Study Finds Hallucinogenic Ayahuasca Tea Trip Matches That of Placebo
About ten years ago, interest in hallucinogenic ayahuasca tea attracted thousands of European and North American tourists to South America, all looking for a trip in the high Andes or steamy Amazon. This traditional indigenous brew is prepared with several plant types and many users have reported intense mental transformations and psychological healing in the months after consumption.
Psilocybin, better known as “magic” mushrooms, have recently been revealed as a powerful tool in the healing of the traumatized mind. Now, ayahuasca struggles under the same pre-legalization darkness as did the mushrooms. A new study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, suggests that suggests the ritual consumption of ayahuasca tea produces only slightly stronger effects than a sugary placebo. Whether you agree with the results of this new study or not, it is revolutionary to even see such an experiment taking place under formal scientific conditions.
Ayahuasca tea is made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, a sample of which is shown above. Prepared as a tea it causes hallucinations and used in traditional ritual ceremonies in South America. ( Eskymaks / Adobe Stock)
Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Depression with Ayahuasca Tea
The new study was conducted by Professor Malin Uthaug and a team of researchers in the Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. In conclusion, the paper claims that people who underwent the ayahuasca tea ritual reported positive effects including reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. However, the study also found that the participants who took a placebo experienced many of the same effects as those who consumed the real ayahuasca tea.
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Those of you who have travelled to South America and have undertaken an ayahuasca ritual proper (not one with a shaman wearing dirty jeans), will already be laughing at the findings of this new paper. You all know that in the raw jungle setting, with a traditional shaman whistling you through the night, you embark on an unexplainable psychedelic trip that in its darkest moments is governed by imprints and apparent interactions with a dark female serpent figure - the so-called mistress of ayahuasca. Nevertheless, while it might sound like it, Professor Uthang wasn’t out to get ayahuasca. Quite the opposite.
Making ayahuasca tea in Iquitos in Pery. (Apollo / CC BY 2.0 )
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
The reason Professor Uthang undertook the study was because she noticed ayahuasca tea “quickly moving from a spiritual hallucinogenic ritual used by Amazon tribes to a tourist attraction at ayahuasca retreat centers.” The researcher wanted to study the effects of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and β-carboline alkaloids in a controlled setting, and to monitor the achieved altered states of consciousness in “pseudo-ritualistic settings under the watch of facilitators,” explained Mysterious Universe .
Across six ayahuasca retreat centers in the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany, the study brought together 30 participants, 12 men and 18 women. Ayahuasca tea was given to 14 people and a placebo to 16. Psychological assessments were made before and after ayahuasca consumption measuring levels of “empathy, ego dissolution, depression, anxiety, stress, and altered states of consciousness,” according to the paper.
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The researchers say the results of the ayahuasca tea study “were surprising.” After the ceremony, baseline symptoms in stress, anxiety, and depression were reduced in both groups. Furthermore, those who received the drug had more empathy after the ceremony “independent of treatment.”
Ayahuasca ceremony in Peru. (Jaime Torres - Takiwasi / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
You Can’t Take the Tea from the Jungle
When leaders of psychedelic research research review the results of this ayahuasca study, some will be content that a study of this kind has reached the mainstream. Some, however, will be equally frustrated. Not only were the dosages given in the experiment much lower than those normally used in traditional ceremonies, but all of the participants were experienced ayahuasca users knowing what changes to expect. This means that within an hour of taking the drink, the placebo group would all have known they had not been administered ayahuasca tea, which is reportedly unavoidable, to say the very least.
Those who have drunk the sacred ayahuasca tea in the jungle will all rest assured, understanding that you can’t possibly take the tea out of the jungle and study it. However, if this all takes off, we might soon see a new type of “holiday” – a kind of New Age non-ayahuasca experience - akin to going to the Munich Beer Festival to enjoy a stiff non-alcoholic beer.
Top image: Study finds effects of ayahuasca tea match that of placebo. Source: agsandrew / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie