Researchers from the Beckley/Sant Pau Research Programme have shared the latest on the effects of ayahuasca on neurogenesis. And it’s lookin’ good.
Up until the 1960s, scientists believed that the adult brain didn’t produce new brain cells. It was not until the 1990s that those working in the field of “brain” fully accepted that we create new neurons and how important this process is in our brain function overall.
Ayahuasca Stimulates Neurogenesis
Currently, researchers are conducting the first-ever study on the effects of ayahuasca on neurogenesis. They are finding that the alkaloids present in ayahuasca, harmine and tetrahydroharmine are spawning neuron babies. Putting them in a petri dish with hippocampal stem cells, these alkaloids not only have neurogenic effects but it appears that they also “greatly increased the rate at which these cells developed into fully mature neurons,” says Jordi Riba, one of the head researchers in the study.
They even published pictures! (They are beautiful Jordi, thank you.)
Where Does Neurogenesis Happen?
Neurogenesis occurs in two areas in the brain: the hippocampus and ventricles.
The ventricular system is comprised of four interconnected cavities in the brain that communicate. It looks like two hands that have been put together in the shape of a “C,” with a slice of Swiss cheese in between, and an arm that connects this strange construction with the central canal of the spinal cord. Due to its distinct appearance, some ancients thought that this area housed the “animal spirit” of a person. In 1764, scientists discovered that this cartoonish structure produced and contained a very important fluid–cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This clear fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord along with the ventricles of the brain. The original “flow.”
The CSF protects the brain and spinal cord from damage, it regulates blood flow and helps protect the nervous system from toxins and foreign particles.
From the study, it isn’t clear whether ayahuasca stimulates neurogenesis here, we just know that that process happens in this area of the brain as well. The study, as of now, seems to focus on the stimulation of cell growth in the hippocampus.
The Hippocampus: Learning and Memory
The Greeks named this area the hippocampus because its shape resembles a sea-horse. And we have not one sea-horse but two. The hippocampi are subjects of great interest because they, together, play a major role in learning and memory. The formation of new memories occurs in this area, and it is the most affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. That’s not all. Spatial navigation and orientation are also centered here. One hypothesis is that the neurons encode information about our environment, creating a cognitive map.
In a famous study, researchers looked at the brain of cab drivers in London who have to pretty much memorize the city and how to get around it in order to become a driver. The study found that the hippocampus area had more volume, in a sense, than us normal folk.
Furthermore, a decreased hippocampus area has been seen in depressed patients and those with PTSD. This might then explain one of the reasons why ayahuasca does have such a positive impact on those suffering from these ailments.
Ayahuasca Makes Neuron Babies
In short, it sounds like these are two areas of the brain where we’d want baby cells to born. If ayahuasca does stimulate the growth of cells in the hippocampus alone, which it does, this could open up a realm of possibilities for research not only into psychiatric or emotional issues but also degenerative diseases. There has been much research going into a variety of psychedelics, but this specific study has gone where no others have thus far. The alkaloids in ayahuasca are making neuron babies in the hippocampus area of the brain. It even appears that these alkaloids nurture and accelerate the development of these cells into maturity.
Remember all that D.A.R.E talk about drugs killing brain cells? Science says, in the case of ayahuasca, the opposite is true.