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Psychiatry has seen a recent revival of interest in hallucinogens. Major NYC medical institutions such as Johns Hopkins and NYU have launched highly regulated studies that include both hallucinogenic mushrooms and ayahuasca and their psychopharmacology applications. Dr. David Salvage, based in offices in Park Slope and Tribeca, has been following the results of these studies with a purely academic interest. The results are interesting, but do not have clinical applications outside of this research.

Both ayahusaca and hallucinogenic mushrooms are similar in chemical make-up can and produce intense visual hallucinations, synthenesia, and a feeling of oneness with the world and others (called entactogenic sensations). But how these compounds work differs slightly.

Mushrooms function exclusively by activating psilocybin, a compound that promotes excessive release of serotonin in a way that interacts with the serotonin receptors. This method of interaction is more complex than how serotonin-based medications work.

Ayahuasca is an intricate brew of a vine called “the grandmother” by South American Shamans and a combination of naturally occurring alkaloids containing non-protein nitrogen. All the ingredients of the tea are all legally available, but together they produce an alteration in consciousness.

The tea has been used for thousands of years by holy men in South America, and is used as a sacrament in at least two Christian-based religious with world-wide memberships. The non-addictive and non-toxic brew is considered to facilitate powerful personal change in those who drink it, and it is not known to create any physical or psychological harm to its users.

Ayahuasca uses a drug called N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a natural substance that is in the bodies of all mammals, and one of the most powerful hallucinogens known. DMT is extracted from the plants as the tea is brewed, and it is the presence of DMT that makes the tea illegal in most western countries. Another active ingredient of Ayahuasca works to inhibit mon-amine oxidase, an early and no-longer-used ingredient of antidepressants because of the side effects and dietary restrictions.

Current studies have shown profound benefits, of ayahusaca and hallucinogenic mushrooms including relief of depression and anxiety, reduced addictive and compulsive behavior, and an overall feeling of well-being. However, the initiation of ayahusaca, typically includes intense nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some users have reported feeling “out of their bodies” after drinking the tea.

Ongoing studies have not targeted potential long term side effects or potential interactions with other medications. But at this point, the ongoing studies at Hopkins and NYU have not targeted potential long term side effects or potential interactions with other medications.

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