Long-Term Effects of “Ayahuasca”, the Holy Medicine, on Higher-Order Cognitive Processes

There is increasing evidence of the potential therapeutic value of the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca for disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Most of the researches have been focusing on the capacity of the Holy Medicine to reduce symptoms of these disorders, including well-being and enhancing mood state, but little attention has been focused on the higher-order cognitive processes which may play a role in this or which maybe enhanced even long after consumption of the Holy Medicine.

The higher-order cognitive process is a multi-faceted and sophisticated area of thinking which refers to the mental processes of reasoning, creativity, decision making, empathy, and emotion regulation. Higher-order cognitive process involves the ability to understand and implement the steps necessary to solve problems, think creatively, and attack new areas of learning, which are crucial for everyday socio interactions and cooperation.

Natasha L. Mason and Kim P. C. Kuypers from the Department of Psychopharmacology and Neuropsychology of the Maastricht University of Maastricht, the Netherlands, in one of their latest books named, “Ayahuasca Healing and Science”, reviewed the acute and long-term effects of consumption of the Holy Medicine on higher-order cognitive processes such as creative, flexible thinking, empathy, and emotion regulation, and searched for the connection between these cognitive effects and subjective well-being and mood state. To do this the authors, searched for anecdotal reports and studies in which the Holy Medicine was administered either in a quasi-experimental setting or in a controlled experimental setting.

Effects on cognitive flexibility and creative thinking

According to the researchers, cognitive flexibility is the readiness with which one can selectively choose between mental processes to generate important skills and exact behavioral responses that allow individuals to respond to their evolving environment accurately. Creative thinking is an essential multicomponent construct of cognitive flexibility that includes Convergent and Divergent Thinking.

The authors mentioned that it had been shown that Divergent thinking is directly connected with creativity. According to them, divergent creative thinking can improve and strengthen psychological flexibility by letting individuals generate effective and new emotional, cognitive, and behavioral strategies on their own, which ultimately assists them to adopt evolving environments and coping styles.

In one of his separate studies, Kuypers demonstrated that since the Holy Medicine promotes flexible cognition, he suggested that the Holy Medicine possesses qualities which can facilitate a therapeutic process. In that same research, Kuypers showed that after consumption of the Holy Medicine, divergent thinking ability of the participants had increased drastically, which according to Jose Carlos Bouso’s research, is the increase of creativity which helps the participants to relive events, recalling various associations without becoming inhibited.

Another group of the authors with M. V. Uthaug showed in their study that in longer-term enhancements in convergent thinking could then be suited in the second phase of the Holy Medicine, which is integration session where patients discuss the experiences under the influence of the Holy Medicine and figure out, through enhanced convergent thinking, the appropriate strategy which can help them to cope with intense any emotions.

Effects on empathy

According to the authors, empathy has been labeled as a factor in symptom severity of disorders like depression. The authors suggested that from the studies, it could be hypothesized that enhancing an individual’s empathic abilities could play a role in alleviating the symptoms of depression. So, if a pharmaceutical agent can enhance empathy, such could play a significant role in the patient-therapist relationship and in psychotherapy. Peter Oehen, in one of his studies with MDMA, showed that the increase in empathy could increase feelings of trust and openness in the patient which could strengthen the therapeutic alliance between therapist and patient. Previous studies indicated that 5-HT2A agents have the capability to enhance empathy, with an enhancement even outlasting the acute phase and positively correlating with increased feelings of well-being. However, with the Holy Medicine, this was yet to be observed.

Effects on emotion regulation

Effects on emotion regulation

It is evident that being able to monitor and evaluate emotional states, modulate emotional responses to meet goals and situational demands, and to be able to accept emotional reactions is crucial for everyday interactions. The Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca, can help individuals engage with their emotions which reduces symptom pathology of disorders like depression. Joaquim Soler and his research team showed that the Holy Medicine enhances nonjudgmental awareness and reduces reactivity to emotional events, which later lead to facilitate a healthy engagement with emotions and emotional memories which allowed an individual experiencing their emotions in a less reactive state instead of avoiding or responding negatively.


According to the authors, the reviewed studies are not without their limitations, and most studies employed a quasi-experimental, naturalistic design with individuals who had long term experience with consumption of the Holy Medicine.

In such a design, factors like the ingredients with the Holy Medicine and the context of the experience differ between studies and need to be considered when looking at the effects of the Holy Medicine on cognition and subjective experiences, which can vary significantly from one experience with another.

Besides acknowledging this limitation, the authors had concluded that, the Holy Medicine of the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca clearly enhanced the higher-order cognitive processes, such as creative thinking, empathy, and emotion regulation ability.



  1. Bouso, J. C., Doblin, R., Farre, M., Alcazar, M. A., & Gomez-Jarabo, G. (2008). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy using low doses in a small sample of women with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, [online] Volume, 40(3), p. 225–236. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2008.10400637 [Accessed 12th July 2021].
  2. Kuypers, K. P. C., Riba, J., de la Fuente Revenga, M., et al. (2016). Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking. Psychopharmacology (Berl), [online] Volume, 233(18), p. 3395–3403. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-016-4377-8 [Accessed 12th July 2021].
  3. Mason, N. L. & Kuypers, K. P. C. (2021). Ayahuasca Healing and Science. Basel, Switzerland: Springer, Cham, pp 117-136.
  4. Oehen, P., Traber, R., Widmer, V., & Schnyder, U. (2013). A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (+/− 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Journal of Psychopharmacology, [online] Volume, 27(1), p. 40–52. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881112464827 [Accessed 2021].
  5. Sloan, D. M. (2004). Emotion regulation in action: Emotional reactivity in experiential avoidance. Behaviour Research and Therapy, [online] Volume, 42(11), p. 1257–1270. Available at:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2003.08.006 [Accessed 12th July 2021].
  6. Soler, J., Dominguez-Clave, E.,  Elices, M., Pascual, J. C. (2016). Ayahuasca: Pharmacology, neuroscience and therapeutic potential. Brain Research Bulletin, [online] Volume, 126(1), p. 89–101. Available at:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainresbull.2016.03.002. [Accessed 12th July 2021].
  7. Uthaug, M. V., van Oorsouw, K., Kuypers, K. P. C., et al. (2018). Sub-acute and long-term effects of ayahuasca on affect and cognitive thinking style and their association with ego dissolution. Psychopharmacology, [online] Volume, 235(10), p. 2979–2989.