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Ayahuasca and public health: The long journey towards integration into society

30.05.2019

As the use of ayahuasca expands globally, many questions have been raised about its integration into modern societies located vast distances from its point of origin. The ways in which the ritualistic settings in which ayahuasca is consumed have been largely maintained as it has traveled is intriguing. For us, as citizens of Western societies, these settings appear to be relatively exotic and sacred. This leads one to wonder how something so distinct from our Western cultural habits can be incorporated effectively.

Researching ayahuasca’s effects on health

When ICEERS was founded ten years ago, one of the main elements of our mission was to support the process for practices with these plants to be integrated into society. To accomplish this goal, a key strategy has been to evaluate the effects of ayahuasca on health − both physical and psychological.

The ICEERS scientific team, led by Dr. José Carlos Bouso has supported, collaborated on and/or conducted several studies to answer this question. Some studies investigations adopted a biomedical model and articles discussing the complex pharmacology of the active compounds of ayahuasca,1 the neuropsychological performance of ayahuasca users,2 and changes in brain structure induced by regular use of ayahuascahave been published.

Following these initial studies, we conducted studies far from laboratories, assessing ayahuasca users through psychometric approaches applied in naturalistic settings.But soon our team realized that this knowledge – despite elucidating aspects of the phenomenon –  did not take the diverse dimensions of ayahuasca use into account. The question about the effects of these ancient rituals on our (in this case Western) societies remained unanswered.

 

Health indicator assessment of ayahuasca use

In the search for a reliable method with a high degree of generalizability in Western societies, we found an innovative approach to ayahuasca research –  the assessment of regular ayahuasca users through health indicators. Health indicators are commonly used by governments to learn more about the health status of the population. So, in addition to being validated internationally, they also allow for easy comparisons to be made between the data gathered from regular ayahuasca users with the health status data of the general population.

The first article describing research in which this method was used, where almost 400 long-term ayahuasca users were assessed, was recently published* in the second issue of the volume 51 of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

*Ona, G., Kohek, M., Massaguer, T.,… & Bouso, J.C. (2019). Ayahuasca and public health: health status, psychosocial well-being, lifestyle, and coping strategies in a large sample of ritual ayahuasca users. J Psychoactive Drugs, doi: 10.1080/02791072.2019.1567961

Categories: AYAHUASCA , RESEARCH & INNOVATION