Arquivo da tag: Ayahuasca

Psychedelic drug ayahuasca improves hard-to-treat depression (New Scientist)

DAILY NEWS 14 April 2017

Woman drinks mixture containing ayahuasca

From shamanistic ritual to medical treatment? Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images

It tastes foul and makes people vomit. But ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction that has been drunk in South America for centuries in religious rituals, may help people with depression that is resistant to antidepressants.

Tourists are increasingly trying ayahuasca during holidays to countries such as Brazil and Peru, where the psychedelic drug is legal. Now the world’s first randomised clinical trial of ayahuasca for treating depression has found that it can rapidly improve mood.

The trial, which took place in Brazil, involved administering a single dose to 14 people with treatment-resistant depression, while 15 people with the same condition received a placebo drink.

A week later, those given ayahuasca showed dramatic improvements, with their mood shifting from severe to mild on a standard scale of depression. “The main evidence is that the antidepressant effect of ayahuasca is superior to the placebo effect,” says Dráulio de Araújo of the Brain Institute at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, who led the trial.

Bitter brew

Shamans traditionally prepare the bitter, deep-brown brew of ayahuasca using two plants native to South America. The first, Psychotria viridis, is packed with the mind-altering compound dimetheyltryptamine (DMT). The second, the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), contains substances that stop DMT from being broken down before it crosses the gut and reaches the brain.

To fool placebo recipients into thinking they were getting the real thing, de Araújo and his team concocted an equally foul tasting brown-coloured drink. They also carefully selected participants who had never tried ayahuasca or other psychedelic drugs before.

A day before their dose, the participants filled in standard questionnaires to rate their depression. The next day, they spent 8 hours in a quiet, supervised environment, where they received either the placebo or the potion, which produces hallucinogenic effects for around 4 hours. They then repeated filling in the questionnaires one, two and seven days later.

Both groups reported substantial improvements one and two days after the treatment, with placebo scores often as high as those of people who had taken the drug. In trials of new antidepressant drugs, it is common for as many as 40 per cent of participants to respond positively to placebos, says de Araújo.

But a week into this trial, 64 per cent of people who had taken ayahuasca felt the severity of their depression reduce by 50 per cent or more. This was true for only 27 per cent of those who drank the placebo.

Psychedelic treatments

“The findings suggest a rapid antidepressant benefit for ayahuasca, at least for the short term,” says David Mischoulon of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “But we need studies that follow patients for longer periods to see whether these effects are sustained.”

“There is clearly potential to explore further how this most ancient of plant medicines may have a salutary effect in modern treatment settings, particularly in patients who haven’t responded well to conventional treatments,” says Charles Grob at the University of California, Los Angeles.

If the finding holds up in longer studies, it could provide a valuable new tool for helping people with treatment-resistant depression. An estimated 350 million people worldwide experience depression, and between a third to a half of them don’t improve when given standard antidepressants.

Ayahuasca isn’t the only psychedelic drug being investigated as a potential treatment for depression. Researchers have also seen some benefits with ketamine and psilocybin, extracted from magic mushrooms, although psilocybin is yet to be tested against a placebo.

Journal reference: bioRxiv, DOI: 10.1101/103531

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Efeitos bifásicos da ayahuasca (Plantando Consciência)

30 de setembro de 2015

Efeitos bifásicos da Ayahuasca

Foi publicado hoje na revista científica PLOS ONE artigo com os resultados de nosso estudo neurocientífico sobre a ayahuasca. Fruto de pouco mais de quatro anos de intenso e dedicado trabalho, a pesquisa foi conduzida na UNIFESP com financiamento da FAPESP, com cooperações na USP, UFABC, Louisiana State University (EUA) e da University of Auckland (Nova Zelândia). Além da colaboração da União do Vegetal que nos forneceu Hoasca para fins de pesquisa, e de 20 bravos(as) psiconautas experientes no uso da bebida amazônica. Nossos(as) voluntários(as) se disponibilizaram a participar de um processo em um ambiente e com uma proposta que difere em muito dos usos tradicionais, e era bastante desafiadora. Beberam ayahuasca num laboratório universitário, sem canto nem palo santo, sem reza, dança ou fogueira, no meio da conturbada metrópole paulista. E tiveram que usar uma touca que gravava a atividade elétrica de seus cérebros continuamente num notebook próximo a elas. Sentadas em uma poltrona confortável, doaram pequenas quantidades de sangue a cada 25 minutos. Apesar de não ter a fundamental condução dos guias, curandeiros, mestres ou maestros, que fazem trabalhos tão importantes quanto a bebida em si, e de tomarem ayahuasca uma pessoa por vez, foram acompanhados com carinho e cuidado pela equipe científica, nunca sendo deixados sozinhos ou desamparados, e sempre com os baldinhos à disposição… Tudo isso em prol da colaboração dos saberes tradicionais com os saberes científicos e tecnológicos.Uma pesquisa desse tipo se justifica por várias razões, desde um entendimento mais profundo sobre nossa resposta fisiológica aos compostos químicos presentes na ayahuasca, que nos fornece dados cruciais sobre potenciais terapêuticos e segurança de uso; até informações mais sofisticadas sobre as relações entre cérebro e consciência, o chamado “hard-problem”. Com os resultados dessa jornada aprofundamos e expandimos o conhecimento sobre os efeitos dos componentes moleculares da bebida sagrada, sobre como nossos corpos recebem estas moléculas e que efeitos elas ajudam a desencadear, especialmente no cérebro. Ao minimizarmos as intervenções biomédicas somente ao estritamente necessário e ao adotarmos uma postura observacional, deixando e encorajando que os voluntários passassem a maior parte do tempo de olhos fechados em estado introspectivo, pudemos revelar uma imagem fascinante sobre os efeitos da ayahuasca no cérebro. Este efeito ocorre em duas fases qualitativamente distintas e este perfil bifásico ajuda a explicar contradições de estudos semelhantes feitos anteriormente por outras equipes. Com isso abrimos mais portas para fascinantes investigações futuras sobre os diversos estados de consciência que podem ser alcançados com a bebida amazônica.

