Is Ayahuasca Helping Depression or Poverty?

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Studies on the effects of Amazonian hallucinogen ayahuasca are still in the early stages but show promise in treating depression. But is this helping local Peruvians?

The hype around ayahuasca continues to circulate and attract tourists to Peru, particularly to the city of Iquitos and surrounding areas in the northeast part of the country.

For those unfamiliar, ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic drug used in traditional indigenous rituals in the Peruvian Amazon.

New research from a Brazilian Federal University Rio Grande do Norte reports that of 17 people tested, two-thirds of them dropped from severe to mild depression in the long-term. The placebo group only showed improvement for a week after “treatment” and then returned to severe depression levels.

A link to the original study can be found here.

There have been other studies and thousands of anecdotes that indicate the possibility of ayahuasca as an effective treatment for depression. Actress Lindsay Lohan has openly admitted that it changed her life and allowed her to leave her past behind her.

However, some worry that ayahuasca could be the next cocaine. As demand increases in country’s where the drug is still illegal, a world of trafficking rewards may be open to those willing to take the risk.

There is also the question of whether the hype is actually benefiting the local indigenous communities for whom the plant is tradition.

As it becomes commercialized for clinical, or worse, entertainment purposes, the original reverence and respect for the plant is lost.

This lack of cultural understanding has resulted in deaths and accidents for tourists who do not take the drug seriously. Related to these accidents is a growing number of “pseudo-shamans.” These can be foreigners or locals who seek to profit off the trend, but at heart they do not understand the cultural context of ayahuasca or its dangers.

Local indigenous Peruvians are reportedly unhappy with this trend, as it reduces both the credibility and profitability of the drug while disrespecting their traditions.

For more on ayahuasca, check out this recent article from Indian Country.

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Mike Dreckschmidt

Mike grew up and eventually attended university in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He graduated in Integrative Leadership Studies with an emphasis in Urban and Regional Planning and has been a part of planning projects in three different countries. Mike’s passion is reading; he devours both literature and nonfiction. His favorite author is Peru’s own Julio Ramón Ribeyro.