Ayahuasca! Maybe you tried it once on your South American backpacking odyssey. The same trip where you had that really good coke and fell in love with a mysterious silent German girl who was, in hindsight, just not very good at speaking English. It’s a sacred ceremonial medicine used by Indigenous Amazonian people that’s high in DMT and therefore induces some pretty heavy hallucinations that have proved “spiritually transformative” for many bored white tourists. Who, according to new research, might actually be benefiting from the experience they’re partaking in solely to brag about back home.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London suggest ayahuasca use improves overall well-being, and can help tackle alcohol abuse and mental health issues such as depression. They formed these suggestions analysing Global Drug Survey data from more than 96,000 people worldwide, which indicated its potential as a psychiatric medicine. The study, published in Nature journal , is thought to be the largest survey of ayahuasca users completed to date.
Users of ayahuasca—which is brewed with the leaves of two Amazonian plants, the psychotria viridis bush and the caapi vine—reported less problematic drinking than classic psychedelic users of LSD and mushrooms. When responding to the online Global Drug Survey, which was advertised through social media, ayahuasca users also reported better overall feelings of well-being than comparable groups.
In an accompanying media release, senior author of the study Celia Morgan said the results were encouraging. "In this work, long-term ayahuasca use has not been found to impact on cognitive ability, produce addiction or worsen mental health problems,” she commented.“In fact, some of these observational studies suggest that ayahuasca use is associated with less problematic alcohol and drug use, and better mental health and cognitive functioning."
It’s worth noting though that the whole ayahuasca spiritquest thing isn’t always pleasant. With its acute effects lasting six hours or longer, it’s much more intense than LSD or mushrooms, and many respondents indicated as such. The survey data also showed a higher incidence of lifetime mental illness diagnoses among ayahuasca users, especially in countries without a tradition of ayahuasca use—aka people who have no idea what they’re doing.
"If ayahuasca is to represent an important treatment, it is critical that its short and long-term effects are investigated, and safety established,” Morgan said.
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