Cerca de uma hora após a ingestão da ayahuasca, ocorreram diminuições das ondas alfa (8 a 12 ciclos por segundo), especialmente no córtex temporo-parietal, com uma certa tendência de lateralização para o hemisfério esquerdo. A segunda fase ocorre cerca de uma hora depois (ou seja, cerca de duas horas após a ingestão) e enquanto as ondas alfa foram retornando a um padrão parecido com o que estava antes da ingestão da ayahuasca, os ritmos gama, de frequências muito altas (30 a 100 ciclos por segundo), se intensificaram por quase todo o córtex cerebral, incluindo o córtex frontal. Estas oscilações elétricas em distintas frequências, que ocorrem perpetuamente e simultaneamente em todo o cérebro, são resultado da complexa interação da atividade de bilhões de células cerebrais. E estão relacionadas com todas as funções do cérebro, inclusive os aspectos psicológicos e os estados de consciência. Por exemplo, durante o sono profundo predomina no córtex cerebral uma frequência lenta, de 1 a 4 ciclos por segundo, chamada delta. Enquanto durante a maioria dos sonhos, predomina a frequência teta (4 a 8 ciclos por segundo). Ao caracterizar as principais mudanças nestas frequências de oscilações neurais avançamos na criação de um mapa neurocientífico sobre o estado de consciência desencadeado pela ingestão de ayahuasca.

Há variadas nuances de interpretação para estes dados (e muitos estudos posteriores que podem ser feitos de acordo com cada interpretação, para testas hipóteses específicas). Mas a minha favorita e que discutimos no artigo é de que o ritmo alfa é resultado de atividades inibitórias no cérebro, e o ritmo gama representa atividade neural crucial para a consciência. Quando fechamos os olhos e temos a sensacao de um campo visual escuro, sem imagens, o ritmo alfa se fortalece nas regiões do cérebro que recebem estímulos vindos dos olhos. Ou seja, quando estamos de olhos fechados não apenas a informação que chega dos olhos está ausente, mas as áreas visuais são inibidas por “centros superiores” do córtex, capazes de modular a atividade de áreas sensoriais. E nós temos a experiência subjetiva de um mundo escuro e de ausência de visão. No caso da ayahuasca, encontramos um enfraquecimento dessa inibição em áreas multisensoriais. Ou seja, regiões que estão envolvidas não só com visão, mas com audição, tato, paladar, olfato e também com sensações corpóreas das mais diversas. Faz sentido portanto que esta diminuição de alfa esteja relacionada com o efeito tão comum de experiência de mais sensações e mais estímulos durante o efeito da ayahuasca quando comparado com o estado ordinário de consciência, incluindo as famosas visões de olhos fechados. Já o acelerado gama está relacionado com o que se chama na neurociência de integração. Enquanto áreas diversas do cérebro estão relacionadas a percepções subjetivas distintas, como os cinco sentidos mencionados acima, nossa experiência consciente é unificada. Essa unificação de atividades neurais em áreas anatomicamente distintas ocorre nas oscilações rápidas na frequência gama, que permitem ao cérebro temporariamente juntar as peças de um complexo quebra cabeças de atividade neural. Esse aumento de gama pode ajudar a explicar porque durante a ayahuasca a percepção de sons e imagens, por exemplo, parece se fundir e criar relações peculiares, não perceptíveis durante a consciência ordinária, quando o cérebro tende a organizar a atividade neural relacionada aos cinco sentidos de maneira parcialmente independente. Essa função do gama em unificar ou integrar informações no cérebro é conhecida de longa data, pelo menos desde a obra pioneira do cientista Chileno Francisco Varela. E foi observada em dois indíviduos após tomarem ayahuasca em trabalho do antropólogo Luis Eduardo Luna e colaboradores há uma década. Ao confirmarmos os dados de Luna e colaboradores com nova e mais rigorosa metodologia, com mais pessoas e ao detectarmos a combinação destes efeitos com as reduções em alfa, abrimos portas importantíssimas no entendimento não só dos estados não-ordinários de consciência, mas da teoria neurocientifica sobre a consciência como um todo. Um exemplo é uma teoria proposta recentemente sobre a ação dos psicodélicos que sugere que uma das características principais do cérebro durante o efeito de psicodélicos sejam intensificações do gama. Para Andrew Gallimore, do Japão, que se baseia na influente teoria da informacao integrada, ou IIT (integrated information theory), a mais promissora teoria neurocientífica sobre a consciência, a expansão da consciência com psicodélicos é mesmo possível dentro de uma perspectiva neurocientífica, e provavelmente depende do ritmo gama. Esta expansão da consciência inclui a percepção subjetiva de mais conteúdo, de maior intensidade, incluindo fusões entre os sentidos e possivelmente a experiência subjetiva de intensidades e qualidades não perceptíveis durante a consciência ordinária, como cores mais vívidas e brilhantes e estados emocionais mais intensos do que jamais experienciados fora do estado psicodélico. O gama também tem papel fundamental na teoria da consciência proposta pelo matemático Sir Roger Penrose e pelo anestesiologista Stuart Hameroff. Segundo a teoria deles, oscilações na faixa de 40 ciclos por segundo seriam importantes ao permitir reverberações menores e muito mais aceleradas nos microtúbulos, uma rede de fibras e filamentos que percorre todas as células do nosso corpo – e do cérebro.

