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    New Research Indicates Ayahuasca May Support a Healthy Lifestyle

    17.06.2022
    ICEERS | June 17, 2022

    As the interest in ayahuasca expands globally, many questions arise on how to integrate it into communities far away from its place of origin. Ayahuasca, while well known to over 100 Indigenous groups in the Amazon Basin, is new to countries outside of this region. As the globalization of these practices becomes more popularized, governments are often at a loss as to how to address ayahuasca in a public health framework.

    Over the last few decades, research on ayahuasca has expanded beyond the fields of anthropology and ethnobotany. Investigators now apply a scientific lens with the aim of understanding how ayahuasca functions and its impact on human and community health. An angle for research that ICEERS has been exploring is the impact of ayahuasca on public health in countries where it hasn’t been integrated in a particular society.

    According to a newly released study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ayahuasca may help support a healthy lifestyle. The long-term impact investigation was carried out by the Research team at ICEERS, in collaboration with the Autonomous University of Madrid, University Rovira i Virgili, University of São Paulo, and Leiden University. The study assessed 377 participants taking part in ayahuasca ceremonies in the Netherlands.1

    ​​”Research like this is extremely important to provide public health and law enforcement officials with evidence that outlines the actual risks and benefits of ayahuasca,” said Dutch lawyer Adele van der Plas when asked to comment on the significance of the study.

    This paper echoes earlier findings from a 2019 ICEERS study on 380 long-term ayahuasca ceremony participants using health indicators published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Our research found people regularly participating in ayahuasca ceremonies in Spain had considerably better scores for health indicators relating to physical exercise, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure when compared to the national average. Respondents also reported a lower rate of physical limitations and chronic diseases and a reduction in prescription medicines.2

    The aim of this new observational and retrospective study was to evaluate the general health status of people who regularly participate in ayahuasca ceremonies in the Netherlands. This was the first study to use government-established health indicators to assess the well-being of Dutch ayahuasca ceremony participants and any potential benefits or risks. Health indicators help to generate relevant scientific data to develop evidence-based policies. In an era where legislation has yet to catch up with the expansion of ayahuasca internationally, this new paper creates a framework for policymakers to make evidence-based policy decisions on ayahuasca and other plant medicines.

    In the Global North, ample work is done to ensure that various natural remedies are safe for human consumption. In addition, international legislation has commonly categorized Indigenous plants and fungi as “drugs” that pose a potential risk to public health.3 Our study results did not show concerns suggesting that people who regularly engage with ayahuasca are at risk for health problems possibly related to its consumption. In fact, we found the health of ayahuasca ceremony participants is comparable, or better in some aspects, to the national average.

    Health indicators & the complexities of wellness

    Our team collected demographic data of the study participants such as age, gender, nationality, educational level, employment status, and household income. We also included several indicators from the Dutch Health Survey to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked questions about how many total ayahuasca ceremonies the respondents attended, the setting they were in, and subjective effects on the individual’s health.

    Health indicators can be used to incorporate the complexities of well-being and move beyond examining health as being aspects solely happening within the body. As understanding of the multi-dimensional aspects of mental health grows, more focus is being put on social isolation and loss of community connection as primary risk factors. Loneliness and fulfillment in life are examples of abstract, non-biological factors that influence overall health. The presence of long-standing diseases, use of prescription medications, and feelings of loneliness were found to be statistically significant variables linked to less-than-ideal health in our study. A sense of fulfillment in life and strong personal values were aspects leading to higher health indicator scores.

    Health is a complex construct affected by a plethora of factors. These findings suggest that participation in ayahuasca ceremonies is a self-care practice or stress reduction technique that people engage in to live a healthier lifestyle.

    Key findings on long-term ayahuasca ceremony participants

    The current data from the study demonstrated that most ayahuasca ceremony participants (94.7%) reported a good or very good perception of health. They also were more physically active than the general population. Seventy-four percent (74%) of the sample ayahuasca ceremony participants did a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. A normal body mass index was far greater among ayahuasca ceremony participants as compared to normative Dutch data.

    Ayahuasca ceremony participants also ate more vegetables, fruit, and legumes and consumed less meat and grains per week compared to the national average. Respondents were found to use more herbal remedies and less prescription medicines. They also reported a lower incidence of chronic diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure compared to normative data.

    We also found that people who participated in over 100 ceremonies tended to adopt active problem-solving and coping strategies to face stressful situations. Those participating in fewer ceremonies (from three to 10) engaged in avoidant behavior more often. Most respondents disclosed no significant changes regarding the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    There were statistically significant differences regarding alcohol use between those who participated in three to 10 ayahuasca ceremonies versus those participants who participated in more than 100 ceremonies. Participants in 100 or more ceremonies ended up using less alcohol than they did at the beginning of the pandemic.

    Study participants also consumed the same amount of tobacco and heroin compared to the general Dutch population and more cannabis, MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms. These findings correspond with previously published studies indicating that psychedelics, in general, have been suggested to promote positive lifestyle changes.4 Research has also indicated that it is common for people to stop using drugs or reduce use after a psychedelic experience.5

    The data is challenging to interpret since the health indicators used in this study did not show differences in drug-related harms as compared to the general population. Further research to compare these specific parameters is warranted to better understand the impact of ayahuasca on substance use.

    Considerations for future research

    It is important to note that these findings do not claim that better health indicator scores in the study are directly due to ayahuasca. Our conclusion is, rather, that people who regularly attend ayahuasca ceremonies are also engaging in other self-care practices or ways to manage stress that ultimately produce a better health status. As with any study, this research has several limitations and further investigation has to be conducted to learn about the impact ayahuasca might have on health and well-being.

    The hope of this study is to provide public health and law enforcement officials with evidence that outlines the actual risks and benefits of plant medicines, such as ayahuasca. It can also give context to the vast complexity of human health and how it is influenced by many aspects beyond physiological factors. A link to the abstract is available below.

    Link to study

     

    For further evidence-based research and information about ayahuasca

     

    References

    1. Kohek M, Ona G, van Elk M, Dos Santos RG, Hallak JE, Alcázar-Córcoles MÁ, Bouso JC. Ayahuasca and Public Health II: Health Status in a Large Sample of Ayahuasca-Ceremony Participants in the Netherlands. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 2022 May 29:1-2. [Abstract]

    2. 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. [More]

    3. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Legal Framework for Drug Trafficking. Accessed on 10/6/2022.

    4. Teixeira PJ, Johnson MW, Timmermann C, Watts R, Erritzoe D, Douglass H, Kettner H, Carhart-Harris RL. Psychedelics and health behaviour change. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2022 Jan;36(1):12-9.

    5. Garcia-Romeu A, Davis AK, Erowid E, Griffiths RR, Johnson MW. Persisting reductions in cannabis, opioid, and stimulant misuse after naturalistic psychedelic use: An online survey. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2020:955.

     

    Photo by Yukie Emiko on Unsplash.

    Categories: NEWS , Ayahuasca , RESEARCH & INNOVATION
    Tags: public health , ayahuasca , scientific research , Netherlands