Ayahuasca and Substance Addiction Treatment

Ayahuasca is a mixture of mainly two Amazonian plants: the liana Mariri (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the shrub Chacruna (Psychotria viridis). Several studies have shown its effectiveness in the treatment of substance addiction and other mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Its main active ingredient is N, N-dimethyltryptamine or DMT, which boosts serotonin as effectively as some psychiatric medications such as antidepressants.

Originally used in the Amazon jungle in ritual and shamanic contexts, in recent decades ayahuasca has expanded throughout the world. Thousands of people affirm the importance it has had in their personal or spiritual development, in acquiring deeper knowledge of themselves or healing different physical or psychological problems.

Of particular note is the role that ayahuasca has played in the treatment of substance addiction. The transdisciplinary currents of the sciences (where anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, medicine and neurophysiology converge) have been evaluating for decades the therapeutic capacity of the contextualized use of ayahuasca, discovering its potential to interrupt and improve -- and in some cases dissolve -- pathological states such as depression, anxiety or addiction.

Taking ayahuasca not only helps to detoxify the body, reduce the desire for drug consumption and increase body awareness, it also takes the person beyond his or her usual defense mechanisms, facilitating the discovery of new psychological resources and the emergence of therapeutic insights that become essential in the recovery process. (LOIZAGA-VELDER, 2013)

Where other therapeutic strategies for the treatment of addictions have failed, ayahuasca has often succeeded by inducing deeper levels of self-awareness, allowing the individuals to address not only their addiction, but the problems that underlie it.

Joseph Mª Fericgla, anthropologist and ethnopsychiatrist, affirms that during an ayahuasca experience people get in touch with themselves from a different perspective, from which they observe themselves, re-experience the present and historic contents of their emotions, and open the possibility of framing them with a different meaning. In this way, ayahuasca-assisted therapy favors locating the individual in the present, thereby releasing emotional burdens of the past as well as fears and pressures of the future. It also encourages making contact with one's own emotions in a way that allows that person to recognize and understand them from a new perspective, reconfiguring one’s sense of meaning and purpose. Finally, it helps to integrate pieces of inner conflict that can trap a person in constricting thought patterns -- helping to go beyond narrow obsession and opening the door to interesting glimpses of the mystery of one's own existence, asking questions like who am I? and why am I here? (FERICGLA, 2018)

Accordingly, several studies make clear that, in appropriate contexts, ayahuasca has enormous therapeutic potential, confirming its value in the treatment of addictions since it can have profound and lasting effects. (LOIZAGA-VELDER, 2013)

It is necessary to point out the importance of therapeutic support in an adequate integration of the experience, which has a very important influence on the results of the treatment. The aftercare, contention and sense of community provided play a key role in the recovery (or interruption) of the addiction.

At our addiction treatment and post-ibogaine center in Mexico, we are a small therapeutic community. We receive a maximum of 7 patients at a time, and our staff consists of two doctors, two psychotherapists, a medicine man and medicine women, a nutritionist and a crew of yoga and chi kung instructors, art teachers and body-therapists.

Daily life in the community offers a space for self-observation through the daily tasks that accompany the therapeutic process: preparing breakfast, washing dishes, meeting in the group to integrate our experiences and learnings, sharing songs around the fire, etc.

Our intervention strategy is based on the combination of naturopathic and psychotherapeutic systems with the therapeutic-ceremonial use of ayahuasca. Our goal is not the simple relief of addiction symptoms; through a deep internal exploration, combined with changes to our lifestyle, we identify and break the patterns that have led to substance dependency, achieving a lasting sense of well-being and integrity.

REFERENCES

  • FERICGLA, J.M. (2018). Ayahuasca, La realidad detrás de la realidad. Barcelona: Kairós.

  • LOIZAGA-VELDER, ANJA (2013) A Psychotherapeutic View on the Therapeutic Effects of Ritual Ayahuasca Use in the Treatment of Addiction, MAPS Bulletin Special Edition.

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