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    Italy schedule ayahuasca

    Italy’s Recent Decision to Schedule Ayahuasca

    ICEERS | April 25 2022

    In March 2022, the Italian government made Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, the two principal ingredients of the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, Schedule I controlled substances. In addition, components of these plants (harmine and harmaline from B. caapi and DMT from P. viridis) are now controlled as well. Schedule I is a category created by the International Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 that includes components declared to have “no medical or scientific use” and pose a “high risk for public health.”1

    This decision came after five police interventions were registered by the Department for Anti-Drug Policies (an agency instated to oversee drug-related policies by the Council of Ministers) between December 2019 and November 2021. Pavia’s Poison Control Centre had also reported two cases of intoxication related to the intake of harmine in 2011 and 2018. In the recent decree, the Italian Ministry also cites that ayahuasca has been illegal in France since 2005, in addition to non-specified arguments derived from scientific literature. Some drug policy reform groups have asked the Ministry to share bibliographic references for the evidence used in the decision.1,2

    This motion put forth by Health Minister Roberto Speranza was not anticipated, particularly since in 2009 the Cassation Court had ruled that ayahuasca was not illegal. The reason given for the policy change was that ayahuasca (as well as three of its components) presents “risks to public health.” Speranza made this decision in an effort to abide by “international obligations,” which was the same rationale that was used to block Italy’s cannabis referendum.1

    Ayahuasca and International Law

    Ayahuasca is a decoction of the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi. The word “ayahuasca” is a Quechua term commonly translated as “the vine of the dead” or “the rope of the dead.” Different Amazonian cultures have dozens of different names for the brew and its variations, which are embedded in complex lineages of traditional practices and knowledge. The brew is made by combining the vine with other Amazonian medicinal plants, most commonly Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (chaliponga or chagropanga).3

    The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) subjects several psychoactive compounds contained in plant species to international control (for example DMT). However, according to the 2010 INCB Report, “No plants are currently controlled under that Convention […]. Preparations (e.g. decoctions for oral use) made from plants containing those active ingredients are also not under international control.”4 The decision in Italy means that the country now joins France in having some of the most restrictive ayahuasca laws in Europe.2,5

    More information about the laws in Italy and other countries worldwide can be found on the Ayahuasca Legal Status Map.

    The Influence of Ayahuasca on Public Health

    Despite the recent policy changes in Italy, scientific evidence suggests that ayahuasca is not a risk to public health, and that it may in fact offer benefits. The therapeutic properties of ayahuasca have been researched since the 1980s. The brew has been found to have a good safety and tolerability profile and observational evidence suggests that it has a low risk for abuse.3,6 Ayahuasca has also been researched for potential beneficial effects for substance-related disorders for those who have a dependency on heroin, cocaine, or alcohol.7,8

    Ongoing research is examining ayahuasca and mental health. Researchers have examined ayahuasca’s impact on general well-being and the ways it may help people cope with grief and mood disorders.9,10,11 Furthermore, evidence from clinical trials suggests possible benefits for treatment-resistant depression. Recent studies have reported the antidepressant effects of ayahuasca have continued for 21 days after a single dose.12,13,14,15 In addition, a 2021 human-based study found that ayahuasca was helpful for social anxiety.16

    Regarding the claimed risks that ayahuasca may pose, studies using public health indicators have been performed with large samples of regular ayahuasca ceremony participants. Researchers concluded that participants have healthy lifestyles and nutrition, and are in good mental and physical health.17,18 Serious adverse reactions, such as prolonged psychosis, are rare and have not been observed in experimental settings.19 Most cases of life-threatening effects reported in the literature or the media cannot be directly linked to ayahuasca ingestion.20,21

    It is difficult to quantify the number of people who participate in ayahuasca ceremonies in Italy because no official statistics exist. Importantly, there have been no cases of death reported to-date in Italy in relation to ayahuasca. In fact, only a few cases of death that were in some way associated with ayahuasca have been reported worldwide. As previously mentioned, these deaths were circumstantial.

