Ayahuasca is a potent hallucinogenic brew used by Amazonian indigenous groups for centuries.
It contains the powerful hallucinogenic molecule dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that gives people enlightening experiences and this is one of the reasons why it was used by ancient and modern shamans for to contact the spirit world in traditional ceremonies which can last hours.
Whether Ayahuasca should become legal or not has long been debated. Currently it’s still illegal, but this may change in the near future.
Modern scientists have discovered that Ayahuasca can be used for healing purposes and treatment of eating disorders.
A team of researchers from Canada interviewed 16 people who had eating disorders and who had consumed ayahuasca in a ceremonial context. 10 of the participants had previously been diagnosed with anorexia, while the other 6 suffered from bulimia. Their results were published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
After drinking small amounts pf Ayahuasca people often experience hallucinations, altered states of consciousness, visions, intense emotions, and purging – which includes vomiting, diarrhoea, crying, yawning, sweating and shaking.
This certainly doesn’t sound like a healthy drink, but there is another side of the story.
During the study, 11 of the participants reported that ayahuasca led to improvements in their eating disorder symptoms, while 14 said the experience helped them to better regulate their emotions.
One participant reported significant changes in their outlook after the ceremony: “There’s no more eating disorder. Let’s put it like that. There’s no more eating disorder. There’s no struggle around food. The struggle left.”
Another, said that the experience signposted them to recovery: “I think as a whole, I just feel a lot stronger than I did before. I find that my thoughts are a lot lighter. I still have a lot of eating disorder thoughts, but I find there are moments where I have a lot less of them.”
According to researchers the ceremonial use of Ayahuasca, under the right conditions and with the correct preparation and post-ceremony psychological support, shows promise as a potential alternative, or supplement, for those who do not respond to conventional treatments.
Ayahuasca is a potent hallucinogenic tea consumed by indigenous peoples across South America. Image credit: Reuters/Lunae Parracho
Participants often reported significant insights into their illness and recovery process leading to reductions in eating disorder symptoms and enduring positive effects lasting months or years.
“In most instances, participants even claimed that their Ayahuasca experiences were more important for their healing process than any other kind of standard eating disorder treatment they had received”, the researchers explained.
However, it is still too early to say whether ayahuasca is healthy in the long-term. Not enough studies have been carried out yet to determine the risks of using the Amazonian plant mixture.
According to Harry Shapiro, director of the online drug information service DrugWise, ayahuasca is dangerous.
People are naively going off and taking a very strong drug.”
Some people have had terrifying experiences and violent reactions.
“There is no support there if it goes wrong,” Shapiro said.
The drug could also be responsible for triggering issues in those who are predisposed to mental health problems but unaware of the fact.
In most countries where it is not traditionally consumed, Ayahuasca is still illegal, but researchers who support the use of Ayahuasca hope further clinical research can be conducted so we can finally learn the truth about whether the plant can be used as medicine or not.