Psychoactive Plant Could Hold the Key to Treating Type 1 Diabetes

Categories: Current Research


New research suggests a chemical found in the plant ayahuasca has the potential to regenerate pancreas cells that have been lost to diabetes. The researchers found that the main cause of diabetes can be linked to beta cells. “In the world of beta cell regeneration, you can do it in two ways. You can either use stem cells, or create stem cells and then transplant them. Or you could take a drug that makes your own beta cells grow,” Andrew Stewart, director of the Diabetes, explained. This is where the ayahuasca comes in.


Ayahuasca is a tropical vine native to the Amazon region, noted for its hallucinogenic properties. Harmine is a chemical derived from the flowering plant Harmal. Harmine is also known psychoactive effects on the brain. It’s a chemical that is present naturally in a number of plants around the world. It’s also an ingredient in ayahuasca, which is used by indigenous people for different religious activities.


Stewart’s team checked more than 100,000 different chemicals to see which ones have the possibility to make beta cells grow. They identified 86 different solutions and tested each one manually. After all the testing, a single drug triggered beta cell growth: harmine. To experiment, the researchers transplanted islets from pancreases of deceased human organ donors into diabetic mice. Dosing the mice with harmine triggered beta cells to multiply enough that they could restore the mice’s blood sugar to a normal level, which confirms the previous research. The discovery of these researchers is a very important step toward developing a medication that could someday reverse and treat diabetes in humans.

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