Tripping Nemo: Zebrafish on Ayahuasca

Does ayahuasca use affect our brains? Researchers ask our fishy friends.

Maybe you’ve heard of ayahuasca, a mind-altering brew that many travel to South America to sample. Over the last few years public interest in this beverage—whose active ingredients are a combination of β-carbolines in the ayahuasca vine and psychoactive compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from the chacruna shrub—has skyrocketed.

It’s possible you’ve read a blog post about someone’s “life-changing” experience with ayahuasca, or seen an interview with a celebrity who returned from a self-reported “mind-altering” retreat.

Although illegal in many countries, including the United States, ayahuasca plays an integral role in many South American communities. About a decade ago, Peru’s government officially recognized its cultural importance with regard to Amazonian tribe identities.

Small studies have indicated a possible therapeutic benefit, with links to reducing depression. This would make a lot of neurological sense because DMT is a potent activator of receptors for “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.


On the surface this probably sounds great, but quite a bit of apprehension surrounding the use of ayahuasca remains—and for good reason: we don’t know its long-term effects or how chronic use could alter cognitive abilities.

A push for larger-scale studies to determine the benefits of the drug in human subjects is still ongoing, and so scientists are turning to different model systems to start answering some of these questions. Last year, one group of researchers at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil gave ayahuasca to fish.

Yes, fish. Zebrafish to be exact.

Continued at Psychology Today

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