The ayahuasca vine – a plant medicine used traditionally for hundreds of years – is now starting to reveal its antidepressant properties to the Western world.
Clinical research is showing the Banisteriopsis caapi, an Amazonian vine used as the main component in the psychedelic ayahuasca brew, contains substances that have the potential to boost your mood and help your brain recover from trauma.
While full doses of the ayahuasca brew have been shown to have significant antidepressant effects for people suffering from severe depression, many people are also turning towards microdoses of the ayahuasca vine as a more accessible way to encounter healing benefits.
If you don’t like the thought of travelling to the Amazon and spending thousands of dollars for a full ayahuasca healing ceremony, microdosing with ayahuasca vine is an easy alternative. While it won’t be a cure by any means, ayahuasca microdosing could be an excellent complementary practice to other mainstream treatments of depression.
What’s in the Ayahuasca Vine That Could Treat Depression?
The main active components of the ayahuasca vine are called the harmala alkaloids, which are part of a class of compounds called beta-carbolines. The most important harmala alkaloids are harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine (THH).
These compounds, when ingested, stop an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO) from doing its job. Normally, MAO breaks down important neurotransmitters in the body – and drinking the ayahuasca vine will temporarily boost the levels of these neurotransmitters.
THH especially has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.1 Serotonin is a crucial neurotransmitter for regulating mood, and has been theorized to be deeply involved in depression. Many classic antidepressants work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain – as do the classic psychedelics: LSD, magic mushrooms, DMT and mescaline.
All three of the major harmala alkaloids have been shown to boost the growth of mouse brain cells in lab conditions.2 This is known as neurogenesis, and is theorized to be an important process in the recovery from depression. Although we don’t yet know how well this might translate to humans, it’s a promising finding!
How Effective is Microdosing Ayahuasca for Depression?
Unfortunately, because there are currently no mainstream studies on microdosing ayahuasca, we can’t make any assumptions about how effective ayahuasca microdoses might be at treating depression.
We know that full-dose ayahuasca ceremonies are highly effective at treating depression,3 and can also help people process grief.4 However, this kind of ayahuasca experience is very different from microdosing for several reasons:
- These ayahuasca brews also contain the strong psychoactive molecule DMT in addition to the ayahuasca vine;
- Full ayahuasca ceremonies last for many hours and involve deep personal introspection and spiritual revelations;
- Full ayahuasca ceremonies usually involve an experienced shaman to guide you towards a healing experience.
While microdosing with the ayahuasca vine is worlds away from the full ayahuasca ceremony, the vine itself is the heart of the ayahuasca brew, and has profound spiritual properties. Microdosing with it could quite possibly impart benefits to your wellbeing – here are some testimonials that hint at its effectiveness:
“So I’m almost done my first month of caapi vine. In a few days I will wait a 2 week period before beginning again. What I’ve noticed is that I have less depression and my anxiety feels a bit better. It’s almost unnoticeable, but since I bought this plant to help me with exposure therapy for panic disorder, I’ve had some interesting days where I put myself in front of fear provoking situations where I normally would have lost my shit and fueled the fear even further, but somehow I got through it with a lot less struggle, if that makes sense.”
“I’ve had good success with microdosing vine only for my depression and anxiety. It’s been so helpful I’m actually making room in my backpack when I go on a long hiking trip.”
“Have been having good results with the microdosing. Depression way down as the rain season hits Oregon and my reactions to events is more loving and kind for self and others.”
So the preliminary science, the spiritual legacy, and the anecdotal reports of ayahuasca microdosing all suggest there could be some potential in ayahuasca microdosing for treating depression.
How Best to Utilize Ayahuasca Microdosing to Treat Depression
Because the potential benefits of ayahuasca microdosing are totally unproven, we highly advise against using ayahuasca microdoses as a sole treatment, or to replace any other treatments for depression.
The best way of using ayahuasca microdoses will be in conjunction with other forms of treatment. Conventional therapy, spiritual practices, antidepressant medications, and a healthy lifestyle can all be important tools in the fight against depression.
While ayahuasca microdoses may well help to reduce your immediate symptoms, they cannot be a replacement for deeper work into the causes of your depression.
Often, major lifestyle changes or revelations are required for long-term healing from depression. While ayahuasca microdoses could help point you in the direction of those changes and revelations, you’ll still need to do the work yourself. This is clear from clinical studies of psychedelics and depression, which repeatedly show that the most dramatic benefits of psychedelics come from profound mystical experiences and personal revelations that can be induced during a strong trip.5
So the healthiest way to use ayahuasca microdosing to treat depression is to consider it as a single step in your recovery, rather than a cure.
Can You Take Ayahuasca Vine With Antidepressant Medications?
While people generally recommend being free of all medications when taking a full dose of ayahuasca, there is as yet no concrete evidence that there is a risk of combining antidepressant medications with ayahuasca vine microdoses.
Since we don’t yet know enough about the long-term risk of combining serotonergic medications with microdoses of ayahuasca vine, it may be ideal to microdose while free of any other medications in your system. However you must weigh up the risk for your own personal situation – it can be extremely dangerous to wean yourself off antidepressants quickly, and this wouldn’t always be advisable if you were thinking of microdosing with ayahuasca vine. Check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your medication.
If you are on medications that affect your blood pressure, you may want to avoid microdosing with ayahuasca vine. This is because the harmala alkaloids in the ayahuasca vine can affect your blood pressure, and there’s a chance that even taking tiny doses every day for a long period could start to change your blood pressure in unhealthy ways.
It’s probably safest to avoid mixing ayahuasca vine with anything that will change your blood pressure – but you could also track your blood pressure every day and stop microdosing if it starts to change.
It’s also potentially dangerous to mix lithium or tramadol with ayahuasca vine, as they have been known to cause seizures in combination with some psychedelics. To be extra safe, avoid combining these.
How To Get Started Microdosing Ayahuasca
Think you’re ready to give microdosing ayahuasca a go? Thankfully, extracted B. caapi vine is available to purchase online in pre-prepared microdosing bottles.
EntheoNation recommends several ayahuasca microdosing products – all are ethically sourced, and we’ve thoroughly reviewed every single one for their quality and versatility.
Once you’ve got your drops, make sure you come up with a plan for your microdosing experiment. See our guide on preparing yourself for a microdosing regimen, or sign up to our mailing list to receive our quickstart guide to ayahuasca microdosing.
1 Buckholz & Boggan (1977) Inhibition by β-carbolines of monoamine uptake into a synaptosomal preparation: Structure-activity relationships. Life Sciences, 20(12), p2093-2100.
2 Morales-Garcia et al (2017) The alkaloids of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of the Amazonian hallucinogen Ayahuasca, stimulate adult neurogenesis in vitro. Scientific Reports, 7(5309).
3 Palhano-Fontes et al (2017) Rapid antidepressant effects of the psychedelic ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 49(4), p655-663.
4 Gonzalez et al (2020) Therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in grief: a prospective, observational study. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 237(4), p1171-1182.
5 Griffiths et al (2016) Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. J Psychopharmacol, 30(12), p1181-1197.