Yeah, you read that headline correctly. While ayahuasca is known primarily as a vision-producing entheogen (DMT is the primary active ingredient, when combined with harmaline), it has already shown remarkable power in helping people break deadly addictions (see here, here, and here for starters).
One of the people at the forefront of research into the medicinal uses of ayahuasca as has been Dr. Gabor Mate - in this 2013 article he talks about his work with these plants. Among the diseases he has been researching is cancer - and now there is additional and independent support for the evidence that ayahuasca can be a powerful cancer treatment.
Here is the abstract - the whole article is freely available online.
Eduardo E Schenberg [1, 2]You can read the whole research article linked to above, or you can be satisfied with this summary written by Eric W. Dolan at Psy Post.
1. Departamento de Psiquiatria, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
2. Instituto Plantando Consciencia, São Paulo, Brazil
Objectives: Comprehensively review the evidence regarding the use of ayahuasca, an Amerindian medicine traditionally used to treat many different illnesses and diseases, to treat some types of cancer.
Methods: An in-depth review of the literature was conducted using PubMed, books, institutional magazines, conferences and online texts in nonprofessional sources regarding the biomedical knowledge about ayahuasca in general with a specific focus in its possible relations to the treatment of cancer.
Results: At least nine case reports regarding the use of ayahuasca in the treatment of prostate, brain, ovarian, uterine, stomach, breast, and colon cancers were found. Several of these were considered improvements, one case was considered worse, and one case was rated as difficult to evaluate. A theoretical model is presented which explains these effects at the cellular, molecular, and psychosocial levels. Particular attention is given to ayahuasca’s pharmacological effects through the activity of N,N-dimethyltryptamine at intracellular sigma-1 receptors. The effects of other components of ayahuasca, such as harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline, are also considered.
Conclusion: The proposed model, based on the molecular and cellular biology of ayahuasca’s known active components and the available clinical reports, suggests that these accounts may have consistent biological underpinnings. Further study of ayahuasca’s possible antitumor effects is important because cancer patients continue to seek out this traditional medicine. Consequently, based on the social and anthropological observations of the use of this brew, suggestions are provided for further research into the safety and efficacy of ayahuasca as a possible medicinal aid in the treatment of cancer.
By Eric W. Dolan on January 26, 2014
A powerful psychedelic brew consumed by shamans deep in the Amazon could help in the fight against cancer and should be researched, according to a Brazilian scientist.
Ayahuasca — meaning the “vine of the souls” – is traditionally prepared using the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis leaves, though other combinations of plants are sometimes used. Psychotria viridis contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the leaves, while Banisteriopsis caapi contains beta-carbolines such as harmine and harmaline.
For centuries, the psychedelic brew has been used in shamanistic healing rituals. A Natural Geographic reporter who participated in an ayahuasca ritual described the experience as “terrifying—but enlightening.”
Eduardo E. Schenberg of the Federal University of Sao Paulo thinks some of the healing powers attributed to ayahuasca deserve scientific attention, particularly when it comes to cancer.
“There is enough available evidence that ayahuasca’s active principles, especially DMT and harmine, have positive effects in some cell cultures used to study cancer, and in biochemical processes important in cancer treatment, both in vitro and in vivo,” he wrote in an article published in SAGE Open Medicine. ”Therefore, the few available reports of people benefiting from ayahuasca in their cancer treatment experiences should be taken seriously, and the hypothesis presented here, fully testable by rigorous scientific experimentation, helps to understand the available cases and pave the way for new experiments.”
Rumors of ayahuasca helping people with cancer are common, according to Schenberg, and there are at least nine case reports of cancer patients using ayahuasca during their treatment. Of these nine reports, three showed improvements after consuming the psychedelic brew.
Rumors and less than a dozen case reports are hardly substantial evidence. But the physiological effects of the drug suggests there might be some truth behind them, Schenberg said.
DMT produces a powerful psychedelic experience by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. More importantly, for Schenberg, the drug also binds to the sigma 1 receptor, which is found throughout the body and is involved in many cellular functions. The sigma 1 receptor appears to be implicated in the death signalling of cancer cells.
In addition, harmine has been shown to induce the death of some cancer cells and inhibit the proliferation of human carcinoma cells.
Other physiological factors suggest the combination of DMT and harmine could have medically-important antitumor effects, though more research is need.
“In summary, it is hypothesized that the combined actions of β-carbolines and DMT present in ayahuasca may diminish tumor blood supply, activate apoptotic pathways, diminish cell proliferation, and change the energetic metabolic imbalance of cancer cells, which is known as the Warburg effect,” Schenberg wrote. ”Therefore, ayahuasca may act on cancer hallmarks such as angiogenesis, apoptosis, and cell metabolism. ”
DMT is currently prohibited as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and the international Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The drug is relatively unknown compared to other illicit substances like cannabis, but researchers have found that DMT appears to be increasing in popularity.
“If ayahuasca is scientifically proven to have the healing potentials long recorded by anthropologists, explorers, and ethnobotanists, outlawing ayahuasca or its medical use and denying people adequate access to its curative effects could be perceived as an infringement on human rights, a serious issue that demands careful and thorough discussion,” Schenberg wrote.
Photo credit: Periodismo Itinerante (Creative Commons-licensed)