Aya saves brain cells

October 20, 2016

A study suggests that DMT protects brain cells from anoxic death. I can't repeat it often enough, because it seems too crazy to be true, but here it is again: DMT, which is the world's most powerful psychedelic, and what makes ayahuasca intense, is naturally produced, not by the ayahuasca plant, but by your own body. Why would that be? The authors of the study suggest that "DMT could be a life-saving agent, administered in order to give cells, and the bodies they belong to, a second chance at life." DMT, then, is a dying brain cell's lifeguard.


Christina Callicott — hi Christina! — has the lead essay in a special issue of the journal The Anthropology of Consciousness that's all about ayahuasca. She writes how ayahuasca is often seen as "a panacea that can cure ailments as diverse as depression and diabetes and even save the world," but she also urges caution, quoting a guy who points out “I'm old enough to remember when Zen Buddhism was going to save the world … and LSD was going to save the world … and rock and roll was going to save the world. And the world isn't saved yet.”


Ayahuasca is being used by get-rich-quick religious hucksters, I wrote here. And by more lovable religious entrepreneurs, as I wrote here.


A reporter from the Guardian tried to use ayahuasca to help him deal with losing his hair, and it didn't work. "Thanks, ancient plant medicine!" he writes. Neal Pollack published maybe the funniest thing ever written about Ayahuasca — "I taught a shaman the true meaning of ayahuasca!" It's up there with the Onion's "Ayahuasca Shaman Dreading Another Week Of Guiding Tech CEOs To Spiritual Oneness." And Beth Kelly — hi Beth! — suggested I re-link to an article from the New York Times about how Brazil is rehabbing prison inmates using ayahuasca. Apparently it works.


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Ayahuasca is a  jungle vine that allows your brain's natural psychedelic, DMT, to persist and affect you. I first encountered it when Karla took me to visit her family in the Amazon nine years ago. Her tribe, the Shipibo, has used it for hundreds, thousand of years, and her mom drank it for stomachaches as a little girl. So it's either children's Tylenol or uber-LSD, or both. But for unknown reasons, it helps depression, drug addiction and acedia — at least it did for me.

Reilly Capps // reporter
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