Tripping on Ayahuasca has always been fun, but now it might be good for you

There's a new neurological case for doing hard drugs. No, this isn't Doctor Oz standing on his pseudoscientific soapbox and preaching about how opium suppositories can cure your male pattern baldness, it's a brand new study from the University of California, San Francisco in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that links ayahuasca usage to positive changes in higher-function brain networks. Journal of Psychopharmacology that links ayahuasca usage to positive changes in higher-function brain networks.

As if you needed another reason to dose up on ayahuasca today, right?

Ayahuasca is a "brew" prepared using bark from the Banisteriopsis vine and leaves from the Psychotria viridis shrub, both of which have hallucinogenic properties. It is known for pairing well with loose fabrics and the Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds. The Ayahuasca brew was used by ancient Amazonian tribes for religious purposes, and is still used in rituals by some religious communities today.

Studies researching the effects and potential psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics were halted for nearly 70 years due to the taboos surrounding it as a drug with a high potential for abuse. Now, fortunately, researchers are reviving clinical research into psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca as being potentially beneficial to people afflicted with mood disorders.

This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging, which analyzes brain activity by tracking changes in blood flow. The neural activity of their brain was analyzed one day before and one day after 50 study participants were given either a low dose of ayahuasca or a placebo substitute. The results were exciting for psychotherapeutic researchers looking into the benefits of psychedelic use and really exciting for Trent from my organic chemistry class, who skipped the final exam to do shrooms with his brother in Vermont.

It turns out ayahuasca alters two major brain networks that affect sensational, affective, and motivational functions, while not affecting primary sensory networks or motor functions after the drug has left the system. This is a huge win for the movement to decriminalize recreational and medical psychedelic use in the United States, which has seen many victories in the past decade.

Ayahuasca is only available, legally, for religious or spiritual purposes. It is not one of the DEA's many Schedule 1 Controlled Substances, although its active ingredient, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is a controlled scheduled drug. This means you have to go through an ayahuasca "church" to access the brew, and only two religions, União do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime, have legal protection for ayahuasca use in the United States, so a large portion of ayahuasca use in the United States is going on without legal protection.

Studies like the one done at UCSF are important because they bolster both the scientific and legal cases for ayahuasca use. The UDV were granted their permission to import and partake in ayahuasca, albeit under strict DEA regulation, from the Supreme Court in 2006. They must register any shipments with more than two weeks notice and any congregation trying to cultivate plants for the ayahuasca cultivation must register with the DEA as a manufacturer of controlled substances. The restrictions on Sainto Daime are even more severe, so recognizing the potential long-term benefits of the drug is a step towards cutting through the red tape keeping a potentially life-changing treatment from people in the United States.