Mucuna pruriens & L-DOPA

Mucuna pruriens (cowhage; velvet bean) is a tropical plant used by Ayurvedic healers and Native Americans for hundreds or thousands of years for various medicinal purposes. The seeds are also used to make jewelry, necklaces, pendants, charms, and amulets to, for example, ward off illness, headaches, and the evil eye. And its roasted beans have been used for decades as coffee substitute in Central and South America.

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Nowadays, Mucuna pruriens is used mainly as a source for the amino acid L-DOPA, which, as I explain below, significantly influences sleep and dreaming, as well as as a DMT-delivering plant in Ayahuasca analog preparations.

As a dream herb, Mucuna pruriens greatly increases control over dreams.

Constituents

Mucuna pruriens is one of the most concentrated plant (and also one of the few known natural) sources of the amino acid L-DOPA (levodopa). It contains as much as 7% L-DOPA.

What’s so special about L-DOPA?

Dopamine is the “pleasure chemical” which acts as a neurotransmitter and hormone in the the brain, playing a role in many processes including motor control and motivation. For example, low dopamine levels are associated with the loss of motor control in Parkinson’s disease.

Unfortunately, supplementation of dopamine is useless since ingested dopamine cannot reach the brain.

L-DOPA, on the other hand, is able to cross the blood brain barrier, reaching the brain where it is metabolized into dopamine. The result therefore of ingesting L-DOPA is increased dopamine levels in the brain. Functioning as a sort of fountain of youth, L-DOPA supplementation may help keep you active as you age as well as induce a psychological state of confidence and motivation.

A synthetic form of L-DOPA is normally prescribed by physicians, which must be taken with another drug, carbidopa (Lodosyn), to prevent L-DOPA from being synthesized into dopamine before it reaches the brain, which creates adverse side effects. Using Mucuna pruriens as a source of L-DOPA, on the other hand, does not require carbidopa and allows all the L-DOPA to reach the brain, minimizing the occurrence of side effects.

In addition to L-DOPA, Mucuna pruriens contains beta-carbolines (e.g., 6-methoxyharmane), serotonin and 5-HTP, nicotine, bufotenine (an aphrodisiac and possible psychoactive alkaloid which also occurs in the skin of some psychoactive toads, specifically of the Bufo genus), and other alkaloids.

The hairs on the seedpods contain substances which cause skin irritation and itching when touched.

Mucuna pruriens may also contain N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and 5-MeO-DMT, making it a possible psychedelic hallucinogen and entheogen under some conditions which I delineate below. (Though some studies found no tryptamines in the plant.)

Medicinal Uses

The medicinal uses of Mucuna pruriens include:

  • Parkinson’s disease – The amino acid L-DOPA found in Mucuna pruriens is used to treat motor dysfunction.
  • in India, Brazil, and Mexico Mucuna pruriens seeds are used as an aphrodisiac and to increase semen production. The Cuna Indians also use them for this purpose. To use, simply powder 15 grams of the seeds (about two seeds) and ingest with some water. (Traditionally, in India cow’s milk is used instead of water.) Alternatively, smoking 1-2 cigarettes containing Mucuna pruriens dried leaves is an effective dosage and method of consumption.
  • a decoction can also be made by boiling the fruits. In Mexico the decoction is used externally to wash the eyes of newborns in order to prevent inflammation. The decoction is also drunk as an anthelmintic. (To treat intestinal worms, it is also effective to ingest the crushed seeds with liquid; in Trinidad, they are ingested with sugarcane juice. In India 4-5 hairs from the seedpod are taken with milk.) The decoction of the root and the hulls are used as a diuretic and to alleviate inflammations of the nasal cavities.
  • applying topically may help with joint and muscle pain, stimulate surface blood flow in conditions that involve paralysis, and treat snakebites/scorpion stings. In Southeast Asia it is believed that the seeds can suck out scorpion’s venom by placing them on the wound.
  • tonic – in Brazil Mucuna pruriens is used as a nerve tonic. In Nepal it is used for nervous disorders.
  • Mucuna pruriens is also sometimes used for treating anxiety, arthritis, and hyperprolactinemia (higher-than-normal levels of prolactin). It can also be used to relieve pain and fever and to induce vomiting.

