How Similar to Dreaming is the Ayahuasca Experience?

Sidarta Ribeiro, PhD

Abstract: Dreaming is one of the most common metaphors for the ayahuasca experience—but to what extent does this metaphor represent what is happening biologically? In this presentation, the neurobiological features of subjects who have experienced dreams and those who have consumed ayahuasca will be reviewed. The visual association regions modulated by ayahuasca (upper cuneus, lower lingual gyrus, and the fusiform gyrus) are also activated during dreaming (within REM). During lucid dreaming, a special kind of dream in which dreamers are aware within the dream that they are dreaming, extra activation occurs in the occipital and frontal regions. The existing data suggest that the ayahuasca experience is akin to dreaming in the sense that both conjure visual memories in tune with the emotions of the subject. Further investigation is needed to determine how close the ayahuasca experience is to either lucid or non-lucid dreaming. The use of neuroscience tools to compare dream states and psychedelic states holds great potential for the understanding of consciousness.

Sidarta Ribeiro, PhD, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the Universidade de Brasília (1993), a Master’s in Biophysics from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (1994), and a PhD in Neuroscience and Animal Behavior from the Rockefeller University in New York (2000). He performed post-doctoral studies in Neurophysiology at Duke University from 2000 to 2005. He is currently a Full Professor of Neuroscience at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), and Director of the Brain Institute of UFRN. He is greatly interested in the study of the neural bases of consciousness and its alteration. He has been involved in the public debate on the medicinal uses and the legalization of cannabis in Brazil.

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