In recent decades international researchers have been exploring the effects of ayahuasca on brain function as well as the potential use of ayahuasca-assisted therapy as a treatment for substance abuse and other disorders. Although preliminary, current research suggests that when administered in therapeutic settings, ayahuasca may help reduce problematic substance use by helping promote personal or spiritual insights or self-knowledge.
The pharmacology of ayahuasca is not completely understood and there are physiological and psychological risks associated with its use. Anyone considering using ayahuasca in a therapeutic, spiritual, or religious context should carefully weigh the risks and benefits, and ensure that medical assistance is available.
Given the potential to decrease the personal suffering and social costs associated with addiction, further research on ayahuasca-assisted addictions treatment is warranted. Clinical trials with people who have had poor outcomes with conventional psychological or pharmacological addiction treatments would help determine which adjunct therapeutic approaches might produce the best outcomes for particular populations, and further our understanding of ayahuascaassisted treatments for problematic substance use.
The retreat team’s work with ayahuasca came to the attention of a rural aboriginal First Nations band in southwestern British Columbia, which invited the team to conduct retreats for community members with substance dependence or other habitual behavioral problems, such as problem gambling. The band’s health office was interested in exploring whether a traditional indigenous practice from South America might help address some of the past trauma and consequent health issues that its community members were experiencing and that Western medical and legal approaches have not been reliably effective at curtailing.