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Ayahuasca's health-promoting abilities now proven by science


(NaturalNews) For the first time, scientific research is starting to confirm traditional and contemporary claims that ayahuasca can be used to heal psychological and spiritual distress such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Ayahuasca has been used therapeutically, in a broad sense, by the indigenous and mestizo populations of Northwestern Amazonia for centuries," said Brazilian researcher Rafael Guimaraes dos Santos, who recently co-authored a study on ayahuasca in the journal Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria (the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry).

"Moreover, people around the world are searching for ayahuasca rituals to improve their health."

Dramatic, long-lasting results

Ayahuasca is the most common English name and spelling of both the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi and a psychedelic drink made from that vine, typically in combination with other plants such as Psychotria viridis. The additives typically contain the psychotropic chemical DMT, which is made bioactivate by the monoamine oxidase inhibitors found in B. caapi. The name ayahuasca comes from the Quechua language.

Ayahuasca (in both meanings of the term) has a centuries-long history of use by traditional South American shamans, in both religious and healing contexts. In recent decades, Westerners have shown interest in its ability to alter states of mind, sometimes helping people find spiritual insight. More recently, Westerners have begun to explore the plant's traditional healing properties as well.

Until the publication of the Brazilian study in March 2015, nearly all prior scientific research into ayahuasca had consisted of observational field studies, sometimes using neural imaging on people while they were under the effects of the brew. The new study sought to support these preliminary findings with clinical data.

The researchers gave an ayahuasca brew to six volunteers who were suffering from depression that had not responded to pharmaceutical drugs.

"In this small group of patients, we observed fast-acting (starting in minutes/hours) and enduring (until 21 days later) antidepressant and anxiolytic [anxiety-inhibiting] effects associated with the administration of a single ayahuasca dose," Guimaraes dos Santos said, as reported by Vice. "We were surprised to observe this rapid and possibly enduring anti-depressive response with a single dose, and that most volunteers did not experience intense psychedelic effects."

The experiment was designed as a small pilot study, and was hampered by a small study size and lack of a control group. The researchers hope that their findings will secure enough interest to enable larger studies.

One such study, with a sample size of 17, is now underway at the Brain Institute of the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil.

"The idea of testing a substance like ayahuasca to see if it can help with depression is something that needs to be done using objective measures, and using the standardization that comes with a biomedical study," said University of California physician and ayahuasca researcher Brian T. Anderson. He called the Brazilian study an important step forward.

Experiment responsibly

With Western science slow to catch up with traditional knowledge, many people are forging ahead to use ayahuasca on their own. The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education Research & Service (ICEERS) provides extensive advice, including physical and safety guidelines, for people considering that path.

"The motivation for people to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies is very different from the general use of other drugs," said Benjamin De Loenen, executive director of ICEERS. "People aren't seeking a novel experience, the whole seeking of ayahuasca is related to improving their health and life. We try and have all the information available to them, so that they can make responsible decisions."

Among other things, ICEERS recommends finding a reputable group session that pre-screens participants for contraindications to ayahuasca use and offers support afterwards in case traumatic emotions have surfaced. The group also recommends being aware of the legal status of DMT-containing plants in the country you are in (France is the only country that has banned B. caapi specifically, though false arrests by ignorant law enforcement officers have been known to occur).

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