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Hallucinogenic Brew May Help Depression

Results from first human clinical trial of ayahuasca are promising
By Alex Tirpack,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2015 1:00 PM CDT
Hallucinogenic Brew May Help Depression
A vine used for making ayahuasca.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – A psychedelic brew from the jungles of Brazil shows promise as a treatment for depression—in fact, as a treatment for those who don't respond to more traditional medication. Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo have just published the results of the first clinical trial involving the anti-depressant effects of ayahuasca, a centuries-old drink made from jungle vine and shrubs long used in religious ceremonies in South America, reports Scientific American. Patients began to feel better within a couple of hours—conventional medications can take weeks to kick in—and the beneficial effects lasted for three weeks. The "psychedelic" part wore off after about five hours.

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"This is an area that really does merit further work and serious consideration," a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, not involved with the study tells the Huffington Post. "There's a need for effective treatments that can work in the short term." Like conventional anti-depressant medications, the chemical compounds in ayahuasca seem to alter the brain's level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Popular Science highlights one "grain of salt" aspect of the study: It was small, with just six participants, and it did not have a placebo group. But more studies are under way, and a much larger one at at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte should wrap up this year. (Another study finds that talk therapy is effective at preventing suicides.)

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