Ayahuasca, the potent entheogenic brew from the Amazon Basin, is often consumed as a tool for healing and emotional growth. The name ayahuasca comes from the indigenous Quechua language and translates as “ancestor vine,” “spirit vine,” or “vine of the soul”—perhaps for a very good reason. According to a new study, the compounds in ayahuasca’s traditional preparation—when used under the guidance of a skilled healer known as a curandera or curandero—may help people cultivate acceptance and mindfulness in the aftermath of a loved one’s death.
The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service (ICEERS) published a study in collaboration with the Beckley Foundation on January 14th finding that ayahuasca ceremony participants experienced significant improvements in their grief symptoms. The severity of grief improved in some way for 92 percent of ceremony participants: Some people experienced profound relief that lasted for at least the full year of the study, while others experienced more moderate—but noticeable—relief from their suffering.
Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca in Grief: A Prospective, Observational Study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, looked at 50 adults who were experiencing grief resulting from the loss of a loved one. Grief symptoms include shock, sadness, anger or bitterness, mistrust, feeling a lack of meaning, and diminished sense of self-worth. Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) affects about one in ten adults who experience the loss of a loved one and is defined by intense emotional distress for at least six months. Because it can negatively affect a person’s work and social life, PGD sometimes looks similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
DoubleBlind presents: How to grow mushrooms online course. Let's Shroom!
Read: The Ayahuasca Privilege
Participants in the study responded to a number of assessments for emotional wellbeing and grief symptoms, both prior to the retreat, and afterwards at intervals of two weeks, three months, six months, and 12 months. About 30 percent had previous experience with the psychoactive compounds found in ayahuasca, and all participants took part in four to nine healing ceremonies with indigenous healers at the Temple of the Way of Light in Iquitos, Peru.
While consuming ayahuasca, participants reported a few different kinds of experiences that helped lessen grief. In their altered states, some people welcomed a flood of memories of the deceased while others later described re-encountering—and interacting in some way with— that person. In many cases, participants acknowledged ayahuasca’s help in accepting the reality of the death, while consciously deciding to move forward.
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is made from the leaves of a shrub called Psychotria viridis and the stalks or stems of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. P viridis contains the psychedelic substance, N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), while B caapi provides monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors—present in certain antidepressants—that helps DMT remain in the body longer and also produces its own psychoactive effects.
After a period of purging, many who consume ayahuasca experience some combination of euphoria, visual and auditory hallucinations, and emotional or spiritual insights. Ayahuasca, which has been previously studied for its role in helping people with addiction, depression, PTSD, and anxiety, increases activity in regions of the brain associated with mood regulation and emotions. Ayahuasca is also known to stimulate and protect brain cells, thereby enhancing memory and a person’s capacity for mindfulness.
DoubleBlind's newest course: Using Psychedelics for Growth.
In this study, researchers found that mindfulness (what they refer to as “decentering,” or the ability to nonjudgmentally observe one’s thoughts and feelings), along with greater acceptance of their losses, together contributed to participants’ relief.
The researchers admit certain limitations to the study, given its “naturalistic” setting lacking in placebo-controlled groups. The scientists’ role was to observe and interpret data—not to administer ayahuasca to participants; thus, the concentration of psychoactive compounds may have varied between ceremonies and between participants. Still, the results of the study speak clearly; ayahuasca may hold profound healing potential for those suffering from loss.
Danielle Simone Brand writes about cannabis and parenting—and their occasional overlaps. Her book, Stoned While Momming, is slated for publication in December 2020.
Illustration by Wyeth, N. C. (Newell Convers
Save money and time with DoubleBlind's how to grow shrooms course. Let's Shroom!
We have a small favor to ask. In 2020, more than five million readers like you visited DoubleBlind’s website. Many of them are suffering and simply seeking trusted information on how to use psychedelics to heal.
We started DoubleBlind two years ago at a time when even the largest magazines and media companies were cutting staff and going out of business. Friends and family said we were crazy. But we did it anyway, because we believe in it—deeply. We believe in the value of good journalism. And we believe in the extraordinary potential of psychedelics to reduce suffering. At the time we made a commitment: we will never have a paywall, we will never rely on advertisers we don’t believe in to fund our reporting, and we will always be accessible via email and social media to support people for free on their journeys with plant medicines.
To help us do this, if you feel called and can afford it, we ask you to consider making a monthly donation to DoubleBlind, starting at $1. In exchange, you’ll be invited to a monthly Zoom call with DoubleBlind’s co-founders, Shelby Hartman and Madison Margolin, where they’ll answer any questions you have about the psychedelic movement or your own journey with psychedelics. These Zoom calls also include special guests, some of the people who we love and respect most in the psychedelic space. Together, we brainstorm, collaborate, dialogue, and, simply, commune. Either way, please know that we value you as a member of our community. Make a gift now from as little as $1. Thank you.