    As the growing research evidence shows, the scheduling of the plants and constituents of ayahuasca is not supported by scientific rationale. The decision to schedule ayahuasca in Italy lacks rational reasoning or concrete scientific evidence to back it up.

    Impact for the International Plant Medicine Community

    A scientific report signed by the most well-respected ayahuasca researchers has concluded that ayahuasca has a very reasonable safety profile.3 Countries like France, the Netherlands, and Italy have not based their decisions on research evidence. They also lack an understanding of the cultural origins of these practices by Indigenous peoples of the Amazon who have centuries of knowledge of their benefits. This decision may have grave consequences for the Santo Daime or other religious groups for whom ayahuasca is a sacrament. It also affects the people who engage in ayahuasca ceremonies in Italy whose lives are positively impacted by it.

    Through decades of prohibitionist policies, it’s become clear that unfounded laws based on speculation simply create more problems as opposed to improving public health.22,23,24 Furthermore, by prohibiting the use of ayahuasca, the Italian Ministry of Health is discrediting its ritual and ceremonial use. In addition, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) stated that no plant or plant-based preparation containing psychoactive ingredients scheduled by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances are subject to control.5,25

    It is concerning that the Italian Ministry of Health has scheduled ayahuasca, which is even more prohibitive than the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Their decision is also in conflict with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the freedom of scientific progress and people’s right to benefit from its application. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the body in charge of interpreting the ICESCR, has expanded on this and stated, “Indigenous peoples and local communities around the world should participate in a global intercultural dialogue in favour of scientific progress, since their contributions are precious and science should not be used as an instrument of cultural imposition.”26 It is essential that ancestral medicines, such as ayahuasca, are included in research (if Indigenous communities consent and play leadership roles) so that their benefits can be accessible to the public.

    The recent scheduling of ayahuasca is also in breach of various international human rights treaties. The decree cites France as an example, where ayahuasca has been illegal following a legal case involving the Santo Daime church in 2005. This decision was made on the grounds that ayahuasca was a threat to secularism (laicité). ICEERS has been supporting another legal case in France since 2019, where an administrative appeal has been filed that challenges the constitutionality of this ruling.

    The recent decision in Italy may be considered unconstitutional if the community decides to bring the scheduling of ayahuasca to court. They could be done on the grounds that the new law ignores scientific evidence, indigenous rights, the benefit of scientific progress, and the positive impact that ayahuasca could have on public health.

    Envisioning Alternative Approaches to Prohibitionist Policies on Plant Medicine

    As ayahuasca expands outside its countries of origin, there will be ongoing issues with how this plant medicine is perceived and potentially regulated by drug policy officials across the Global North. Panelists at the 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference engaged in a dialogue on the legal acceptance of ayahuasca internationally and explored the remaining challenges to ensure these practices are respected.

    During the panel discussion, Jeffrey Bronfman, member of the Steering Committee of ICEERS’ Ayahuasca Defense Fund, made the comment that in many indigenous communities, “Ayahuasca is the medicine that is the basis of healing different types of disease.” Bronfman added that the legal work to defend “the beneficial treasure of humanity” seeks to maintain our rights to engage in practices with these medicines to improve the quality of our lives. These challenges remain and are being actively explored by international groups working for Indigenous and human rights, biocultural conservation, and drug policy reform.

    Ayahuasca is beneficial if used responsibly and ethically. If misused, it could be potentially harmful. Instead of criminalizing a practice that is based on cultural traditions, local governments should engage in community dialogs to develop safe practices for ayahuasca ceremony participants. In traditional societies, the collective community is responsible for correct practices. There is a lack of visibility in the locations where people are interacting with the plant outside its countries of origin. This visibility can only come via a dialogue with the government and the parameters of the law, which could be a way to grant facilitators the legal security to do their work. This dialogue between local governments and facilitators could help create a network of mutual cooperation – one guided by trust and transparency for the benefit of the entire community.27

    As the interest in ayahuasca and other psychoactive plants grows, ICEERS is dedicated to addressing the challenges of their international legal framework. The Ayahuasca Defense Fund (ADF) is an ICEERS program that unites state-of-the-art legal, scientific, community, and public policy expertise. The ADF works with defendants worldwide to provide reliable expert information and promote sensible public policy.

