Banisteriopsis caapi is a plant famous for its use in ayahuasca. However, Banisteriopsis caapi is a powerful plant on its own. Read on to learn about how Banisteriopsis caapi may protect against Parkinson’s disease, treat depression, and protect the brain.
What is Banisteriopsis caapi?
Banisteriopsis caapi has components that inhibit MAO-A and serotonin uptake .
Indigenous Use of Banisteriopsis caapi
The Piaroa are an ethnic group located in southern Venezuela who use Banisteriopsis caapi (known as tuhuipä or capi) for a variety of purposes. Unlike other Amazonian societies, the Piaroa do not use Banisteriopsis caapi to make ayahuasca .
Instead, shamans consume the cambium, or the elbow of the plant, 1 to 6 hours before smoking another psychoactive plant called yuhuä or yopo. Shamans typically use Banisteriopsis caapi during ceremonies, for healing, and/or for supernatural purposes .
When taken alone, shamans say that Banisteriopsis caapi helps enhance people’s empathy, allowing them to give guidance in the community .
It is also used in Piaroa society as a :
- Hunger suppressant
- Hunting aid (improving vision)
Importantly, the antidepressant effect of Banisteriopsis caapi and its widespread use throughout Piaroa society may have helped promote and maintain their social stability .
The three main alkaloids in Banisteriopsis caapi, known as beta-carbolines or harmala alkaloids, are harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline .
One study identified additional alkaloids: Banistenoside A, banistenoside B, and harmol .
How Does Banisteriopsis caapi Work?
Banisteriopsis caapi is an MAO Inhibitor
The beta-carbolines harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline are MAO-A inhibitors .
Serotonin reuptake inhibition may also have antidepressant effects .
MOA-B inhibitors may treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases by reducing oxidative neurodegeneration in cells .
Banisteriopsis caapi May Increase Serotonin and Dopamine
In rat brain cells (rat striatal slices) harmaline and harmine from Banisteriopsis caapi increased dopamine release .
Health Effects of Banisteriopsis caapi
1) May Be a Brain Enhancer and an Antioxidant
In mouse brains, harmine, tetrahydroharmine, harmaline, and harmol stimulated :
- Stem cell growth, migration, and production
- Oxidative stress
- Nerve cell damage and death due to overactivation of receptors (excitotoxicity)
Furthermore, it improved memory and learning in animals .
In cells, epicatechin and procyanidin from Banisteriopsis caapi acted as antioxidants .
In mice, beta-carbolines reduced brain damage caused by dopamine and the Parkinson’s-like toxins MPTP and MPP+ .
2) May Protect Against Parkinson’s Disease
In a study of 30 newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients, one dose of Banisteriopsis caapi improved motor function for all patients. The effects appeared after one hour and lasted for 3 more hours .
However, all Banisteriopsis caapi patients experienced adverse effects. They all experienced nausea/vomiting, and most of them also experienced dizziness, diarrhea, and agitation. One patient experienced confusion/hallucinations. Importantly, all experienced abnormal involuntary movements or worsened tremors .
In rat brain cells, the harmaline and harmine from Banisteriopsis caapi stem extracts inhibited MAO-A. Therefore, these beta-carbolines may increase dopamine levels, which are lower in Parkinson’s disease .
In both human and animal cells, harmine and harmaline strongly inhibit human MAO-B enzymes while epicatechin and procyanidin B2 do so moderately .
However, in rat brain cells, beta-carbolines did not significantly inhibit MAO-B .
In mouse cells, harmaline and harmine reduced brain damage from various toxins (MPTP and MPP+) that cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms in humans and other primates. Based on this model, these beta-carbolines may protect against oxidative cell damage in Parkinson’s patients .
3) Banisteriopsis caapi May Fight Depression and Anxiety
Banisteriopsis caapi alone also has antidepressant and antianxiety effects. The harmine and harmaline in Banisteriopsis caapi inhibit MAO-A, reducing depression .
In mice, harmine from Banisteriopsis caapi had antidepressant effects .
Furthermore, in rats, harmine increased BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) levels and reduced depressive behavior .
Harmaline, harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmol (a by-product of harmaline) caused adult nerve cell formation (neurogenesis) in mice .
Banisteriopsis caapi may cause :
- Moderate or severe nausea/vomiting
- Abnormal involuntary movements or worsened tremor
High doses of harmine (> 60 mg) may also cause nausea and/or vomiting .
In animals, harmaline and harmine induced tremors .
Overuse of plants containing beta-carboline may be toxic. Beta-carboline intoxication causes :
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Loss of control over body movement (locomotor ataxia)
In rats, ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis) caused higher activation in the brain areas involved in serotonin release. This caused some temporary brain injury .
Natural Sources and Resin
Banisteriopsis caapi can be consumed in multiple ways. The dried bark of the large branch of Banisteriopsis caapi contains the highest concentrations of banistenoside A, banistenoside B, tetrahydroharmine, harmine, epicatechin, and procyanidin B2 .
Additionally, Banisteriopsis caapi stems can be used to make tea .
Banisteriopsis caapi supplements are sold as a resin extract, resin liquid, or as the vine, itself.
Higher doses of Banisteriopsis caapi increase the effect (it is dose-dependent) .
There is no official dose of Banisteriopsis caapi. However, blog posts suggest that due to differences in individual response, as well as variability in vine strength, it is best to start at low concentrations such as 10 g and increase as needed (up to 100 g).
In fact, some users complain about supplement websites that the Banisteriopsis caapi supplements purchased did not include a dosage recommendation.
A study found that daily doses of 20 to 40 mg of banisterine (a Banisteriopsis caapi alkaloid) improve Parkinsonian symptoms .
Limitations and Caveats
Due to the lack of human studies on Banisteriopsis caapi, few conclusions can be drawn on its effectiveness and additional risks or side effects.
Banisteriopsis caapi vines may vary widely in alkaloid concentrations, which may negatively or positively impact individual use. In fact, in the Amazon region alone, there are at least 30 different species of Banisteriopsis caapi with their own prescribed use due to wide chemical variation .
One user who took 100 g mentioned visual hallucinations and difficulty moving but still had a “clear mind.” This user experienced frequent “purging” and intense nausea.
Another user took 110 g and experienced the little effect. It caused blurriness, but the user reportedly remained clear-headed. The user also could not sleep afterward.
Furthermore, another person reported movement issues and had to stay on a mountain for 6 hours because of it.