Ayahuasca and Glutamate


Glutamate is a key neurotransmitter involved in memory, neurogenesis, and neuronal plasticity. In order to determine its role in mediating the effects of DMT, researchers at the Beckley/Sant Pau Research Programme used an antagonist to block glutamate receptors in the brains of subjects as they drank ayahuasca.

Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the team discovered that ayahuasca caused a reduction in glutamate levels in the posterior cingulate cortex, which is a major hub of the default mode network. This correlated with an increase in mindfulness capacities in the 24 hours immediately after drinking ayahuasca, and also predicted a sustained elevation in this capacity two months later, providing the first evidence that glutamate is involved in generating the brew’s subjective effects.

fMRI data obtained before and 24 hours after ayahuasca intake also showed an increasing synchronisation between the posterior parietal cortex, which is part of the default mode network, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is part of the Task-Postivie Network. Under normal conditions, these two networks are anticorrelated, meaning that when one network is engaged the activity of the other is diminished.

These findings provide a neural basis for the beneficial effects of ayahuasca and strongly support its therapeutic potential.

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