As a Nootropic

Mucuna pruriens is purported to be an adaptogenic plant, which helps the body deal with stress. It is also said to lower stress, reduce anxiety, improve focus and motivation, and elevate the mood, increasing well-being and energy along with decreasing the tendency to overeat.

This makes sense especially for people with low dopamine levels, which may manifest as lethargy, inability to focus, even depression.

On the other hand, too much dopamine is associated with impulsive, thrill-seeking behavior, and even psychosis.

One person reported significant improvement in confidence among other benefits with doses of 120-240 mg:

For me the most suitable situation for taking l-dopa is with breakfast the morning before meetings or job interviews. I am generally shy in meeting type situations, but I find l-dopa provides me with the confidence and motivation to say what I want to say. It gives me confidence without stress (unlike caffeine), and it doesn’t slow me down (like downers) […] I take it with carbs because it is said to increase absorption […] have also found it reduces feeling of pleasure, including from alcohol and caffeine, so I don’t use it in social situations, although I have noticed a slight increase in pleasure from some drugs the day after dosing!

As a Sleep Herb

As a sleep herb, Mucuna pruriens is said to induce a CNS stimulant effect at low doses and a CNS depressant effect at high doses.

L-DOPA is a mild REM suppressant so it may also induce a deeper, more restorative sleep and may prevent nightmares. And as we shall see below, it also increases the confidence level of dreamer, leading to a total lack of fear.

To use Mucuna pruriens to improve sleep, ingest it right before going to sleep.

One person reports beneficial effects after taking 750-3,000 mg of a Mucuna pruriens extract. He writes:

I always experience deeper, more refreshing sleep […] REM sleep seems to increase greatly and dreams are incredibly vivid and animated. It could be useful for someone who is interested in Lucid Dreaming, but I think it is also great for use as a true sleep aid. It does not necessarily induce drowsiness, but does improve sleep quality.

As a Dream Herb

Mucuna pruriens increases the ability to control lucid dreams, boosts the confidence of the dreamer, and reduces fear. Moreover, it may induce vivid dreams, which are often long and action packed.

When the plant is ingested, it reaches peak plasma levels within 90 minutes and after 12 hours, it is eliminated from the body. (The elimination half life is 1.5 hours.) This suggests that the best time to take Mucuna pruriens is about one hour before you want the effect to effect to kick in. It is recommended to use it before a nap or after about 4-5 hours of nocturnal sleep when dreams are longer and more frequent.

According to Thomas Yuschak in his book Advanced Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Supplements, dopamine dreams

[…] are always extremely action packed and fully participatory (meaning that the dreamer is fully caught up in the action rather than just observing it). There seems to a common theme to dopamine dreams: the dreamer is put in some kind of threatening situation and must overcome some type of adversary. On the outside, these dreams often sound like nightmares, but on the inside they are usually characterized by a strong feeling of confidence and a triumphant rush once the dreamer has prevailed. I find these types of dreams thoroughly enjoyable although they may not be for everybody.

Another way to use Mucuna pruriens relies on its purported REM-suppressing effects. When a REM suppressant is taken before sleep, the first 1 or 2 REM periods may be skipped, causing a REM rebound during the later REM periods. During a REM rebound, dreams may be longer, more frequent, and more vivid.

Thomas Yuschak describes his lucid dreams under the effect of Mucuna pruriens:

I have walked into a raging fire and absorbed the energy of the flames, created a thunderstorm and guided lightning bolts into my hands, stood on the tracks as a speeding train passed right through me, and climbed a mountain to the summit, then just casually stepped off the edge, and much more. Mucuna Pruriens can create a true adventure in your lucid dreams.

