Fernanda Palhano Xavier de Fontes

Fernanda Palhano Xavier de Fontes, PhD

Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte

New findings from a randomized placebo-controlled trial with ayahuasca for treatment-resistant depression


The use of ayahuasca, an indigenous brew from the Amazonian basin with psychedelic properties, has increased worldwide and its therapeutic value has been investigated. Recently, we conducted a randomized placebo-controlled trial with ayahuasca in 35 patients with treatment-resistant depression. The results suggest a significant antidepressant effect of ayahuasca with rapid onset, already one day after a single session with ayahuasca. Compared to placebo, between-groups differences increased from one day (Cohen’s d = 0.8) to seven days (Cohen’s d = 1.4) after dosing. In addition to the antidepressant effects, in this trial we also explored the sub-acute effects of ayahuasca on a number of markers such as psychiatric scales, neuropsychological tests, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), and, saliva and blood tests. All assessments occurred one day before and one day after the treatment session with ayahuasca or placebo, in all patients with depression as well as in a group of 50 healthy individuals. This presentation will focus on showing some of the new findings from these measurements, which should help informing on safety and on the mechanisms behind the observed antidepressant effect of ayahuasca.


I'm an electrical engineer with double degrees: one from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) and another from the École National Supérieure d'Electrotechnique, d'Electronique, d'Informatique (ENSEEIHT), Toulouse, France. I earned a master's and a PhD in neurosciences from the Brain Institute of UFRN. In the master’s program, I used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate the acute effect of ayahuasca. In my doctoral thesis, I investigated the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Currently, I am a research engineer at the Brain Institute, UFRN. My main areas of interest are psychedelics, psychiatry, and imaging techniques such as fMRI and electroencephalography.



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