Ademais de caracterizar as oscilações e regiões corticais mais importantes no processo neural relacionado à modificação da consciência durante a ayahuasca, fizemos coletas periódicas de sangue para quantificar os princípios ativos da ayahuasca e seus metabólitos. E encontramos que durante a primeira fase a concentração da DMT e da harmina estavam próximas do máximo, sendo que na segunda fase acontecem os picos de harmalina e tetrahidroharmina. Com uma análise estatística sofisticada e inédita, desenvolvida especialmente para este estudo, demonstramos que este efeito bifásico no cérebro esta relacionado à concentração sanguínea de vários componentes do chá. Isto expande a visão científica predominante que foca apenas na famosa DMT. De acordo com este modelo, o papel do cipó é apenas de inibir a digestão da DMT. Mas “ayahuasca” é um dos muitos nomes não só da bebida, mas do cipó jagube ou mariri, catalogado nos anais científicos como Banisteriopsis caapi. Isto revela que, para os povos tradicionais, é o cipó a planta mais importante. E de fato há preparações de ayahuasca feitas somente com o cipó, sem qualquer outra planta. Mas na farmacologia esse quadro foi invertido, dando-se ênfase na psicoatividade da DMT apenas, que não vem do cipó, mas de outras plantas que frequentemente são adicionadas no preparo da bebida, como a rainha no Brasil e Peru (Psychotria viridis) ou a chagropanga na Colômbia (Dyplopteris cabrerana). Mas nossa análise com 10 moléculas (DMT, NMT e DMT-NO; Harmina e harmol; Harmalina e harmalol; THH e THH-OH e também o metabólito serotonérgico IAA) revelou associações importantes entre níveis plasmáticos de DMT, harmina, harmalina e tetraidroharmina, bem como alguns metabólitos como a DMT-NO, e os efeitos cerebrais em alfa e gama em momentos distintos da experiência. Revelamos portanto que a psicoatividade da ayahuasca não pode ser totalmente explicada apenas pelas concentrações de DMT, dando um passo importante para reaproximar o saber científico dos saberes tradicionais.

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Descobrimos ainda que a concentração de harmalina (e apenas de harmalina) está correlacionada com o momento em que os voluntários(as) vomitaram. Ou seja, a harmalina desempenha um papel fundamental tanto no cérebro, estando relacionada a intensificação das ondas gama, mas também nos efeitos periféricos da ayahuasca, como o vômito. Isso reforça a idéia de que o vômito tem relações importantes com a experiência psicológica, sendo talvez mais apropriado chamá-lo de purga, termo que reforça a idéia de que ocorre uma associação entre físico e psicológico neste momento da experiência. Esses resultados sobre a harmalina também dão nova importância para as pesquisas pioneiras de Claudio Naranjo, terapeuta Chileno que foi um dos primeiros a estudar ayahuasca desde um ponto de vista médico-científico, nos anos 60. A proposta de Naranjo, de que a harmalina era o principal componente psicoativo da ayahuasca foi, entretanto, quase que totalmente esquecida em prol do foco na DMT a partir dos anos 80. Outro fator importante contra a proposta de Naranjo é que as concentrações de harmalina na ayahuasca são em geral abaixo das doses de harmalina que, sozinha, desencadeiam efeitos psicoativos nítidos, conforme relato subjetivo das pessoas que ingeriram harmalina nos estudos de Naranjo. Mas nunca foi testado o efeito da harmalina combinada com a harmina e a tetraidroharmina, como ocorre na ayahuasca. E então nossos resultados reforçam a idéia de que a harmalina também pode ter contribuições importantes no efeito psicoativo da ayahuasca quando em combinação com as outras beta-carbolinas vindas do cipó. Interessantemente, em quase todos os casos a purga ocorreu após a primeira fase, quando os níveis de DMT estão próximos do máximo que atingem no sangue. Como a elevação da concentração de harmalina no sangue é mais lenta que da DMT e da harmina, vomitar pouco interfere nos efeitos da primeira fase e nas concentrações destas duas moléculas, e ajuda a explicar porque mesmo quem vomita rápido pode ter experiências fortes e profundas. Mas vomitar potencialmente interfere nas concentrações de tetraidroharmina, que é a molécula cujas concentrações sobem mais lentamente, e pode permanecer em circulação por alguns dias, dependendo da capacidade de metabolização de cada indivíduo.