Here’s another case report from a person who took 400 mg of the plant for about 3 months on and off. According to him, Mucuna pruriens also greatly improves the recall of dreams:

Since I have been on it I dream every single night, Vivid Colourful dreams and they are amazing to the extent that I remember almost all of them when I wake up. Not only that but my imagination is also just as clear and vivid.

Dosage for inducing dopamine dreams: up to 400 mg of L-DOPA.

If combined with lucid dreaming supplements such as galantamine: 80-100 mg of L-DOPA.

If taken one hour before taking lucid dreaming supplements: 100-200 mg L-DOPA.

Mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens

Entheogenic Use

The dried leaves are said to contain tryptamines and nicotine. When smoked they are reported to produce a tryptamine buzz (a general CNS stimulation), especially when accompanied by 3 grams of Peganum harmala (a MAOI), which may induce the perception of colorful geometric patterns.

Mucuna pruriens may have been used Ayahuasca admixture and even to create Ayahuasca-like preparations as the DMT-delivering agent. In the Kama Sutra, Mucuna pruriens is mentioned, as well as another plant, Tribulus terrestris, which contains harmine and harmaline like the Ayahuasca vine and Syrian rue.

Allegedly, one of the most important Ayurvedic texts (Sushruta Samhita) recommends combining Mucuna pruriens with Tribulus terrestris for a powerful aphrodisiac and tonic effect. Could this be a recipe for an East Asian Ayahuasca analog?

The idea that powdered seeds can be used in Ayahuasca analog preparations was suggested by Christian Rätsch in his excellent book The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its ApplicationsHowever, I could find no evidence to corroborate that assertion.

How does Mucuna pruriens work? Dopamine & L-DOPA (Levodopa)

Just like serotonin can’t cross the brain-blood barrier, and to increase its levels, we have to ingest its precursor, 5-HTP, dopamine too cannot cross the brain-blood barrier. Its precursors, including L-DOPA and other amino acids, however, can.

What are the benefits of using L-DOPA as a sleep and dreams supplement? And how does it work exactly?

L-DOPA is a popular drug used to combat Parkinson’s disease by increasing the level of dopamine in the brain, which appears to be abnormally low in these patients.

Once L-DOPA has entered the central nervous system, it is converted into dopamine by the enzyme aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase, also known as DOPA decarboxylase.

As a dream supplement, when L-DOPA is taken in the night time, it greatly increases dream frequency and vividness without necessarily increasing REM sleep. While dopamine may also profoundly affect lucid dreaming, it is mostly used to promote non-lucid dreams.

Apparently, L-DOPA may also be used as a nootropic, improving verbal episodic memory and episodic memory encoding.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter with stimulant and pleasurable effects, which plays a role in learning, controlling movement and balance, and in the body’s natural reward system (and thus in motivation.)

Elevated levels of dopamine may make people feel euphoric, confident, alert, and even aggressive, while decreased levels may be associated with being tired, forgetful, and lacking drive, vitality, self-esteem, and libido.

Dopamine levels may go up in the fall and fall during the spring, making seasonal supplementation a thing to consider, especially if these changes are reflected in your mood and energy levels.

How does dopamine affect sleep and dreams?

Some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may be caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain. In fact, Parkinson’s patients are treated with a drug that increases their dopamine levels. Interestingly, when they are treated with the drug before going to sleep, they experience vivid dreams, which are longer than usual, even nightmarish at times.

Dopamine dreams sometimes resemble an action movie, where you are a hero who has to actively overcome some kind of adversary. By increasing your confidence and motivation levels, you can reach a high level of control over your dream, and perhaps even attain lucidity.

What is that drug which increases levels of dopamine in the brain of Parkinson’s patients?

L-DOPA.

As I already noted above, dopamine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. Its precursor, L-DOPA, on the other hand, is able to enter the brain, where it is converted into dopamine.

