This makes it potentially beneficial in the treatment of conditions like Parkinson's disease, but dangerous for the treatment of other conditions or home use without the supervision of a doctor. It's shocking to think that more and more people are beginning to take mucuna without knowing how it works.
What is mucuna pruriens?
Mucuna pruriens is a plant which is also known as velvet bean. This plant is well known for its high concentration of psychoactive compounds. The most concentrated compound in this mixture is L-DOPA, which is the precursor to dopamine in the human body.
As well as L-DOPA, mucuna pruriens also contains other compounds like 5-HTP, which is the natural precursor to serotonin. These other ingredients aren't present in a very high concentration, so the effects of mucuna pruriens are largely related to the L-DOPA content alone.
Effects of mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens is primarily taken as a natural way to increase the amount of dopamine in the central nervous system. Whereas dopamine taken orally can't cross the blood brain barrier and has only peripheral effects, L-DOPA in mucuna pruriens is able to cross the barrier.
It is here that the L-DOPA from mucuna pruriens is converted into dopamine, and the dopamine which is produced in the brain can elicit a psychoactive effect. This has the effect of lowering blood pressure, increasing libido, improving mood, and improving wakefulness and memory.
Where Parkinson's disease or restless legs is present, it will often improve these conditions in the same way that prescription L-DOPA will, but the effect is largely dependent on how much of the compound reaches the brain. Prescription supplements include carbidopa to ensure that the precursor isn't converted into dopamine outside the central nervous system, so they are more powerful and have less side effects on a dose to dose comparison.
Dangerous side effects of mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens carries with it all the potential side effects of prescription L-DOPA treatment, which is carefully used by doctors in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Taking the supplement for long periods of time can even cause a form of physical addiction and withdrawal because long-term use causes the body's dopamine receptors to become down-regulated in response to the excess dopamine.
This means that any perceived benefit of mucuna pruriens is short lived and will gradually fade away as you continue to take the supplement. Worse still is that ceasing consumption after this time will result in a withdrawal where symptoms like apathy, lack of motivation, inability to find pleasure in anything, restless legs, Parkinson-like symptoms, and learning problems can occur. This withdrawal can be prolonged and difficult to treat.
Short-term use is just as dubious because of the potential side effects and the lack of real benefit of using the supplement. Whilst mucuna pruriens may be useful as a treatment for Parkinson's disease or restless legs, it is not as effective or safe compared to prescription L-DOPA products. It's use in the treatment of other conditions is not currently supported by medical science.
Not only can it cause hallucinations, psychosis, the impairment of certain brain functions, and physical side effects like hair loss, but it can also potentially provoke schizophrenia in people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.
One of the best theories for the cause of schizophrenia is that the illness is related to dopamine dysfunction, and this effect is easily shown through the use of dopamine antagonists as a treatment for schizophrenia. These drugs, also known as anti-psychotics, block the effect of dopamine on its receptors, causing a reduction of psychosis, hallucinations, and other symptoms.
Drugs like amphetamines on the other hand, increase dopamine and are known to cause psychosis and hallucinations. Some of these drugs are believed to aggravate existing schizophrenia or even cause the onset of schizophrenia in people who are at risk of the illness. For this reason, it's logical that mucuna pruriens, because of its dopamine-boosting effect, could influence schizophrenia in the same way.
All of this makes mucuna pruriens a dangerous supplement to take; especially without the supervision of a doctor. Although many people start taking mucuna pruriens for depression or mood problems, it is not proven to be beneficial in these conditions and the side effects outweigh any potential benefit. Any benefit that is received from the supplement is short-lived and will give way to physical addiction and withdrawal, further illustrating just how reckless it is to take mucuna pruriens.
As with all supplements that influence the monoamine neurotransmitters (Dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, primarily), it is never wise to use these supplements without a clear indication of benefit. Neurotransmitter levels are maintained delicately by the body and any manipulation of these levels can lead to problems both physically and mentally. It's not something you really want to risk if you can avoid it.