Importante notar ainda que o perfil bifásico foi observado com ingestão de apenas um copo (mas com uma dose grande). Mas sabemos que nos usos rituais é muito frequente os participantes tomarem mais de uma dose, com intervalo de uma hora ou mais. É possível então que nestes casos ocorram variadas combinações de efeitos, como por exemplo a segunda fase de uma primeira dose (aumento de gama) coincidir com a primeira fase de uma segunda dose (diminuição de alfa). Isso potencialmente geraria estados cerebrais (e por correlação, estados de consciência) não observados na pesquisa com apenas uma dose. Isto ajuda a entender porque muitas pessoas relatam que a segunda dose é sempre uma “caixinha de surpresas”, e não apenas a intensificação ou prolongação dos efeitos da primeira toma. Ao depender do perfil metabólico de cada pessoa, do tamanho de cada dose, da proporção destas moléculas na bebida e do intervalo entre elas, pode-se atingir outros estados mesclados entre as duas fases observadas na pesquisa. Some-se a isto as influências ambientais, psicológicas, motivacionais e espirituais e temos uma prática de exploração da consciência que não cabe numa resposta simples e singular sobre qual “o efeito” da ayahuasca.

Do ponto de vista neurocientífico, estas possíveis combinações são muito intrigantes, porque relações entre as frequências alfa e gama no córtex parietal e no frontal estão envolvidas em processos de reavaliação psicológica e emocional. Ou seja, quando fazemos certas formas de introspecção que resultam em ressignificação de eventos emocionais de nossas vidas, estas áreas do cérebro se comunicam através de oscilações elétricas nestas duas faixas de frequência. E estas mesmas frequências e áreas cerebrais estão envolvidas em processos criativos de resolução de problemas. Ou seja, através de nossa pesquisa, a neurociência começa a convergir com o saber ancestral ao reafirmar o potencial da ayahuasca em nutrir a criatividade e o autoconhecimento, facilitando formas de terapia focadas no potencial de cada indíviduo em crescer e se desenvolver de maneira consciente.

Para saber mais, confira abaixo minha palestra na World Ayahuasca Confrence, em Ibiza ano passado (disponível com legendas em português e inglês). Ou ainda a mais antiga “Ayahuasca e as ondas cerebrais“, realizada no Brasil no início deste projeto. Ou se você quer mesmo mergulhar fundo, acesse gratuitamente o artigo científico na íntegra.

Referência: Schenberg EE, Alexandre JFM, Filev R, Cravo AM, Sato JR, Muthukumaraswamy SD, et al. (2015) Acute Biphasic Effects of Ayahuasca. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137202. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137202

 

The Dark Side of Ayahuasca (Men’s Journal)

By   Mar 2013

Every day, hundreds of tourists arrive in Iquitos, Peru, seeking spiritual catharsis or just to trip their heads off. But increasingly often their trip becomes a nightmare, and some of them don’t go home at all.

The dark side of ayahuasca

Credit: Joshua Paul

Kyle Nolan spent the summer of 2011 talking up a documentary called ‘Stepping Into the Fire,’ about the mind-expanding potential of ayahuasca. The film tells the story of a hard-driving derivatives trader and ex-Marine named Roberto Velez, who, in his words, turned his back on the “greed, power, and vice” of Wall Street after taking ayahuasca with a Peruvian shaman. The film is a slick promotion for the hallucinogenic tea that’s widely embraced as a spirit cure, and for the Shimbre Shamanic Center, the ayahuasca lodge Velez built for his guru, a potbellied medicine man called Master Mancoluto. The film’s message is that we Westerners have lost our way and that the ayahuasca brew (which is illegal in the United States because it contains the psychedelic compound DMT) can set us straight.

Last August, 18-year-old Nolan left his California home and boarded a plane to the Amazon for a 10-day, $1,200 stay at Shimbre in Peru’s Amazon basin with Mancoluto – who is pitched in Shimbre’s promotional materials as a man to help ayahuasca recruits “open their minds to deeper realities, develop their intuitive capabilities, and unlock untapped potential.” But when Nolan – who was neither “flaky” nor “unreliable,” says his father, Sean – didn’t show up on his return flight home, his mother, Ingeborg Oswald, and his triplet sister, Marion, went to Peru to find him. Initially, Mancoluto, whose real name is José Pineda Vargas, told them Kyle had packed his bags and walked off without a word. The shaman even joined Oswald on television pleading for help in finding her son, but the police in Peru remained suspicious. Under pressure, Mancoluto admitted that Nolan had died after an ayahuasca session and that his body had been buried at the edge of the property. The official cause of death has not yet been determined.

Pilgrims like Nolan are flocking to the Amazon in search of ayahuasca, either to expand their spiritual horizons or to cure alcoholism, depression, and even cancer, but what many of them find is a nightmare. Still, the airport in Iquitos is buzzing with ayahuasca tourism. Vans from shamanic lodges pick up psychedelic pilgrims from around the world, while taxi drivers peddle access to Indian medicine men. “It reminds me of how they sell cocaine and marijuana in Amsterdam,” one local said. “Here, it’s shamans and ayahuasca.”

