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Determination of N-N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and beta-carbolines (ayahuasca alkaloids) in plasma by gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GC-MS)

Grant number: 06/06422-0
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Scientific Initiation
Effective date (Start): June 01, 2007
Effective date (End): March 18, 2008
Field of knowledge:Health Sciences - Pharmacy - Toxicological Analysis
Principal researcher:Mauricio Yonamine
Grantee:Wagner Abreu e Silva
Home Institution: Faculdade de Ciências Farmacêuticas (FCF). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


Ayahuasca is a psychotropic plant tea used by shamans throughout the Amazon Basin in traditional religious practices. This beverage combines the hallucinogenic properties of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a serotoninergic agonist of 5-HT2A/2C receptors, with beta-carbolines, that are monoamino oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. The main beta-carbolines found in ayahuasca are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. In the last years, ayahuasca has also been used in ceremonies of a number of modern-Brazilian syncretic religious groups, mainly the Santo Daime and União do Vegetal (UDV). In spite of Brazil is the only country in which the religious use of ayahuasca is legal, groups of followers of these Brazilian religions have become established in the United States and in several European countries. As a large number of people have come into contact with ayahuasca, the tea has begun to attract the attention of researchers. However, relatively very few pre-clinical and clinical data have been accumulated to provide a consistent scientific basis to assert that ayahuasca is safe or not. This lack of information has opened opportunities for speculations and controversies about the possible toxic effects associated with the ayahuasca alkaloids. In the present work, an analytical method will be developed and validated for the determination of DMT and beta-carbolines in plasma samples by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The method can be used to follow pharmacokinetic and toxicokinetic studies involving ayahuasca alkaloids. (AU)

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