By Sandra Nomoto
Adults around the world are learning about Ayahuasca (also known as yagé) and experiencing its effects. Ayahuasca is a brew made out of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and other ingredients such as the shrub chacruna/chacrona (Psychotria viridis), native to Amazon countries such as Peru.
Annually, thousands of people visit the region to consume the drink, which is offered as part of a ceremony. Indigenous Amazonians have been using it for thousands of years.
The psychoactive ingredient in Ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine or DMT, which induces visual, audial, and emotional hallucinations. Mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual effects are felt as soon as 30 minutes and up to eight hours after consumption.
Each user’s experience will vary, and there are no known healing properties, though more scientific research is becoming available.
Reported effects include near-death experiences, nausea, vomiting, defecating, crying, seizures, coughing, difficulty breathing, sweating, motor function impairment, and dizziness. It can also trigger mental health issues, temporarily raise heart rate and blood pressure, and increase risk to those using antidepressant medications.
A few instances of cardiac arrest and death have been reported.
Others speak of positive experiences: openness, optimism, higher self-esteem, relaxation, heightened senses, laughing, deep personal and spiritual insight, increased creativity, clarity, gratitude, connection to nature, and expanded consciousness.
Users report treating immune diseases, chronic fatigue, cancer, trauma, grief, alcohol or smoking addictions, sleep disorders, and other terminal illnesses.
The most number of scientific studies have been done in an attempt to treat depression.
A preliminary 2015 study of effects on patients with recurring depression found an 82% reduction in depression scores.
In 2018, Ayahuasca expert Dr. Bia Labate held a placebo-controlled clinical trial with 80 subjects with treatment-resistant depression in Brazil. Results reported significant improvements in 50% of patients. 64% of the patients experienced reduced depression one week after consumption.
A study of regular users in Brazil concluded that long-term consumption did not seem to induce addiction-related patterns that characterize drug abuse.
In 2013, Canadian researchers led by Dr. Gerald Thomas and co-funded by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) explored the effects of Ayahuasca-assisted therapy on a group of 12 individuals from a rural First Nations community who were struggling with substance abuse.
Participants reported significant reductions in harmful cocaine use and improvements in measures of mental and behavioural health, hopefulness, empowerment, mindfulness, and quality of life.
Addiction psychiatrist and psychopharmacology researcher Dr. Ben Sessa wants Ayahuasca to be investigated as a possible treatment for conditions under strict controls, rather than given to visitors on a retreat.
If you are looking to try Ayahuasca where it is offered, be sure to choose a reputable location that has adequate and reliable staff who screens guests prior to accepting them, and who can tell you exactly what medicinal plants are used.
More research is needed to explore the healing potential of the plant, but its prevalence today is undoubtable.
Ayahuasca remains illegal in most countries.