Devotees talk about ayahuasca’s cathartic and life-changing power, but there is a dark side to the tourism boom as well. With money rolling in and lodges popping up across Peru’s sprawling Amazon, a new breed of shaman has emerged – and not all of them can be trusted with the powerful drug. Deaths like Nolan’s are uncommon, but reports of molestation, rape, and negligence at the hands of predatory and inept shamans are not. In the past few years alone, a young German woman was allegedly raped and beaten by two men who had administered ayahuasca to her, two French citizens died while staying at ayahuasca lodges, and stories persist about unwanted sexual advances and people losing their marbles after being given overly potent doses. The age of ayahuasca as purely a medicinal, consciousness-raising pursuit seems like a quaint and distant past.A powerful psychedelic, DMT is a natural compound found throughout the plant kingdom and in mammals (including humans). Scientists don’t know why it’s so prevalent in the world, but studies suggest a role in natural dreaming. DMT doesn’t work if swallowed alone, thanks to an enzyme in the gastrointestinal system that breaks it down. In a feat of prehistoric chemistry, Amazonian shamans fixed that by boiling two plants together – the ayahuasca vine and a DMT-containing shrub called chacruna – which shuts down the enzyme and allows the DMT to slip through the gut into the bloodstream.

Ayahuasca almost always induces vomiting before the hallucinogenic odyssey begins. It can be both horrifying and strangely blissful. One devotee described an ayahuasca trip as “psychotherapy on steroids.” But for all the root’s spiritual and therapeutic benefits, the ayahuasca boom is as wild and unmanageable as the jungle itself. One unofficial stat floating around Iquitos says the number of arriving pilgrims has grown fivefold in two years. Roger Rumrrill, a journalist who has written 25 books on the Amazon region, including several on shamanism, told me there’s “a corresponding boom in charlatans – in fake shamans, who are targeting foreigners.”

Few experts blame the concoction itself. Alan Shoemaker, who organizes an annual shamanism conference in Iquitos, says, “Ayahuasca is one of the sacred power plants and is completely nonaddictive, has been used for literally thousands of years for healing and divination purposes . . . and dying from overdose is virtually impossible.”

Still, no one monitors the medicine men, their claims, or their credentials. No one is making sure they screen patients for, say, heart problems, although ayahuasca is known to boost pulse rates and blood pressure. (When French citizen Celine René Margarite Briset died from a heart attack after taking ayahuasca in the Amazonian city of Yurimaguas in 2011, it was reported she had a preexisting heart condition.) And though many prospective ayahuasca-takers – people likely to have been prescribed antidepressants – struggle with addiction and depression, few shamans know or care to ask about antidepressants like Prozac, which can be deadly when mixed with ayahuasca. Reports suggested that a clash of meds killed 39-year-old Frenchman Fabrice Champion, who died a few months after Briset in an Iquitos-based lodge called Espiritu de Anaconda (which had already experienced one death and has since changed its name to Anaconda Cosmica). No one has been charged in either case.

Nor is anyone monitoring the growing number of lodges offering to train foreigners to make and serve the potentially deadly brew. Rumrrill scoffs at the idea. “People study for years to become a shaman,” he said. “You can’t become one in a few weeks….It’s a public health threat.” Disciples of ayahuasca insist that a shaman’s job is to control the movements of evil spirits in and out of the passengers, which in layman’s terms means keeping people from losing their shit. An Argentine tourist at the same lodge where Briset died reportedly stabbed himself in the chest after drinking too much of the tea. I met a passenger whose face was covered in thick scabs I assumed were symptoms of an illness for which he was being treated. It turns out he’d scraped the skin off himself during an understatedly “rough night with the medicine.” Because of ayahuasca’s power to plow through the psyche, many lodges screen patients for bipolar disorders or schizophrenia. But one local tour guide told me about a seeker who failed to disclose that he was schizophrenic. He drank ayahuasca and was later arrested – naked and crazed – in a public plaza. Critics worry that apprentice programs are churning out ayahuasqueros who are incapable of handling such cases.

Common are stories of female tourists who, under ayahuasca’s stupor, have faced sexual predators posing as healers. A nurse from Seattle says she booked a stay at a lodge run by a gringo shaman two hours outside Iquitos. When she slipped into ayahuasca’s trademark “state of hyper-suggestibility,” things got weird. “He placed his hands on my breast and groin and was talking a lot of shit to me,” she recalls. “I couldn’t talk. I was very weak.” She said she couldn’t confront the shaman. During the next session, he became verbally abusive. Fearing he might hurt her, she snuck off to the river, a tributary of the Amazon, late that night and swam away. She was lucky. In 2010, a 23-year-old German woman traveled to a tiny village called Barrio Florida for three nights of ayahuasca ceremonies. She ended up raped and brutally beaten by a “shaman” and his accomplice, who were both arrested. Last November, a Slovakian woman filed charges against a shaman, claiming she’d been raped during a ceremony at a lodge in Peru.

Even more troubling than ayahuasca is toé, a “witchcraft plant” that’s a member of the nightshade family. Also called Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, toé is known for its hallucinogenic powers. Skilled shamans use it in tiny amounts, but around Iquitos, people say irresponsible shamans dose foreigners with it to give them the Disneyland light shows they’ve come to expect. But there are downsides, to say the least. “Toé,” warns one reputable Iquitos lodge, “is potentially very dangerous, and excessive use can cause permanent mental impairment. Deaths are not uncommon from miscalculated dosages.” I heard horror stories. One ayahuasca tourist said, “Toé is a heavy, dark plant that’s associated with witchcraft for a reason: You can’t say no. Toé makes you go crazy. Some master shamans use it in small quantities, but it takes years to work with the plants. There’s nothing good to come out of it.”

