Studying Ayahuasca Treatments for Addiction

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Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings. Hallucinogens have been discussed and studied as possible treatments for various mental health disorders for over 100 years, possibly even thousands, as Hallucinogens were used in several Pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas, as well as many historic civilizations in other parts of the world. Evidence for real efficacy of hallucinogens in treating medical problems may have been mostly just rumors at one time, but we now have many modern studies that have explored hallucinogens as treatments for a wide range of maladies. While we will discuss the possible uses of drugs like Ayahuasca for treating mental health disorders, we should note that a primary drawback for many people has been the traditional category that many hallucinogens fall into. Because Ayahuasca, Psilocybin, and LSD have traditionally been considered recreational/illegal drugs in the past, there is a steep acceptance curve to overcome when it comes to convincing the general public that hallucinogenic drugs could have very legitimate medical uses. Before we get started, I should just say that if you or a loved one needs the best drug and alcohol rehab in Florida, please call us today for more information on Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center in Panama City.

Trading One Drug for Another

One of the main uses that has been discussed and studied for Ayahuasca and other hallucinogens is the treatment of addiction, or substance use disorders. However, when treating people for addiction there is an added challenge. The traditional view in western culture of hallucinogens as hard drugs makes their use in treating substance use disorders particularly controversial for many people. In the early 1990s, the D.A.R.E. program, a drug educational program present in many elementary and middle schools, included a curriculum that grouped hallucinogens in a similar category to heroin and cocaine. All those drugs were discussed as having no positive value, but certainly that was truer of some substances than others. However, drugs including LSD, MDMA, and Psilocybin have been studied in the higher levels of academia and in the Psychology and Psychiatry fields for many years. Although causality is hard to pinpoint in many scientific studies, it has often been found that hallucinogens can improve outcomes for people with mental health challenges, and those improved outcomes have been experienced by patients battling substance abuse and addiction.

Positive Outcomes from Ayahuasca

In just the last several years more than 20 published scientific studies have looked at Ayahuasca as a treatment for drug addiction and alcoholism. Studies in rodents reported reductions in amphetamine use and anxiety. Observational studies among healthy human ritual ayahuasca users and patients with addiction reported reductions in drug use, anxiety, and depression, and increases in quality of life and well-being. One large review of these studies replicated the findings of the previous reviews suggesting that ayahuasca and its alkaloids have therapeutic effects in the treatment of substance abuse. There is however a lack of standardization on ayahuasca doses, and causality is hard to determine, meaning it is impossible to prove that Ayahuasca explains all the positive results found in the research. Although promising, randomized, controlled trials are needed to better elucidate these results.

However, with so many of these studies appearing to show promising results, why are human hallucinogen studies for treating addiction not more common? There are likely various reasons, possibly rooted in the age-old problem of stigma. The field of Psychology has long found very positive results when looking at MDMA as a therapy enhancement and communication enhancement within couples and individual therapy. MDMA is still almost completely absent from mainstream therapy practices around the country. Similarly, public acceptance for using once-reviled “recreational” drugs to treat diseases has been extremely slow to take hold in the United States. Unlike MDMA and LSD however, Ayahuasca’s main cultural connotations involve native people’s use of Ayahuasca as a part of religious ceremonies. That viewpoint may make Ayahuasca a better candidate for further study when compared to drugs that have a history of being sold illegally on the street, which MDMA and LSD both have been while Ayahuasca has not

Besides the promising results regarding drug use, Ayahuasca has also shown the potential to treat depression and anxiety symptoms. Depression and anxiety often occur alongside addiction, but all these ailments have become widespread and debilitating for many people in recent years, and any new breakthrough for the treatment of depression and anxiety would be just as welcome as a new treatment for substance use disorder. These mental health disorders that Ayahuasca may effectively treat have become the leading cause of death for young people of the last decade. As a society, we cannot continue to ignore any possible solutions to these deadly issues, and stigma should never again stand in the way of progress in fighting the addiction epidemic. While I cannot speak to whether Ayahuasca will ultimately be of value in treating addiction on a larger scale, I can say that positive scientific study results should be enough to warrant more research, regardless of any discomfort around Ayahuasca as a medicine.

By T.A. Cannon



“Effects of ayahuasca and its alkaloids on substance use disorders: an updated (2016-2020) systematic review of preclinical and human studies.” University of Sao Paolo. 2021.