Written by: Elie De Franca, LCSW, LCADC
Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture that is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, which may last anywhere from four to right hours after ingestion. The effects of this plant mixture can range from mildly stimulating to extremely visionary. Ayahuasca is used primarily as a medicine and as a shamanic means of communication, typically in a ceremonial session under the guidance of an experienced drinker.
The main ingredient of this jungle tea is a vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, which like the tea itself is also called ayahuasca (which means ‘vine of the soul’ or ‘vine with a soul’). The secondary ingredient is either chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana), plants that contain a relatively high amount of the psychedelic substance DMT.
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Ayahuasca appear to have caught the attention of Western society as well. Researchers in the field of psychotherapy have shown an interest. From world renowned doctors (i.e. Gabor Mate) to famous comedians (Chelsea Handler), the interest in this plant seems to derive from the desire to “confront themselves with the richness of the mind, the infinity of the universe, and their deepest fears, so as to experience ecstasy resulting from facing and overcoming these fears.”
It is believed that the Ayahuasca can also be used to treatment substance use disorders. Although the research is not vast, there have been numerous accounts of individuals who have taken the plant mixture and have been successful in halting drug and alcohol use. Why is this plant so powerful in helping those suffering from substance use disorders to halt their substance abuse?
A small but seemingly effective research on Ayahuasca was conducted in 2013 by a group of researchers in British Columbia, Canada (Thomas et al, 2013). The purpose of the research was to study the effectiveness of “ayahuasca assisted treatment for problematic substance use and stress”.
Results suggest that this form of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for stress and addiction was correlated with statistically significant improvements in mindfulness, empowerment, hopefulness and quality of life-outlook and quality of life-meaning. It may also have contributed to statistically significant reductions in cocaine use. The findings of this research on ayahuasca-assisted treatment for addictions, although preliminary, corroborate those of previous studies showing salutogenic effects of ceremonial ayahuasca drinking.
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In an ethnographic study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, in 2017, the authors (Talin & Sanabria, 2017) suggest “The ritual use of ayahuasca stands in strong contrast to hegemonic understandings of addiction, paving new ground between the overstated difference between community and pharmacological interventions.” They go on to suggest that the care giving role of addiction and the need for the person with a substance use disorder to feel a part of a community appear to be equally important as pharmacological interventions.
Perhaps this is what Johan Hari was referring to when he stated that “So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”
The use of Ayahuasca in the treatment of substance use disorders is certainly promising. The hope is that additional research and clinical trials can provide substantial evidence to support its efficacy.
Piera Talin, Emilia Sanabria, Ayahuasca’s entwined efficacy: An ethnographic study of ritual healing from ‘addiction’,International Journal of Drug Policy,Volume 44,2017,Pages 23-30.
Gerald Thomas*,1, Philippe Lucas1, N. Rielle Capler2, Kenneth W. Tupper3 and Gina Martin1, Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy for Addiction: Results from a Preliminary Observational Study in Canada Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2013, 6, 000-000 1.