Another visitor, an engineer from Washington, D.C., blames toé for his recent ayahuasca misadventure. He learned about ayahuasca on the internet and booked a multinight stay at one of the region’s most popular lodges. By the second night, he felt something was amiss. “When the shaman passed me the cup that night, he said, ‘We’re going to put you back together.’ I knew something was wrong. It was unbelievably strong.” The man says it hit him like a wave. “All around me, people started moaning. Then the yells and screaming started. Soon, I realized that medics were coming in and out of the hut, attending to people, trying to calm them down.” He angrily told me he was sure, based on hearing the bad trips of others who’d been given the substance, they had given him toé. “Ayahuasca,” he says, “should come with a warning label.”

Kyle’s father, Sean, suspects toé may have played a part in his son’s death, but he says he’s still raising the money he needs to get a California coroner to release the autopsy report. Mancoluto couldn’t be reached for comment, but his former benefactor, the securities trader Roberto Velez, now regrets his involvement with Mancoluto. “The man was evil and dangerous,” he says, “and the whole world needs to know so that no one ever seeks him again.” Some of Mancoluto’s former patients believe his brews included toé and have taken to the internet, claiming his practices were haphazard. (He allegedly sat in a tower overseeing his patients telepathically as they staggered through the forest.) One blog reports seeing a client “wandering out of the jungle, onto the road, talking to people who weren’t there, waving down cars, smoking imaginary cigarettes, and his eyes actually changed color, all of which indicated a high quantity of Brugmansia in Mancoluto’s brew.”

Shoemaker says that even though the majority of ayahuasca trips are positive and safe, things have gotten out of hand. “Misdosing with toé doesn’t make you a witch,” he says. “It makes you a criminal.” Velez, whose inspirational ayahuasca story was the focus of the film that sparked Kyle Nolan’s interest, is no longer an advocate. “It’s of life-and-death importance,” he warns, “that people don’t get involved with shamans they don’t know. I don’t know if anyone should trust a stranger with their soul.”

See also: Ayahuasca at Home: An American Experience

Related: Bucky McMahon’s goes Down the Monkey Hole on a Ayahuasca Retreat

Read more: http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/the-dark-side-of-ayahuasca-20130215#ixzz3uxd2HGGI

The Ant, the Shaman and the Scientist: Shamanic lore spurs scientific discovery in the Amazon (Notes from the Ethnoground)

NOVEMBER 22, 2011

When he pointed to the tree trunk and said the scars were from fires set by invisible forest spirits, I had no idea this supernatural observation would lead to a new discovery for natural science.  Mariano, the eldest shaman of the Matsigenka village of Yomybato in Manu National Park, Peru, had first showed me the curious clearings in the forest that form around clumps of Cordia nodosa, a bristly tropical shrub related to borage (Borago officinalis).  Both the Matsigenka people and tropical ecologists recognize the special relationship that exists between Cordia and ants of the genus Myrmelachista: the Matsigenka word for the plant is matiagiroki, which means “ant shrub.”

 SupaiChacra2
Maximo Vicente, Mariano’s grandson, standing by a 
swollen, scarred trunk near a Cordia patch.

For scientists, the clearings in the forest understory around patches of Cordia are caused by a mutualistic relationship with the ants.  Cordia plants provide the ant colony with hollow branch nodes for nesting and bristly corridors along twigs and leaves for protection, while the ants use their strong mandibles and acidic secretions to clear away competing vegetation.  Local Quechua-speaking colonists refer to the clearings as “Devil’s gardens” (supay chacra).  For the Matsigenka, these clearings are the work of spirits known as Sangariite, which means ‘Pure’ or ‘Invisible Ones’.  Matsigenka shamans like Mariano come to these spirit clearings and consume powerful narcotics and hallucinogens such as tobacco paste, ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis), or the Datura-like toé (Brugmansia).[1]

 SupaiChacra
A “Sangariite village clearing” (igarapagite sangatsiri)
in the upland forests of Manu Park.

With the aid of visionary plants, the shaman perceives the true nature of these mundane forest clearings: they are the villages of Sangariite spirits, unimaginably distant and inaccessible under ordinary states of consciousness.  While in trance, the shaman enters the village and develops an ongoing relationship with a spirit twin or ally among the Sangariite, who can provide him or her with esoteric knowledge, news from distant places, healing power, artistic inspiration, auspicious hunting and even novel varieties of food crops or medicinal plants.[2]  As proof of the existence of these invisible villages, Mariano pointed out to me the scars on adjacent tree trunks all around large, dense Cordia patches: “The scars are caused by fires the Sangariite set to clear their gardens every summer,” he explained.

 jaguarshaman
Mariano wearing a cotton tunic with designs taught him by the
Sangariite spirits during an ayahuasca trance.

Douglas Yu, an expert on ant-plant interactions, was researching Cordia populations in the forests around Yomybato.[3]  I told him of Mariano’s observations about the Sangariite villages, and pointed out the distinctive marks on adjacent trees.  In his years of research, Yu had never noticed the trunk scars.  Intrigued, he cut into the scars and found nests teeming with Myrmelachista ants that appeared to be galling the trunks to create additional housing.  As detailed in a 2009 publication in American Naturalist[4], this case is the first recorded example of ants galling plants, reopening a century-old debate in tropical ecology begun by legendary scientists Richard Spruce and Alfred Wallace. The discovery of Myrmelachista‘s galling capability also helped Yu understand how this ant species persists in the face of competition by two more aggressive ant types, Azteca and Allomerus, that can also inhabit Cordia depending on ecological conditions.

