#206: Ayahuasca vs. Depression with Dr. Draulio Araujo

November 10, 2017

Voluntary nausea every two weeks?

For 20,000 or so Brazilians, the answer is an enthusiastic yes.

These are the devotees of a few small Brazilian churches whose congregants regularly consume the traditional Amazonian brew known as ayahuasca.  Every couple of weeks, dozens of people will gather — young and old — and drink a concoction that no one likes the taste of…but all respect the power of.

If you hadn’t heard of ayahuasca ten years ago, you’d have been in the super-majority.

Outside of a few isolated enclaves, it was practically unknown.

But in the past decade, ayahuasca has been gaining fame outside its native region.  Partly this is through Brazilians migrating elsewhere and bringing the practice with them; partly this is because of tourists to Brazil who participated in ayahuasca ceremonies and returned to their home countries with stories of experiences that were literally life-changing to them.

Not an easy ride.

Ayahuasca is a potent natural psychedelic.

A fascinating interplay between its plant ingredients and human digestive physiology make this drink a long-acting way to experience the effects of N, N-Dimethyltryptamine, better known as DMT.  (See Smart Drug Smarts Episode 137 for a full explanation of DMT.)  However, ayahuasca is not just “DMT that lasts longer”.  People who have used both compounds describe ayahuasca as an experience unto itself, often resulting in deeply introspective, emotion-laden trips where Amazonian “guides” force exploration of unsettled memories the user is not at peace with.

Of course, these generalizations are based mostly on ayahuasca’s use in its traditional context as part of a religious ceremony.  Which raises questions.

The two most famous words in the world of psychedelics (well, maybe second and third, following trip) are “Set and Setting.”

  • Set is short for the “mindset” of the user
  • Setting refers to the physical and social environment in which the drug is taken.

Setting always plays a major role in a psychedelic experience…but in the case of ayahuasca, unlike other psychedelics, probably 99% of its use has always been in a very specific ceremonial setting.  It hasn’t really been stress-tested in other environments.

And so, one wonders:

What would the drug do in a clinical environment?

A liquid therapist?

Anecdotally, ayahuasca has been credited with helping people “straighten out their lives” through profound insights, the lifting of addictions, and new-found perspectives gained under its intoxicating effects.  Its shamanic devotees often personify the beverage as “Mother Ayahuasca,” and speak of “her” as someone with insights, goals, and a “tough love” attitude toward her human users.

Dr. Draulio Barros de Araujo, a professor at the Brain Institute at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil), wondered: If you stripped away the standard ceremonial setting, how ayahuasca would affect first-time users?  What does the drink itself do, outside its traditional context?

Could ayahuasca be a therapeutic tool for mainstream psychology?

And so he began on a series of studies (continuing today) cataloging the effects and possible efficacy of ayahuasca as a tool for long-time sufferers of treatment-resistant depression.

In Episode 206, he tells us the detailed story of his studies, up to the present moment.

Oh yeah, the nausea…

Ayahuasca is not a “party drug.”  Partially, this is because the state it engenders is an inward-looking, often an emotionally challenging journey.

But partially, it’s because it makes people vomit and get diarrhea.  And not “sometimes.”  ?Reliably.  More often than not.  Ayahuasca is not an easy ride for the human body, regardless of its potential benefits to the psyche.

The religious traditions for which ayahuasca is a sacrament talk about the vomiting as if it is there by design, part of a bigger picture.  (i.e. “Purging” the body of the vomit is a physical parallel to the release of psychological troubles during the psychedelic session.)  We’re not persuaded; this sounds like a post-hoc Stockholm Syndrome rationalization.

Should you be personally curious about using ayahuasca, please do thorough research before making a decision.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:30

    Episode introduction: Ayahuasca vs. Depression with Dr. Draulio Araujo.

  • 00:01:30

    This Week In Neuroscience: Basketball in Slow Motion.

  • 00:05:52

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:06:26

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:08:30

    Guest introduction: Dr. Draulio Araujo.

  • 00:11:02

    Interview begins: Reasons why Ayahuasca is becoming more well-known.

  • 00:12:30

    Sustainability of Ayahuasca.

  • 00:13:24

    Formulations of Ayahuasca.

  • 00:14:50

    Historic use of Ayahuasca.

  • 00:15:56

    Early research on Ayahuasca.

  • 00:17:35

    Altered states of consciousness brought on by Ayahuasca.

  • 00:18:45

    Somatic effects that Ayahuasca can have.

  • 00:19:40

    Ayahuasca, an entheogen.

  • 00:20:20

    The purging effect of Ayahuasca.

  • 00:24:15

    What is normal use of Ayahuasca like?

  • 00:25:20

    What got Dr. Araujo interested into studying the possible use of Ayahuasca as a therapeutic agent for depression?

  • 00:27:50

    Ayahuasca and the therapeutic power of religion.

  • 00:29:10

    Psychedelics as very sensitive to the sets and settings.

  • 00:30:00

    Study on Ayahuasca as a therapeutic agent for depression in treatment resistant individuals.

  • 00:31:40

    How long does a typical Ayahuasca session last?

  • 00:33:05

    The caveat of the placebo effect.

  • 00:34:25

    Randomized control trial.

  • 00:35:15

    The use of an active placebo.

  • 00:40:00

    Attempt at a double-blind randomized control trial.

  • 00:42:20

    Were there any setbacks or trouble spots throughout the course of the study?

  • 00:44:55

    What came after the active placebo study?

  • 00:46:40

    Findings of the study.

  • 00:47:50

    Difficulties in getting the study published.

  • 00:49:40

    What can we expect next?

  • 00:52:36

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 00:54:15

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Takotsubo, "Broken Heart Syndrome" and how happy hearts might also be susceptible to this.

  • 00:57:33

    Episode wrap-up.


  1. Mark de Vries says:

    Jesse, thanks for your episode about Ayahuasca.
    This brew has changed my life for the better! I heard you asking if there is a need for more Ayahuasca episodes, the answer: yes, yes, yes!
    My second session Ayahuasca will be next thursday, roughly half a hear after my first. I am one of the lucky persons who has actual FMRI brain data to backup my ‘feeling’ that it has changed my life.

    Your ayahuasca podcast(s) will change many peoples lifes in ways you couldn’t even dream of.

    Please do make extra episodes about ayahuasca!

    Kind regards,

    The Netherlands

  2. Mr Alex RICHARDSON says:

    Hi what products do you do for depression?

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