Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew prepared from vines and leaves used in ceremonies in South and Central America. It is consumed in liquid form by natives in South and Central America and is the main psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic drug known as DMT. The traditional jungle plant can stimulate a ‘near-death experience’ (NDE) when eaten, a study has found. Researchers have found connections between descriptions of so-called NDEs and the effects of the drug, whose name translates as ‘vine of the dead’.
NDEs are significant psychological events that occur close to actual or perceived impending death. Commonly reported aspects of NDEs include out of body experiences, feelings of transitioning to another world and of inner peace, many of which are also reported by users taking DMT. A team of Imperial College London gave 13 volunteers DMT and then asked them to complete a questionnaire used to assess NDEs. Earlier the same volunteers were given an intravenous placebo and they did not know which session would involve the real drug.
After the DMT session, all 13 participants got results on the questionnaire that met the criteria for a NDE. They reported feeling as though they entered an unearthly environment, feeling incredible peace or pleasantness, having heightened senses and a feeling of unity with the universe. The study said the striking comparison occurs because the drug and NDEs trigger similar processes in the brain.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who leads the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial and supervised the study, said, “These findings are important as they remind us that NDE occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain. DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of dying.”