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Ayahuasca and Cognitive Function: Insights from Long-Term Ritual Use

Article Title: “Long‑term Ayahuasca Use is Associated with Preserved Global Cognitive Function and Improved Memory: A Cross-Sectional Study with Ritual Users”

Authors: Arilton Martins Fonseca, Rafael Guimarães dos Santos, Lívia Soman de Medeiros, Thiago André Moura Veiga, Fernando Cassas, Carla Poleselli Bruniera, Giordano Novak Rossi, José Carlos Bouso, Jaime E. Cecílio Hallak, Fabiana Pereira Santos, Beatriz Aparecida Passos Bismara Paranhos, Mauricio Yonamine, Eliana Rodrigues

Publication Date: April, 2024

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0271926


Ayahuasca, a traditional psychoactive brew from South America, has been used for centuries in various religious and shamanic practices. The brew, made from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, contains powerful compounds like N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and ß-carbolines. DMT acts on serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to intense psychedelic experiences, while ß-carbolines inhibit enzymes that break down neurotransmitters, enhancing the effects of DMT. While the short-term effects of ayahuasca have been studied extensively, there is limited research on its long-term impact on cognitive functions, particularly among those who use it in ceremonial settings.

Study Overview

This study aimed to examine the cognitive functions of long-term ayahuasca users compared to beginners and non-users. Participants were from the Centro Luz Divina, a Santo Daime church in Brazil. The study included 48 individuals divided into three groups: experienced users (more than 20 years of use), beginners (less than 3 years of use), and a control group with no ayahuasca use. Various cognitive tests were administered to assess aspects such as verbal and visuospatial memory, intelligence quotient (IQ), and executive functions.

Key Findings

Cognitive Preservation: Both experienced and beginner ayahuasca users showed no evidence of cognitive decline compared to the control group.

Memory Improvement: Experienced users performed better in tasks measuring verbal and visuospatial working memory, such as the Digit Span (verbal working memory) and Corsi Block-Tapping (visuospatial working memory) tasks.

Intellectual Performance: The beginner group scored lower on several subtests of the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI) (intelligence quotient) compared to the control and experienced groups.

Executive Functions: There were no significant differences in executive function tests (e.g., Wisconsin Card Sorting Test) between the groups, suggesting that long-term ayahuasca use does not impair these cognitive abilities.


The findings suggest that long-term ritualistic use of ayahuasca does not negatively impact cognitive functions and may even enhance certain types of memory. The experienced users’ better performance in memory tasks might be attributed to the neuroplastic and neuroprotective effects of the compounds found in ayahuasca. However, the study acknowledges potential limitations, such as small sample size and lack of detailed information on other substance use.


These results are promising for the potential therapeutic use of ayahuasca, demonstrating that patients’ cognitive health is not negatively impacted.  Further research on diverse and larger samples can help in confirming and understanding the underlying mechanisms of these findings.

Potential Application

The study’s findings could encourage the integration of ayahuasca into therapeutic settings, particularly for enhancing cognitive functions. Practitioners in psychedelic therapy might consider incorporating ayahuasca for patients looking to improve their memory and cognitive resilience.


Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the long-term cognitive effects of ayahuasca. The ritualistic use of ayahuasca appears to preserve and even enhance certain cognitive functions, particularly working memory. Future research with larger sample sizes and experimental designs will be crucial to further validate these findings and explore the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca.


Fonseca, A. M., dos Santos, R. G., de Medeiros, L. S., Veiga, T. A. M., Cassas, F., Bruniera, C. P., Rossi, G. N., Bouso, J. C., Hallak, J. E. C., Santos, F. P., Paranhos, B. A. P. B., Yonamine, M., & Rodrigues, E. (2024). Long‑term ayahuasca use is associated with preserved global cognitive function and improved memory: A cross‑sectional study with ritual users. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.

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