 DougYuAnts
Douglas Yu carries out research on ant-plant
interactions in the Peruvian Amazon.

My ongoing collaborations with Yu and other tropical biologists in indigenous communities have highlighted how important it is to pay attention to local people’s rich and often underappreciated knowledge about forest ecosystems: sometimes even those elements of folklore that appear quaint or “unscientific” contain astute insights about natural processes.

 AntGall
Cross section of a tree trunk galled by Myrmelachista ants
(photo: Megan Frederickson).

— This article was first published online on Nov. 7, 2011 with Spanish and Portuguese translations by O Eco Amazônia.

References:

[1] G.H. Shepard Jr. (1998) Psychoactive plants and ethnopsychiatric medicines of the Matsigenka. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 30 (4):321-332; G.H. Shepard Jr. (2005) Psychoactive botanicals in ritual, religion and shamanism. Chapter 18 in: E. Elisabetsky & N. Etkin (Eds.), Ethnopharmacology. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Theme 6.79. Oxford, UK: UNESCO/Eolss Publishers [http://www.eolss.net].

[2] G.H. Shepard Jr. (1999) Shamanism and diversity:  A Matsigenka perspective. In Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, edited by D. A. Posey. London: United Nations Environmental Programme and Intermediate Technology Publications.

[3] D.W. Yu, H. B. Wilson and N. E. Pierce (2001) An empirical model of species coexistence in a spatially structured environment. Ecology 82 (6):1761-1771.
[4] D.P. Edwards, M.E. Frederickson, G.H. Shepard Jr. and D.W. Yu (2009) ‘A plant needs its ants like a dog needs its fleas’: Myrmelachista schumanni ants gall many tree species to create housing. The American Naturalist 174 (5):734-740. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19799500]

Posted by Glenn H. Shepard at 10:11 AM

Ayahuasca: A Strong Cup of Tea (New York Times)

Then, one at a time, each got up to receive a cup of thick brownish liquid with a muddy herbal taste. It was ayahuasca (eye-uh-WAH-skuh) tea, a hallucinogenic brew from the Amazon that they hoped would open them to personal insights through optic and auditory hallucinations.

Once they drank and had settled into their spots, they waited in the darkness with just one candle flickering. The shaman played traditional stringed and wind instruments while chanting ritualistic melodies, some sweet, some guttural.

A participant who asked that her name not be used because it might jeopardize her teaching positions at several graduate programs in Manhattan settled in for the all-night journey. She had abstained for several days from alcohol, red meat, spicy foods, aged cheese and television, as prescribed by email. She had not had sex and she was not on antidepressants.

Those who have spoken positively of ayahuasca’s powers include, clockwise from top left, Lindsay Lohan, Tori Amos, Penn Badgley, Devendra Banhart and Sting. Credit Scott Roth/Invision/AP; Mike Marsland/WireImage; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Robert Wright for The New York Times; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

This would be the second time she would be in Brooklyn to participate since February, when she decided to have an ayahuasca experience just a month after her husband, who was Peruvian, had died. She had done it in Lima several years ago and found it meaningful.

“It’s a transitional time for me right now, and I want to stay open,” she had said in a phone interview the night before. “I find ayahuasca to be a purifying psychological journey.”

She’s not alone. In a world increasingly dominated by screen time, not dream time, it is not surprising that many people, having binged on yoga and meditation for years, are turning to a more dramatic catalyst for inner growth. But those who swear by ayahuasca’s usefulness (many say it’s like having 10 years of therapy in a night) also caution that it has to be treated seriously, calling their experiences while under its influence “work” because, in addition to causing them to vomit and sometimes have diarrhea, it can be frightening and challenging to the psyche.

And although two religious organizations in the United States are sanctioned to use it legally, the N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (or D.M.T.) in ayahuasca is a Schedule I controlled substance — considered to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. It is in the same category as ecstasy and heroin.

“It must be used carefully, but it has a good mind and body connection,” said Rick Doblin, the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, Calif., who has a doctorate in public policy from Harvard. “You have a sense of inner light in your brain.”

Or as William S. Burroughs put it in a letter to Allen Ginsberg collected in the book, “The Yage Letters” about his ayahuasca experience in Panama in 1953, “I experienced first a feeling of serene wisdom so that I was quite content to sit there indefinitely.”

If the proliferation of websites, blogs, books and conferences are any indication, interest of late has been soaring for ayahuasca tea, a mix of two Amazonian plants, one a vine, the other a leaf. Combined, they contain D.M.T. and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, which promote psychedelic visions and euphoria.

Following the paths of Paul Simon, Oliver Stone, Tori Amos and Sting (who wrote in his 2005 autobiography, “Broken Music,” that it was the only religious experience he ever had), younger musicians like Devendra Banhart, Ben Lee and Father John Misty of the Fleet Foxes are speaking out and creating work about their ayahuasca use in the Amazon or at home.