To get L-DOPA, you need a prescription from a medical doctor.

This is a Dream...

Or…

Just tap into the power of plants and get a Mucuna pruriens supplement. (And by doing that also avoid a host of horrible side effects that may come when using the synthetic L-DOPA drug.)

Mucuna pruriens is a plant which naturally contains relatively high levels of L-DOPA.

Alternatively, you can take phenylalanine or tyrosine, both are amino acids which are also dopamine precursors. The essential amino acid phenylalanine is converted by the brain to tyrosine, then to L-DOPA, and finally to dopamine.

A good source of phenylalanine is soybeans.

Sources of tyrosine include peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soy products, lima beans, avocados, and bananas. When ingesting tyrosine, make sure to include a good source of vitamin C to increase the chances that the tyrosine would be converted to L-DOPA.

There are at least two huge benefits of using natural L-DOPA rather than the synthetic version or eating a protein-rich meal that is packed with phenylalanine and tyrosine.

First, when you use the synthetic version, there is a chance that dopamine will also be created outside the brain, which may cause many side effects. Thus, another drug (carbidopa) is taken along to prevent this from happening. For some unknown reason, this is not a problem with the L-DOPA that naturally occurs in Mucuna pruriens.

The benefit of using Mucuna pruriens rather than eating a protein-rich meal is that in the latter case, other amino acids may compete for entry to the brain.

Another option is to take pure phenylalanine/tyrosine, although some of the L-phenylalanine may be converted to a different substance. The rest will be converted to L-tyrosine. L-tyrosine may convert to L-DOPA, but might also be converted directly to dopamine through a minor pathway, or to other, unrelated substances.

It is for these reasons that I prefer using Mucuna pruriens over taking synthetic L-DOPA, eating a protein-rich meal, or taking pure phenylalanine/tyrosine.

How to Use L-DOPA

The amount of L-DOPA in your Mucuna pruriens extract will depend on its standardization. Using plant material, such as seeds, is not recommended since it makes it difficult to know how much L-DOPA you’re getting.

It’s recommended to go with low concentrations, such as a 10-15% standardized extract.

L-DOPA reaches its peak plasma level about 1-1.5 hours after ingestion. It’s elimination half-life is 90 minutes, meaning that its plasma concentration is halved about every ninety minutes. After 12 hours it’s practically out of your system.

The dosage of L-DOPA you will want to take depends on your goal.

If you are using the supplement in an effort to enhance your lucid dreams (e.g., to bring more confidence, vividness, and control to your lucid dreams) or if you are using it with lucid dream induction supplements, then you will not need more than 80-100 mg of L-DOPA. (But if using L-DOPA with galantamine, you should take 4-8 mg galantamine, and 250-750 mg choline if you use it, about one hour after taking the L-DOPA; in this case you can take up to 200 mg of L-DOPA).

If you’re taking L-DOPA on its own to experience more vivid, action-packed non-lucid dreams, then you can take up to 400-600 mg of L-DOPA per day.

Vitamin B6, a supplement often used to improve dream recall, should not be taken with L-DOPA since it catalyzes the synthesize of dopamine from L-DOPA. Taking the two supplements together may cause much of the L-DOPA to be converted to dopamine before reaching the brain.

Side Effects and Warnings

Possible side effects of us L-DOPA may include nausea, vomiting, cramping, arrhythmias, hypotension, gastrointestinal bleeding, disturbed respiration, hair loss, disorientation and confusion, anxiety, excessive libido, extreme emotional states, insomnia, auditory/visual hallucinations, somnolence, narcolepsy, stimulant psychosis, effects on learning (improve working memory while impairing other complex functions), over stimulation, increased body temperature, and dyskinesias (sudden, involuntary, jerky movements).

According to some studies, it may lead to an increased risk of birth defects so do not take it during pregnancy.

