Consumption of the psychedelic brew ayahuasca is a central ritualistic aspect of the Santo Daime religion. The current observational, baseline controlled study was designed to assess whether members (n = 24) of the Santo Daime church would show enhanced capacity for mental imagery during an ayahuasca experience. In addition, this study assessed whether the effects of ayahuasca on consciousness and mental imagery were related to peak serum concentration of N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the main psychoactive component. Measures of altered states of consciousness (5-Dimensional Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire) and ego dissolution (Ego Dissolution Inventory [EDI]) as well as measures of mental imagery (visual perspective shifting, vividness of visual imagery, cognitive flexibility, associative thinking) were taken on two subsequent days on which members of Santo Daime were sober or drank a self-selected volume of ayahuasca. Measures of altered states of consciousness revealed that feelings of oceanic boundlessness, visual restructuralization, and EDI increased most prominently after drinking and shared a positive correlation with peak DMT concentration. Measures of mental imagery did not noticeably differ between the baseline and ayahuasca condition, although subjective ratings of cognitive flexibility were lower under ayahuasca. Two measures related to mental imagery, that is, perspective shifts and cognitive flexibility, were significantly correlated to peak DMT concentrations. Peak concentrations of DMT and other alkaloids did not correlate with ayahuasca dose. These findings confirm previous notions that the primary phenomenological characteristics of ayahuasca are driven by DMT. Compensatory or neuroadaptive effects associated with long-term ayahuasca intake may have mitigated the acute impact of ayahuasca in Santo Daime members on mental imagery.

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