Recently, various news sources have taken note of a study by Eduardo E Schenberg, of the Federal University of Sau Paulo, on the possibility of treating cancer with ayahuasca.
In summary, it is hypothesized that the combined actions of β-carbolines[MAOI] and DMT present in ayahuasca may diminish tumor blood supply, activate apoptotic pathways, diminish cell proliferation, and change the energetic metabolic imbalance of cancer cells, which is known as the Warburg effect (Figure 2). Therefore, ayahuasca may act on cancer hallmarks such as angiogenesis, apoptosis, and cell metabolism. This hypothesis gives some scientific credibility to the cases reported and supports the realization of more scientific studies of ayahuasca and cancer. However, to improve the safety and efficacy of those who eventually search the use of ayahuasca for the treatment of cancer, more studies should be performed considering the remarkable psychological effects of the ritual use of ayahuasca and its possible influences on cancer patients.
Objectives: Comprehensively review the evidence regarding the use of ayahuasca, an Amerindian medicine traditionally used to treat many different illnesses and diseases, to treat some types of cancer.
Methods: An in-depth review of the literature was conducted using PubMed, books, institutional magazines, conferences and online texts in nonprofessional sources regarding the biomedical knowledge about ayahuasca in general with a specific focus in its possible relations to the treatment of cancer.
Results: At least nine case reports regarding the use of ayahuasca in the treatment of prostate, brain, ovarian, uterine, stomach, breast, and colon cancers were found. Several of these were considered improvements, one case was considered worse, and one case was rated as difficult to evaluate. A theoretical model is presented which explains these effects at the cellular, molecular, and psychosocial levels. Particular attention is given to ayahuasca’s pharmacological effects through the activity of N,N-dimethyltryptamine at intracellular sigma-1 receptors. The effects of other components of ayahuasca, such as harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline, are also considered.
Conclusion: The proposed model, based on the molecular and cellular biology of ayahuasca’s known active components and the available clinical reports, suggests that these accounts may have consistent biological underpinnings. Further study of ayahuasca’s possible antitumor effects is important because cancer patients continue to seek out this traditional medicine. Consequently, based on the social and anthropological observations of the use of this brew, suggestions are provided for further research into the safety and efficacy of ayahuasca as a possible medicinal aid in the treatment of cancer.
In conclusion, the data available so far is not sufficient to claim whether ayahuasca indeed helps in cancer treatment or not. However, there is enough available evidence that ayahuasca’s active principles, especially DMT and harmine, have positive effects in some cell cultures used to study cancer, and in biochemical processes important in cancer treatment, both in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, the few available reports of people benefiting from ayahuasca in their cancer treatment experiences should be taken seriously, and the hypothesis presented here, fully testable by rigorous scientific experimentation, helps to understand the available cases and pave the way for new experiments.