    In a time of confusion and misinformation about ayahuasca legality, the ADF is a useful expert resource for legal clarity and protection. Please consider making a donation to the Ayahuasca Defense Fund to be a part of liberating plant teachers.

    Further Reading


    1. Perduca, M. “Ayahuasca, la guerra italiana alla pianta psichedelica”. [Internet]. Italy: FuoriLuogo; 2022. Accessed on 25/3/2022

    2. Berazaluce, Iñaki. El Ministerio de Salud italiano prohíbe, por sorpresa, la ayahuasca. [Internet]. Spain: Plantaforma; 2022. Accessed on 25/3/2022.

    3. The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service. Ayahuasca: Technical Report. [Internet]. 2021. Accessed on 29/9/2021

    4. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Vienna; 1971.

    5. International Narcotics Control Board. The report of the international narcotics control board for 2010 (paragraph 284). United Nations Office: Vienna; 2010. Retrieved 27/3/2019

    6. Gable RS. Risk assessment of ritual use of oral dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and harmala alkaloids. Addiction. 2007 Jan;102(1):24-34.

    7. Cruz JI, Nappo SA. Is ayahuasca an option for the treatment of crack cocaine dependence?. Journal of psychoactive drugs. 2018 May 27;50(3):247-55.

    8. Rodrigues LS, Rossi GN, Rocha JM, L Osório F, Bouso JC, Hallak JE, Dos Santos RG. Effects of ayahuasca and its alkaloids on substance use disorders: an updated (2016–2020) systematic review of preclinical and human studies. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. 2021 Apr 29:1-6.

    9. González D, Cantillo J, Pérez I, Farré M, Feilding A, Obiols JE, Bouso JC. Therapeutic potential of ayahuasca in grief: a prospective, observational study. Psychopharmacology. 2020 Apr;237(4):1171-82.

    10. Gonzalez D, Cantillo J, Perez I, Carvalho M, Aronovich A, Farre M, Feilding A, Obiols JE, Bouso JC. The Shipibo ceremonial use of ayahuasca to promote well-being: An observational study. Frontiers in pharmacology. 2021 May 5;12:1059.

    11. Horák M, Hasíková L, Verter N. Therapeutic potential ascribed to ayahuasca by users in the Czech Republic. Journal of psychoactive drugs. 2018 Oct 20;50(5):430-6.

    12. Kaasik H, Kreegipuu K. Ayahuasca users in Estonia: Ceremonial practices, subjective long-term effects, mental health, and quality of life. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 2020 May 26;52(3):255-63.

    13. Osório FD, Sanches RF, Macedo LR, Dos Santos RG, Maia-de-Oliveira JP, Wichert-Ana L, De Araujo DB, Riba J, Crippa JA, Hallak JE. Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: A preliminary report. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry. 2015 Jan;37:13-20.

    14. Palhano-Fontes F, Barreto D, Onias H, Andrade KC, Novaes MM, Pessoa JA, Mota-Rolim SA, Osório FL, Sanches R, Dos Santos RG, Tófoli LF. Rapid antidepressant effects of the psychedelic ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Psychological medicine. 2019 Mar;49(4):655-63.

    15. Sanches RF, de Lima Osório F, Dos Santos RG, Macedo LR, Maia-de-Oliveira JP, Wichert-Ana L, de Araujo DB, Riba J, Crippa JA, Hallak JE. Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: a SPECT study. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology. 2016 Feb 1;36(1):77-81.

