Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ayahuasca Hype

It seems to me that the consumption of Ayahuasca (as opposed to any number of other major psychedelics), along with the business of Ayahuasca tourism, has been way over-hyped.

There are people who might never touch something like mushrooms (or anything else) who somehow become convinced that Ayahuasca has magic healing powers, and they set out on an expensive trip to the Amazon.

I want to say that it may be that Ayahuasca might eventually test out as something particularly useful.  But the main point is that I think it wouldn't be too surprising if Ayahuasca doesn't end up particularly standing out from the pack of other psychedelics.

I think there are a number of things that may contribute to the actual or perceived effect of the Ayahuasca experience:

  • It's A Psychedelic Drug - We already know that the psychedelic family of drugs has great potential for psychological healing, going back to the early studies on LSD and continuing with recent studies on MDMA and psilocybin.  The fact that a drug in this class may have similar properties should be completely unsurprising.
  • It's Kind Of Legal - It's kind of in a legal limbo of sorts internationally, which I suspect may change pretty soon.  The practice is legal in Brazil within the framework of religious use.
  • Massive Commitment - I suspect that people making a large commitment of money and time for an authentic Ayahuasca experience, and such a sacrifice of personal comfort, might well be more predisposed to making some changes in their life, and more willing to see things in a different light.  In the aftermath of an experience, they might well be disposed to reflect on it in a positive light to justify it.
  • Ceremonial Aspect - Similar to the point on commitment, the use of a Shaman or spiritual guru type within a magical framework, an ancient "back to the earth" type ceremony, may be something that certain people are looking for and derive meaning from.
  • Purging - Many clearly view this as a literal purging of toxins, both physical and psychological, a kind of casting out of demons.  I think it is pretty straightforward that the body is reacting to chemicals.  Notice that there are psychedelics available that don't typically cause you to get sick.
  • Exotic location - A literal physical escape from one's normal life and an encounter with perhaps a more simple, earth based culture.  Even a normal vacation can help reset people.
  • Massive visuals - I'm not sure that Ayahuasca is the most visual of psychedelics, but if it isn't, it is probably right up there.  The visuals "give" something to the participants, they may feel as if something is actually being done, something magical, even.  They are taken on a journey.  It may be that in some cases the visions do speak to the participants, allowing some unconscious material to be revealed in a useful way.  But other psychedelics do this as well.
Not all of the above points are necessarily bad or problematic.  And there may be quite a lot to the Ayahuasca experience chemically.  There are a number of chemicals in the caapi vine, for example.  But then again people get very similar effects from the raw chemicals of DMT and an MAO inhibitor.

I don't necessarily want to discount the Ayahuasca experience.  But rather to point out that there may well be nothing special here, that the same results might be achieved perhaps even more reliably and safely with substances that say, don't tend to cause people to puke and shit their guts out.

I think it points to the possibility of centers around the world that offer a therapeutically based psychedelic vacation experience.  Perhaps with trained psychologists or trip sitters on hand rather than a shaman.  A certain amount of ceremony could be used, similar to the way the Johns Hopkins study participants receive the psilocybin in a chalice.  I am not sure of the legality, but it would seem such a thing could exist in Amsterdam, if it already doesn't.

In my life, I have had a couple of acquaintances go down and do the authentic Ayahuasca thing.  It's too small a sample, but both had negative experiences and reported being dosed too high.  With one woman, the "shaman" told her the next day that he "felt" she should be given a double dose.  Clearly the shaman's ancient wisdom failed.  Perhaps we could move on to some more modern wisdom.

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