Ask your doctor before using this powerful supplement, especially if you suffer from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, low blood sugar, liver disease, skin cancer, stomach/intestinal ulcers, mental illness, or if you are taking any medications.

Do not take L-DOPA 2 weeks before going through surgery.

Next, we shall take a look at what people experience after taking L-DOPA via Mucuna pruriens.

Mucuna Pruriens Experiences

Before using any psychoactive drug or supplement, it is beneficial to prepare by reading about other people’s experiences. Many such experiences with Mucuna pruriens are described on Erowid.org. Below you will find some interesting excerpts.

a slight increase in mental agility and alertness. When combined with caffeine it makes an excellent tool for anything that requires a lot of concentration such as programming.

When I mix mucana purienes [‘8 caps’] and alcohol it creates a warm opiate like experience (complete with itch and euphoria). This is something I have come across randomly, while going through heroin withdrawal

Since I have been on it I dream every single night, Vivid Colourful dreams and they are amazing to the extent that I remember almost all of them when I wake up. Not only that but my imagination is also just as clear and vivid.

The stuff was soaking in rum for about 3 days. The experience from drinking one glass of the beverage combined with water was mildly hallucinogenic for about one hour.

I smoked some of this stuff combined/rolled in tobacco, moistening it in my hands to make it sticky (like hash oil or oily hash or very similar) and felt something. Head rush, spaced out… all for a very short time.

I stopped taking my Adderall rx last week (20mg IR twice a day) because of growing tolerance and reluctance to up the dose or switch meds, which I’ve been doing for many years. I ordered Mucuna pruriens 1000 mg capsules. For almost 5 days now I’ve been taking 1 cap early in the morning, and second during early to mid-afternoon. […] I am blown away by this herb! I need to research more on whether it can be a daily thing or whether it’s best used for an Adderall/ amphetamine reset. It feels better than the best days on the rx meds- because I can’t really tell that I’ve taken anything and because there is no crash or irritability at the end of the day. Too good to be true?

began studying straight away. About half an hour into my reading, I noticed how concentrated I was on it, and actually felt myself absorbing the information. I knew it was working, maybe on some level as a placebo, but usually have quite a short attention span when it comes to reading long textbook extracts. I was absorbed in my reading, wasn’t getting distracted, and was actively thinking on the subject and making connections to other study materials. The effects lasted maybe 2 hours, when I noticed my attention span dwindling.

Bottom Line & Purchase Options

L-DOPA has something to offer to almost anyone,.

As a dream supplement, it is best suited for people who are able to have lucid dreams, but would like to increase the vividness and control they have over their dreams.

Alternatively, it may be beneficial for you if you don’t recall your dreams, or even if you feel your dreams are too boring and would like to experience more action in the night time.

If you’re planning on using Mucuna pruriens, there are a few warnings to keep in mind.

Firstly, if you’re using seeds, be aware that they may vary in L-DOPA concentration, making proper dosing difficult. Therefore, it may be better to use a supplement standardized to a specific L-DOPA concentration (choose the lowest concentration available, ideally 10%).

If you are using plant material (seeds) rather than a supplement, then you can easily extract L-DOPA from Mucuna pruriens by boiling and soaking, ideally in acidic water (add some lemon or vinegar).

Second, side effects may result from overdoses, which may consist of overstimulation, increased body temperature, insomnia, cramping, arrhythmias, hypotension, nausea, and vomiting.

Chronic use of high doses of L-DOPA may cause a movement disorder called dyskinesia, characterized by involuntary muscle movements.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use this plant.

If you’re taking any drugs, medications, or supplements (including vitamin B6), or are suffering from any disorder, consult with your physician before using it.

Finally, using it in Ayahuasca preparations may be particularly dangerous since the MAO inhibitor doesn’t only activates the DMT, but also boosts the effects of L-DOPA and serotonin, which are normally broken down by the enzyme MAO. The side effects of DMT include hypertension and dilation of the pupils. Serotonin overdose can lead to serotonin syndrome.

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