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Psychedelic Medicine

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Therapeutic effect of an ayahuasca analogue in clinically depressed patients: a longitudinal observational study

Rationale
Studies have suggested mental health improvements following the use of the psychotropic plant concoction ayahuasca in non-clinical and clinical samples.

Objectives
The present observational study assessed depressive symptomatology in 20 clinically depressed patients (symptom score > 13 on the Beck’s Depression Inventory) before attendance of an ayahuasca ceremony and 1 month and 1 year after. Secondary measures included ratings of altered states of consciousness and ego dissolution during the ayahuasca ceremony as well as global measures of mindfulness, satisfaction with life, depression, anxiety, and stress.

Results
Twenty participants completed baseline and 1-day follow-up, 19 completed measures at 1-month follow-up, and 17 completed measures at 1-year follow-up. BDI scores reduced from baseline (M = 22.7) to all post-ceremony measures (Ms 11.45, 12.89, and 8.88, for 1-day, 1-month, and 1-year follow-up, respectively). After 1 day, 12/20 participants were in remission (BDI < 13). Remission rates after 1 month and 1 year were 13/19 and 12/17, respectively. Three participants remained mildly depressed (BDI 14–19) at the 1-month and 1-year follow-up. Two participants did not respond and remained at a moderate/severe level of depression at 1-year follow-up. Reductions on the secondary mental health measures and increases in mindfulness and satisfaction with life were found up to 1 year post-ceremony. Improvements in clinical depression and mental health correlated with levels of experienced ego dissolution and oceanic boundlessness during the ceremony up to 1 month after the ceremony. Engagement in additional mental health treatments or use of another psychedelic during study participation may have contributed to improved mental health ratings at 1-year follow-up. Conclusion Ayahuasca produces long-term mental health improvements in clinically depressed patients, which highlights its therapeutic potential.

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