People who seek to get rid of trauma, depression, anxiety and cystic pains look for a way out in this. But is it really possible and safe to ‘cure’ yourself with this ritual? As in other matters concerning the opening of the mind to another dimension, the New Age put ayahuasca on the map.
Musicians such as The Beatles, Paul Simon or Sting, literary men with a dreamlike imagination such as William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (who exchanged letters in their search for ayahuasca in South America) have recorded the revealing effects of this drink.
Drink because it is a preparation, an infusion of Amazonian plants, specifically Banisteriopsis caapi and leaves of the chacruna bush, Psychotria viridis. The active principle in Psychotria viridis is a natural substance called DMT or N-dimethyltryptamine, which is usually neutralized by stomach fluids, except when it is mixed with Banisteriopsis caapi. Thus, there is no ayahuasca if we do not have both plants.
This tea is central in shamanic rituals practiced in several Latin American countries, it is said in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia or Brazil, and is used by healers to purify the sick and observe what can cause the ailment on a spiritual level. With the guidance of the shaman, the participants enter a trance of psychedelic visions and also suffer from diarrhea and vomiting. This completes the aforementioned debugging; not in vain, the natives call this ritual “the purge”: ayahuasca cleanses mind and body to refresh it and be reborn to a new perception.
This rebirth, along with the curiosity to experience the ritual, increasingly attracts Western men and women. People looking to get rid of trauma, depression, anxiety, addiction, or deep-seated pain to begin with.
The growing fashion, which has its detractors and its discreet followers among psychologists and therapists who recommend it to their patients has alerted the institutions. The bottom line is whether it is considered a recreational drug or whether it can have scientific / therapeutic purposes.
The biomedical crusade
As in the case of cannabis and other plants with effects on brain connections, Psychotherapy studies ayahuasca and its possible benefits for the treatment of mental / emotional problems. Its defenders do not classify it as a “miracle cure”, but rather use it – like shamans – to work with the unconscious processes that the individual shows under the influence of the infusion.
For this reason, these sessions must be carried out with experts (shamans) and accompanied by trusted people, such as a psychotherapist, if what is being pursued is this therapeutic journey.
In Costa Rica, ayahuasca is indicated to reduce anxiety and balance the nervous system due to its relaxing effect. In this sense, it is spoken of as a treatment for addictions, depression and post-traumatic stress. The proven results of ayahuasca as a biomedicine have led many experts to investigate.
Charles Grob revealed in the framework of the Hoasca Project, in 1993, that indigenous adolescents who consumed ayahuasca had 7 times less addiction to substances, depression, anxiety, body image disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than adolescents of the cities studied.
In 2016, one of the most interesting studies in this regard is Exploring the therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca: continuous intake increases the capacities related to mindfulness of Jordi Riba, doctor in Pharmacology and head of the Neuropharmacology group at the Hospital Sant Pau de Barcelona, and other international authors.
In this and other research by these specialists, people with depression who had not responded to other treatments got better. The authors compare the effects of ayahuasca with those of meditation. According to studies, the consumption of ayahuasca helps focus, self-control and work optimism.
Expand awareness: positive or negative?
As for any remedy, there are contraindications in taking this drink. People with significant psychological or psychiatric problems, from borderline personality disorder, dissociative to psychosis, and with physical conditions that collide with a purge (diabetes, sclerosis, severe digestive ailments, pregnancy, etc.) are perfect targets for unwanted side effects, including death or worsening of mental illness.
When taking the potion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may appear, and intense reactions of fear, clear memories, gratitude and personal acceptance, or also paranoia, anxiety and agitation. The idea is to alter consciousness to open the mind and move into a state of relaxation and a sense of freedom.
Researchers have determined that this openness is related to the activity of ayahuasca on the neocortex, the amygdala and the insula, responsible for perception, motor functions and emotional management. Changes in the brain can disconnect previous emotional memories to make way for new ones, without filters, which means that the person does not judge and is more open to these changes.
However, the same researchers performed memory tests on regular and occasional users of ayahuasca, and they found that the drink impaired memory, while the reaction to stimuli was faster.
Science continues to compare processes to support or question what some call drugs and others call millennial therapy, and that in any case, always teaches another dimension.