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.
"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.)