Four Hypotheses Regarding Ayahuasca’s Mechanisms of Action in the Treatment of Addictions

Mitch Liester, MD and James Prickett, DO



Abstract: Ayahuasca is a medicinal plant mixture utilized by indigenous peoples throughout the Amazon River basin for healing purposes. This medicine contains a combination of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s) and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). When ingested together, these medicines produce profound alterations in consciousness. Ayahuasca is increasingly being explored as a treatment for addictions. However, the possible mechanisms of action by which ayahuasca treats addictions remain unknown. We propose four hypotheses regarding ayahuasca’s biochemical, physiological, psychological, and transcendent effects that may help explain ayahuasca’s anti-addiction effects.

Mitch Liester, MD, is a psychiatrist in private practice in Monument, Colorado. After graduating from medical school at the University of Colorado, Dr. Liester completed his psychiatric residency at the University of California, Irvine under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Grob. He has published in the areas of transpersonal psychiatry, near-death studies, and psychedelic medicines.

James Prickett, DO, is a resident physician and burgeoning researcher at the University of Arizona Department of Psychiatry. He received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from Des Moines University. Dr. Prickett’s primary interests lie within psychopharmacology, traditional medicine, and the relationship between belief, spirituality, and mental health. He has been a guest speaker on topics including autism, psychedelic drugs, adolescent substance abuse, and addiction. He has traveled to Ecuador on several occasions to study traditional medicine in both the Andes and Amazon Basin. His research regarding the possible mechanisms by which ayahuasca treats addictions has been published in The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.


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