Can Ayahuasca Feed Your Spirit?

Three pairs of hands holding an ethnic-style drinking bowl in unison, with stick-and-ball model of the dimethyltryptamine (DMT) drug molecule in the foreground centre of the image. Image: NaturPhilosophieSpirit Molecule

Scientists found early evidence that Ayahuasca, a ceremonial psychedelic brew used by Amazon tribes for centuries, could help treat eating disorders.

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive plant-based tea originally used by indigenous Amazonian groups for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

A growing body of research points to its promise in the healing of various mental health issues.

A photograph showing the inside of a cooking pot containing green leaves and pods.
A pot containing the ingredients to make Ayahuasca. Source: ABC Australia

Ayahuasca contains the powerful psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

The brew is made from the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi, along with additional plants.  Most commonly, the Psychotria viridis bush are used in the preparation.

B. caapi contains some alkaloids with mild psycho-pharmacological antidepressant effects.

The active compound in P. viridis is the psychoactive alkaloid dimethyltryptamine.

DMT is “the spirit molecule”.


The “Businessman’s Trip”

In 1960s United States, the drug was known as the “businessman’s trip”, granting the user with a full-depth psychedelic experience, in considerably less time compared to substances like LSD or “magic” mushrooms.

Its action has a relatively short duration.  But the effects are intense and have a rapid onset.

DMT can produce vivid mystical experiences, involving feelings of euphoria, hallucinations of geometric shapes, perceptions of a higher intelligence, extraterrestrials, “Machine Elves”.  Even God.

A hallucinogenic experience where the user feels able to “communicate with other intelligent life-forms”.

Although DMT is illegal in most countries, there has been growing interest in its medicinal and therapeutic potential.


Reported Therapeuthic Value

Ayahuasca had previously been studied in the context of addictions.

People who drink ayahuasca experience powerful visions, often mystical or transcendental in nature.  Their minds may interpret these as offering self-revelatory insights leading to positive behavioural changes.

On this occasion, the researchers from Canada wanted to find about ayahuasca’s potential as a therapy for other treatment-resistant disorders, like eating disorders.

The study, “Nourishing the Spirit: Exploratory Research on Ayahuasca Experiences along the Continuum of Recovery from Eating Disorders“, co-authored by clinical psychologists Dr. Adèle Lafrance, Anja Loizaga-Velder, Jenna Fletcher, Marika Renelli, Natasha Files and Kenneth W. Tupper, was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

Dr Lafrance and her team interviewed 16 North Americans who had eating disorders and had consumed ayahuasca in ceremonial contexts.

Ten participants had been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  The other six had been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa.

Eleven of them reported that their experience with ayahuasca led to reductions in eating disorder symptoms.

Most participants reported changes in how they perceived themselves.

Fourteen said that ayahuasca had made them better able to regulate their emotional state, also frequently reporting the drug altered the perception of their physical bodies.


Unexplored Potential

“Under the right circumstances, with the right kind of preparation and aftercare, the ceremonial use of ayahuasca shows promise as a potential adjunct to treatment for eating disorders,” said Lafrance.

However, strong conclusions cannot be drawn from those findings.

The study merely points to the need for more research, and fewer restrictions to carry out such research.

Meantime, before deciding to sport your best shaman hat and trying to contact the spiritual world…

Remember Ayahuasca use is NOT legal.

In fact, it’s a Class A / Schedule I drug.

And even more importantly, it may be entirely inappropriate based on your medical status or history.