines, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Monoamine oxidase also breaks down molecules that are similar to these neurotransmitters, such as DMT.

Ayahuasca has been used in traditional ceremonies for a range of purposes, both medicinal and spiritual. Researchers today are most interested in its powerful antiaddictive potential, although there is also talk of its use in treating anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.



By Year



Selected Publications


  • The current state of research on ayahuasca: A systematic review of human studies assessing psychiatric symptoms, neuropsychological functioning, and neuroimaging (2016)

  • Ayahuasca: Pharmacology, neuroscience and therapeutic potential (2016)


  • Inhibition of alpha oscillations through serotonin-2A receptor activation underlies the visual effects of ayahuasca in humans (2016)

  • Harmine augments electrically evoked dopamine efflux in the nucleus accumbens shell (2013)

  • Metabolism and disposition of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and harmala alkaloids after oral administration of ayahuasca (2012)

Safety & Toxicity

  • Maternal and developmental toxicity of the hallucinogenic plant-based beverage ayahuasca in rats (2018)

  • Reproductive effects of the psychoactive beverage ayahuasca in male Wistar rats after chronic exposure (2017)

  • Behavioural and neurotoxic effects of ayahuasca infusion (Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis) in female Wistar rat (2015)

Misuse & Abuse

  • Ayahuasca exposure: Descriptive analysis of calls to US poison control centers from 2005 to 2015 (2017)

  • Switch to mania after ayahuasca consumption in a man with bipolar disorder: a case report (2015)


  • Shannon entropy of brain functional complex networks under the influence of the psychedelic Ayahuasca (2017)

  • Assessing the psychedelic “after-glow” in ayahuasca users: Post-acute neurometabolic and functional connectivity changes are associated with enhanced mindfulness capacities (2017)

  • The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro (2017)

  • Effects of the natural β-carboline alkaloid harmine, a main constituent of ayahuasca, in memory and in the hippocampus: A systematic literature review of preclinical studies (2017)

  • The psychedelic state induced by ayahuasca modulates the activity and connectivity of the default mode network (2015)


  • Well-being, problematic alcohol consumption and acute subjective drug effects in past-year ayahuasca users: a large, international, self-selecting online survey (2017)

  • Exploring the therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca: Acute intake increases mindfulness-related capacities (2016)

  • Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking (2016)

  • Effects of long-term ayahuasca administration on memory and anxiety in rats (2015)


  • Nourishing the spirit: Exploratory research on ayahuasca experiences along the continuum of recovery from eating disorders (2017)

  • Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: A SPECT study (2016)

  • Effects of ayahuasca and its alkaloids on drug dependence: A systematic literature review of quantitative studies in animals and humans (2016)

  • Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: A preliminary report (2015)


  • Ayahuasca’s entwined efficacy: An ethnographic study of ritual healing from ‘addiction’ (2017)

  • The routes of a plant: ayahuasca and the global networks of Santo Daime (2017)

  • The globalization of ayahuasca shamanism and the erasure of indigenous shamanism (2016)