What can be cured with ayahuasca

Therapy with psychedelic drugs? : Hallucinated self-healing

The shaman called for Brandenburg. All those who expect “healing, inner development and personal growth” from a weekend on drugs. One after the other will arrive with a sleeping mat and sleeping bag. And a bucket. They'll need that too. The brew from South American plants that the shaman will instill in them will not only give them hallucinations. Again and again they will fill their buckets chokingly - a side effect of the psychedelic drug ayahuasca. For the shaman, on the other hand, it is an important part of the ancient ritual for “internal cleansing”, for which each of the pilgrims pays up to 1000 euros.

Drug cure? The idea sounds absurd. But researchers see some psychedelic substances as having medical potential for treating depression, anxiety or alcohol addiction. But how exactly LSD, mescaline or ayahuasca can help against mental illness has hardly been investigated for 50 years. Since LSD was outlawed internationally, psychedelics research has fallen into a deep slumber. Science left a whole field of potential active ingredients fallow - and left it to self-proclaimed miracle healers and their potions. In Berlin and Brandenburg, this includes Ayahuasca more and more often.

Hallucinations for four to six hours

The plant stock is brewed from the leaves of the coffee bush Psychotria viridis and the bark of the liana species Banisteriopsis caapi. Hallucinations start thirty minutes after drinking the tea and usually last four to six hours. The “travelers” hear every sound more intensely, seem to look down on themselves and have visions.

The hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT) contained in the leaves is responsible for this. In fact, gastric enzymes break up the DMT before it gets into the blood. But substances from the liana (harmine and harmaline) stop these gastric enzymes and thus enable the intoxication.

Ayahuasca works mainly in the brain. Like LSD and psilocybin, it is a psychedelic drug. They work in a similar way to the body's own messenger substance serotonin. While LSD made history for the hippie movement because of its euphoric effect as a feel-good drug, ayahuasca has a calming effect. “The typical ayahuasca user is at least thirty years old and interested in spirituality, introspection and psychotherapy - not exactly the average nightclub-goer,” says Henrik Jungaberle. The 49-year-old heads the Finder Institute for Prevention Research, founded in Berlin in 2013, and also deals with drugs such as ayahuasca. During an eleven-year research project on the use and abuse of psychoactive substances at the University of Heidelberg, he even went to South America for field studies.

Some quit their jobs after ayahuasca, others end the relationship

The "tendril of souls", which means ayahuasca in the Quechua language of South American peoples, has been used in religious rituals in the Amazon region for centuries. It evokes a changed state of consciousness, which is supposed to bring you closer to gods and ancestors and to alleviate illnesses and mental suffering.

In Europe, too, people have been using Ayahuasca for some time and are hoping for so-called “retreats” to gain self-knowledge and alleviate their depression or fears. "They live through long-forgotten episodes from their childhood and look like spectators at their own body and mind," says Jungaberle. These expansions of consciousness are sometimes so intense that they result in life-changing decisions. Some quit their jobs, others end their relationship. “Many have the experience, under the influence of ayahuasca, to be able to recognize what is really important in life,” says Jungaberle.

However: The active ingredient DMT contained in the brew is "not marketable" according to the Narcotics Act. This means that any use of ayahuasca for consumption purposes is generally punishable. Nevertheless, some “shamans” openly advertise their ceremonies on the Internet. “They are usually led by psychotherapists or self-proclaimed neo-shamans,” says Jungaberle. "These include non-medical practitioners without in-depth medical knowledge."

Cramps, sweating, nausea

The health price that the consumption of ayahuasca demands is not mentioned on the internet with a single word. Anyone who drinks the bitter, brownish brew has to vomit violently every 40 to 60 minutes. Another interaction is rare, but more dangerous: Anyone who has to take medication for depression on a regular basis may be threatened with a “serotonin syndrome”. The body's own messenger substance floods the brain and triggers reactions such as cramps, sweating and nausea. Under certain circumstances this can even lead to death.

Ayahuasca, like all psychedelics, is not addictive. "But people with a corresponding predisposition can develop a psychosis," warns Jungaberle. With this mental disorder, the person affected can permanently lose touch with reality. In Jungaberle's field study, 3.4 percent of ayahuasca users had at least one psychotic episode. If people are left alone in such a condition, they run the risk of harming themselves. Since up to 50 people take part in the retreats, according to Jungaberle there is absolutely no time for the individual.

Psychotherapy instead of Ayahuasca ceremonies

Nobody knows exactly how many people in Germany drink Ayahuasca. Jungaberle estimates that several thousand people in Berlin now use the drug now and then. The head of the Berlin Addiction Prevention Center, Kerstin Jüngling, cannot confirm this number. "So far, we have only received two inquiries about ayahuasca," she says. Nonetheless, even the youth advises great caution: “The danger lies in the psychedelic effect of what one believes to be able to do in this state. And whether the soul recovers from the experience. ”Instead of uncontrolled ayahuasca ceremonies, there are well-established and scientifically accepted methods of psychotherapy against anxiety and depression.

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