Ayahuasca : Can psychotropic drugs play a role in spiritual recovery from addiction?

Ritualized use of psychotropic drugs has healed people in South American rainforests for generations. Should a shaman guide help addicts today as they trip their way to discover their spiritual connection to the life that surrounds them? Can ayahuasca indeed aid in the treatment of addiction?

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The use of ayahuasca as practical and spiritual medicine South America is well documented in anthropological, pharmacokinetic, pharmacological and clinical psychological studies.  National Geographic even got in on the ayahuasca adventure in March of 2006.  In fact, the use of plants (specifically those which trigger a psychedelic response) to both diagnose and heal ailments is neither strange nor extraordinary across the globe.  Ayahuasca works to both purge the body and induce heightened states of awareness.Many anecdotal descriptions of the effect of drinking an ayahuasca brew contain similar elements:  participants report feelings of openness, unity, expansion and awareness of both suffering and compassion.  Alex Grey, artist and visionary, describes his ayahuasca experience as, “feeling my mind expand and extend throughout the whole web of life … and expansion of interconnectedness with everything.”  Indeed, people taking ayahuasca can experience remarkable physical healings and resolutions of psychological difficulties that no psychotherapy, SSRI or psychiatric session can produce.

During recent decades, Westerners have teamed up with shamans in rainforest regions to prepare and administer ayahuasca, which is made primarily from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.  In fact, many hope that ayahuasca can relieve or cure opiate addiction, alcoholism, substance abuse or any range of behavioral and mental disorders.  Believers in this method have even formed a government recognized health rehab center for addicts – Takiwasi – based in Peru.

But should clinics, individuals and groups be using psychotropic drugs to treat addiction to drugs?  The irony is rather clear, eh?  The main chemical in the brew, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is said to be non-addictive.  And most interesting, ayahuasca might actually increase the number of serotonin receptors on nerve cells, a much more sophisticated and natural way of absorbing serotonin already in the body instead of boosting the chemical via anti-depressants..

My position on this is that there is a treatment modality for everyone. I believe that addiction is, at root, a spiritual quest to connect with the Mystery of Life … and that redirecting the desire to connect with a higher power via psychotropic natural plants in a structured and meaningful environment can be helpful …but it’s not for me.   A guide at my treatment center put it like this — why take an elevator when you can take the stairs?

I DO think that traditional and ritualistic healing has a place in modern treatment of addiction.  However, going totally 100% clean in my recovery has led me to connect with a spiritual center over time, and in daily practice.

What do you think?  Are the people at Takiwasi on point?  Or crazy?  Should ayahuasca be administered to addicts?  And who are you to say so?

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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