    16. Dos Santos RG, de Lima Osório F, Rocha JM, Rossi GN, Bouso JC, Rodrigues LS, de Oliveira Silveira G, Yonamine M, Hallak JE. Ayahuasca improves self-perception of speech performance in subjects with social anxiety disorder: A pilot, proof-of-concept, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology. 2021 Sep 1;41(5):540-50.

    17. Kohek M., Ona G., van Elk M., Dos Santos R.G., Hallak J.E.C., Alcázar-Córcoles M.Á., Bouso J.C. . Ayahuasca and Public Health II: Health Status in a Large Sample of Ayahuasca-Ceremony Participants in the Netherlands. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 2022. [In print].

    18. Ona G, Kohek M, Massaguer T, Gomariz A, Jiménez DF, Dos Santos RG, Hallak JE, Alcázar-Córcoles MÁ, Bouso JC. Ayahuasca and public health: Health status, psychosocial well-being, lifestyle, and coping strategies in a large sample of ritual ayahuasca users. Journal of psychoactive drugs. 2019 Mar 15;51(2):135-45.

    19. Dos Santos RG, Bouso JC, Hallak JE. Ayahuasca, dimethyltryptamine, and psychosis: a systematic review of human studies. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology. 2017 Apr;7(4):141-57.

    20. Dos Santos RG. A critical evaluation of reports associating ayahuasca with life-threatening adverse reactions. 2013 Apr 1;45(2):179-88.

    21. van den Berg A, van Eeghen EE, Kooter AJ, Tuinman TH, Tuinman PR. Ayahuasca in the Netherlands: what the doctor should know about its side effects. Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde. 2020 Aug 20;164.

    22. Drucker E. Drug prohibition and public health: 25 years of evidence. Public Health Reports. 1999 Jan;114(1):14.

    23. Pere Martínez Oró D, Apud I, Scuro J, Romaní O. La funcionalidad política de la “ciencia” prohibicionista: El caso del cannabis y los psicodélicos. Salud colectiva. 2020 Sep 14;16:e2493.

    24. Pavarin RM, Rego X, Nostrani E, De Caro E, Biolcati R, Canêdo J, Sanchini S. Differences between subjects with socially integrated drug use: a study in Italy and Portugal. Journal of Substance Use. 2020 Jul 3;25(4):449-55.

    25. International Narcotics Control Board. The report of the international narcotics control board for 2012. Vienna: United Nations Office; 2012. Retrieved 27/3/2019

    26. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). General Comment No. 25 on Science and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 15 (1)(b),(2),(3) and (4) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). Vienna: United Nations; 2020.

    27. The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service. Ayahuasca in Spain: An evaluation of ayahuasca participants using public health indicators. [Internet]. 2020. Retrieved on 4/4/2022.

    Additional References

    • Barbosa, P. C., Mizumoto, S., Bogenschutz, M. P., and Strassman, R. J. 2012. Health status of ayahuasca users. Drug Testing and Analysis, 4(7-8), 601-9.
    • Barbosa, P. C., Strassman, R. J., da Silveira, D. X., Areco, K., Hoy, R., Pommy, J., Thoma, R., and Bogenschutz, M. 2016. Psychological and neuropsychological assessment of regular hoasca users. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 71, 95-105.
    • Lawn, W., Hallak, J. E., Crippa, J. A. et al. (2017). Well-being, problematic alcohol consumption and acute subjective drug effects in past-year ayahuasca users: a large, international, self-selecting online survey. Scientific Reports, 7, 15201.
    • Révész, D., Ona, G., Rossi, G. N., Rocha, J. M., Dos Santos, R. G., Hallak, J., Alcázar-Córcoles, M. Á., and Bouso, J. C. 2021. Cross-sectional associations between lifetime use of psychedelic drugs and psychometric measures during the COVID-19 confinement: A transcultural study. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, 687546.

    Photo by Michele Bitetto on Unsplash.

    Categories: NEWS , Ayahuasca , ADF
    Tags: legality , ayahuasca , Italy , ADF