Acute effects of ayahuasca on neuropsychological performance: differences in executive function between experienced and occasional users
- 1.3k Downloads
Ayahuasca, a South American psychotropic plant tea containing the psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine, has been shown to increase regional cerebral blood flow in prefrontal brain regions after acute administration to humans. Despite interactions at this level, neuropsychological studies have not found cognitive deficits in abstinent long-term users.
Here, we wished to investigate the effects of acute ayahuasca intake on neuropsychological performance, specifically on working memory and executive function.
Twenty-four ayahuasca users (11 long-term experienced users and 13 occasional users) were assessed in their habitual setting using the Stroop, Sternberg, and Tower of London tasks prior to and following ayahuasca intake.
Errors in the Sternberg task increased, whereas reaction times in the Stroop task decreased and accuracy was maintained for the whole sample following ayahuasca intake. Interestingly, results in the Tower of London showed significantly increased execution and resolution times and number of movements for the occasional but not the experienced users. Additionally, a correlation analysis including all subjects showed that impaired performance in the Tower of London was inversely correlated with lifetime ayahuasca use.
Acute ayahuasca administration impaired working memory but decreased stimulus–response interference. Interestingly, detrimental effects on higher cognition were only observed in the less experienced group. Rather than leading to increased impairment, greater prior exposure to ayahuasca was associated with reduced incapacitation. Compensatory or neuromodulatory effects associated with long-term ayahuasca intake could underlie preserved executive function in experienced users.
KeywordsPsychedelics Ayahuasca Neuropsychology Executive functions
We wish to thank the study volunteers for their participation. The present study was funded in part by a grant from the Spanish Plan Nacional Sobre Drogas PNSD 2006/074.
- Bouso JC, González D, Fondevila S, Cutchet M, Fernández X, Ribeiro Barbosa PC, Alcázar-Córcoles MÁ, Araújo WS, Barbanoj MJ, Fábregas JM, Riba J (2012) Personality, psychopathology, life attitudes, and neuropsychological performance among ritual users of ayahuasca: a longitudinal study. PLOS ONE 7:e42421Google Scholar
- Carhart-Harris RL, Erritzoe D, Williams T, Stone JM, Reed LJ, Colasanti A, Tyacke RJ, Leech R, Malizia AL, Murphy K, Hobden P, Evans J, Feilding A, Wise RG, Nutt DJ (2012b) Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109(6):2138–2143PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Daumann J, Heekeren K, Neukirch A, Thiel CM, Möller-Hartmann W, Gouzoulis-Mayfrank E (2008) Pharmacological modulation of the neural basis underlying inhibition of return (IOR) in the human 5-HT2A agonist and NMDA antagonist model of psychosis. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 200:573–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Golden CJ (1978) Stroop color and word test. A manual for clinical and experimental uses. Illinois: Stoelting Co, Wood DaleGoogle Scholar
- Gouzoulis-Mayfrank E, Schreckenberger M, Sabri O, Arning C, Thelen B, Spitzer M, Kovar KA, Hermle L, Büll U, Sass H. (1999a) Neurometabolic effects of psilocybin, 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE) and d-methamphetamine in healthy volunteers. A double-blind, placebo-controlled PET study with [18F]FDG. Neuropsychopharmacology 20:565-81Google Scholar
- Gouzoulis-Mayfrank E, Thelen B, Habermeyer E, Kunert HJ, Kovar KA, Lindenblatt H, Hermle L, Spitzer M, Sass H (1999b) Psychopathological, neuroendocrine, and autonomic effects of 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDE), psilocybin and d-methamphetamine in healthy volunteers. Results of an experimental double-blind placebo-controlled study. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 142:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hermle L, Fünfgeld M, Oepen G, Botsch H, Borchardt D, Gouzoulis E, Fehrenbach RA, Spitzer M (1992) Mescaline-induced psychopathological, neuropsychological, and neurometabolic effects in normal subjects: experimental psychosis as a tool for psychiatric. Biol Psychiatry 32:976–991PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lazaron RHC, Rombouts SARB, Machielsen WCM, Scheltens P, Menno P, Witter Uylings HBM, Barkhof F (2000) Visualizing brain activation during planning: The Tower of London Test adapted for functional MR imaging, AJNR Am. J Neuroradiol 21:1407–1414Google Scholar
- Passetti F, Dalley JW, Robbins TW (2003) Double dissociation of serotonergic and dopaminergic mechanisms on attentional performance using a rodent five-choice reaction time task. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 165:136–145Google Scholar
- Riba J (2003) Human Pharmacology of Ayahuasca, doctoral thesis, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2003. http://www.tdx.cat/handle/10803/5378 [23 January 2013].
- Riba J, Rodríguez-Fornells A, Urbano G, Morte A, Antonijoan R, Montero M, Callaway JC, Barbanoj MJ (2001) Subjective effects and tolerability of the South American psychoactive beverage ayahuasca in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 154:85–95Google Scholar
- Strauss E, Sherman EMS, Spreen O (2006) A compendium of neuropsychological tests: administration, norms, and commentary. Oxford University Press, Oxford; New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Umbricht D, Vollenweider FX, Schmid L, Grübel C, Skrabo A, Huber T, Koller R (2003) Effects of the 5-HT2A agonist psilocybin on mismatch negativity generation and AX-continuous performance task: implications for the neuropharmacology of cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Neuropsychopharmacology 28:170–181PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Wechsler D (1997) Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III (WAIS-III). The Psychological Corporation, San Antonio, TXGoogle Scholar