Is Ayahuasca safe? Ask the researcher

Recently, researchers from the University of Melbourne shared a study analyzed the adverse effects reported by users of the hallucinogenic tea, ayahuasca. The research, Posted in PLOS Global Public Health is potentially the largest source of data on ayahuasca adverse effects to date. He found that ayahuasca has noticeable – but rarely serious – side effects on the mental and physical health of users; data that has important implications for global public health given the rise in the number of ayahuasca users.

Dr. Daniel Perkins, director of the Global Ayahuasca Project, is one of the study’s co-authors. His research aims to improve our understanding of why people drink ayahuasca, its reported effects on health and well-being, and associated risks. In this interview, Dr. Perkins spoke with Technology networks to provide context on the latest research study and next steps for the research group.

Molly Campbell (MC): What inspired you to conduct this study?

Daniel Perkins (DP): This is the fourth article to be published from our global ayahuasca dataset. The first three, listed below, have identified significant benefits related to reduced alcohol and drug use, improvement in diagnosed depression and anxiety disorders, and improved well-being and mental health in people without diagnosed disorders. For this study, we wanted to take a closer look at the potential side effects that may also be associated with consumption.

Previous research on ayahuasca consumption

MC: For readers who may not be familiar, why is ayahuasca being explored for purposes of mental health and personal/spiritual growth?

DP: Ayahuasca has grown rapidly in popularity over the past 15 years as a therapeutic tool for treating mental health issues, as well as for personal growth and spiritual purposes. Large numbers of Western tourists travel to South America to participate in ceremonies and others participate via clandestine ceremonies facilitated in alternative healing and spirituality settings in Western countries. At the same time, a growing number of research studies are reporting encouraging results regarding ayahuasca consumption and mental health and addiction outcomes.

MC: Why do you think few studies have analyzed the potential adverse effects of ayahuasca?

DP: Most studies have sought to understand the overall effects on mental health and well-being, whether positive or negative, and have found them to be overwhelmingly positive. However, this does not mean that the therapeutic process is easy or without side effects. We collected unique data that gave us a better understanding of this issue and noted that of the ~90% of respondents identifying mental health side effects, they felt these were part of a growing process. positive.

MC: Can you talk about the factors that seem to predispose people to adverse physical events?

DP: Adverse physical health effects were more likely to occur in people who were older at the time of first ayahuasca use, those who had a physical health condition, people who had higher ayahuasca use in in their lifetime or in the previous year, those with previous substance use disorders and in an unsupervised setting (where expert support and safety are less likely to be present).

MC: Are there any limitations at work that need to be taken into account?

DP: The strengths of our study are the very large sample of drinkers in multiple drinking contexts. However, limitations to note include self-report measures, many of which were analyzed retrospectively, and potential self-selection bias.

MC: Do you have any other plans to advance your work in this space?

DP: A better understanding of the potential medical applications of ayahuasca-inspired medicines requires well-controlled clinical studies. Our research group, including myself and a key collaborator, Professor Jerome Sarris, received $2 million in funding from the Australian Government (NHMRC-MRFF program) for a phase II randomized controlled trial of use of an ayahuasca-inspired product for treatment-resistant depression and alcohol use disorder. It will start next year. We are also continuing to research the effects on mental health and well-being achieved by participants in traditional settings.

Professor Sarris and I are also co-directors of a non-profit research organization Psychae Institute, which aims to advance botanical psychedelics as registered medical treatments.

Dr. Daniel Perkins was talking to Molly Campbell, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.

Is Ayahuasca safe? Ask the researcher

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