Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelics Research 2016
The importance of accepting that we know so very little…
One of our off-site admins attended this international scientific conference on research into psychedelics in Holland, Amsterdam, and came back inspired and full of awe at the data and stories this scientific community have presented. Research into Ayahuasca played a significant role and the results are very promising. Here are some of the speakers and what they researched:
- Benjamin de Loenen, founder and executive office member of ICEERS, the excellent International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research & Service, talked about the opportunities for constructive policy innovation. ICEERS set up the Ayahuasca Defense Fund, which offers legal support to those prosecuted for possession and ingestion of Ayahuasca. Ben’s talk provided insight in the scientific aspects and cultural contextualization of the defense strategies in different Ayahuasca legal cases.
- Adele Lafrance Robinson, clinical psychologist and Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Laurentian University in Canada, presented the promising preliminary data she obtained from a research project into how ceremonial Ayahuasca use can serve as a therapeutic tool for the healing of eating disorders, giving hope to those for whom standard medical treatments have been ineffective.
- David O’Shaughnessy, a PhD candidate from the James Cook University medical school in Townsville, Australia, conducted an observational pilot study at a healing center in Peru for people who cope with long-term addictions. He found that the therapeutic integration of traditional Amazonian and Western techniques indicated an absence of harm and positive therapeutic change for the majority of patients.
- Jordi Riba, who holds a PhD in Pharmacology and leads the Human Neuropsychopharmacology Research Group at San Pau Hospital in Barcelona, presented the recent advances in the study of the neural mechanism and therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca. His conclusions are that Ayahuasca modifies ordinary neural hierarchies, decreases activity of key areas of the default mode network and allows an accepting and detached view of one’s own thoughts and emotions. He argues that these mechanisms may be useful in the treatment of several psychiatric conditions.
- Draulio B. de Araújo, Professor of Neuroimaging at the Brain Institute UFRN in Natal, Brazil, researches the acute, lasting and antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca. He and his team at the UFRN have found that the Default Mode Network in the brain shows decreased activity and functional connectivity changes during and after an Ayahuasca ceremony. This means that destructive thought patterns/loops and behaviors are literally rewired in the brain, allowing for a clean slate. Preliminary evidence in their study on the antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca suggests that the brew is well-tolerated by patients and indicate a significant lasting antidepressant effect after a single dose of Ayahuasca. Enjoy the video of Dr. de Araújo below about his work.
What kept returning in research outcomes is that the set and setting are of paramount importance. The safe use of psychedelics for psychotherapeutic purposes can only be safeguarded when the patient’s set is optimal, which means that he/she has the right mind-set to drink Ayahuasca and feels confident about trying this alternative to Western medicine for the sake of his (mental) health; and the setting, the physical and social environment in which the user has the experience. At Rainforest Healing Center we take the set and setting very seriously. We conduct Skype interviews with our prospective guests to help them set a healing intention and help them prepare for this journey into themselves, which is conducive to having a positive mind-set about the upcoming ceremonies. At the retreat our facilitators have pre- and post-ceremonial conversations with the guests to help them maintain or regain a positive mind-set. Moreover, guest harvest and cook their own medicine, which grows all over our property. This way they can establish an intimate connection with Ayahuasca, which all contributes to a positive mind-set. The setting is in accordance with traditional Amazonian custom: the Maloka, the ceremonial hut, is located in the center of our property and it is considered a sacred space which is only used for ceremonies and other spiritual practices. It is carefully smudged and cleansed by the shaman before the guests arrive. And finally, the shaman’s presence, his icaros, the non-drinking facilitator’s presence and the sounds of the jungle at night provide an encouraging and safe ceremonial setting to drink Ayahuasca.
So the scientific community is starting to discover what shamans have known for centuries: that Ayahuasca is a powerful healing tool for many, and that the brew has even been proved effective for people who have been given up by Western medicine. We are incredibly grateful to the indigenous shamans who have set up and continued the Amazonian tradition of drinking Ayahuasca for healing their communities, and naturally to the spirit of Ayahuasca for helping people heal and transform.