In an interview with L.A. Weekly, which last November put ayahuasca on its cover (calling it “exceedingly trendy” and referencing “ladies at Soho House discussing their transcendental experiences”), Chris Robinson, the lead singer of the Black Crowes and the former husband of Kate Hudson, attributed it to the opening of his mind and heart.

And at a 2012 event, Ayahuasca Monologues, Penn Badgley, who made his mark with the less than transcendent “Gossip Girl,” called it a “glittering spiritual tool.” Jennifer Aniston has a notably inauthentic Ayahuasca experience in the 2012 movie “Wanderlust,” and it has also shown up on “Weeds” and “Nip/Tuck.”

Then, in April, to push things into another level of trending, Lindsay Lohan confided on the OWN channel’s series about her that she had participated in an ayahuasca cleanse and it was helping with her addiction issues and keeping her sober.

“I saw my whole life in front of me,” she told the camera while putting on thigh high black boots and having her lips done by a makeup man. “And I had to let go of past things.” She added that she saw herself die and then being reborn.

“It was intense,” she said.

One could imagine a better advocate. On the other hand, researchers have for years been investigating psychedelics for stopping addiction to everything from cigarettes and alcohol to methamphetamine. Ibogaine (an African bark derivative with psychoactive properties that is banned in the United States) is used for heroin addiction in other countries, including Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. Ayahuasca is under study for similar uses.

“It’s a fascinating compound with a great deal to be learned from its effects,” said Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatrist who is the director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center and who helped administer a study in Manaus, Brazil, in the 1990s that linked dramatic positive transformations among alcoholics and drug addicts with ayahuasca use. But along with its positives, Dr. Grob is quick to list its dangers.

“When used with antidepressants it creates an excess of serotonin in the central nervous system, which can cause confusion and tremulousness,” he said. “And it can affect cardiovascular function when people have heart issues.” There are also risks of adverse effects among people with psychological problems like bipolarity or schizophrenia.

“It all comes down to preparation and setting,” he said. “If the individual is prepared, following medical and dietary restrictions in advance, and is having the experience with a knowledgeable facilitator like a traditional shaman, it is relatively safe.”

Soaring popularity has been increasing greed and trouble. In Amazonian regions of Brazil and Peru, where ayahuasca is deemed a traditional and legal medicine, tourists flock to partake in ceremonies. Most are conducted at jungle retreats by legitimate medicine men that screen for physical and mental stability and are skilled in handing severe psychological responses.

But increasingly, wrote Kelly Hearn in 2013 in Men’s Journal, a visit for ayahuasca tourists can become a nightmare, “and some don’t go home at all.” Inexpertly mixed brews or the use of another more dangerous plant, Toe, have contributed to bad reactions, as well as poor screening for medical issues. There have been cases of sexual molestation, too.

In the United States, perhaps because of the secrecy surrounding ayahuasca use and the law, there have been no negative reports. But ayahuasca made the news in 2006 when a Supreme Court ruling deemed its use legal as a tea for religious purposes. A group based in New Mexico with Brazilian roots called Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, commonly known as U.D.V., had won its case. (The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also sanctioned another religious organization with Brazilian roots, Santo Daime, to use ayahuasca.)

Jeffrey Bronfman, whose family once controlled the Seagram Company, is the national vice president of the U.D.V. church. “The tea really is an instrument to help us get in touch with our own spiritual nature,” he told National Public Radio last year.

Several years ago, Dr. Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies attended a ceremony at the U.D.V. church in Santa Fe. The intense ritualistic singing prompted him to think about his own inability to sing and lack of emotional connection. He went home to the Boston area, took voice lessons and started sharing lullabies with his children.

“I felt such relief when I finally sang to them,” he said.

Stories of transcendence and psychological advancement triggered by ayahuasca are a regular part of the conversation. But if visions are achieved that psychologists link to the collective unconscious, they are only made useful with rigorous interpretation upon waking.

Abby Aguirre, reporting for Marie Claire in February, described a hairdresser in her group in California using ayahuasca for addiction problems and an actress who found it helped her get over a romantic breakup by suggesting that her ex-boyfriend didn’t matter anymore.

“It’s as though a lens has been dropped over my vision, giving me heightened self-awareness and emotional intelligence,” she wrote of her own experience. The outcome? A realization that the extensive to-do lists she carries are an absurd manifestation of anxiety.

If it sounds banal to an outsider, for her, as for many others, the takeaway is profound. One fashion insider hallucinated a snake coming toward her that she perceived as representing a difficult work colleague and found herself saying, “I won’t harm you,” which reduced the threat’s size. Dr. Eduardo Gastelumendi, a psychiatrist in Lima, Peru, recalled hearing from a patient who had a troubled and distant relationship with his father. He hallucinated hugging him. A few days later, he knocked on his father’s door, threw his arms around him and they reconciled in tears.

“It opened a transformative experience for him,” said Dr. Gastelumendi, who is also a psychoanalyst. “With ayahuasca, empathy is enhanced and you see things in a different light.”

In the ayahuasca ceremony in Brooklyn, after taking a second dose of the brew and regurgitating violently (commonly referred to as a purge), the woman who had recently lost her husband was starting to see things.

“It was like a collage or jigsaw puzzle of words that was bright as an LED display in Times Square,” she recalled the next day. “It was very beautiful, but the only words I could decipher in all of it were ‘Enjoy life.’ ” She thought it might be a message from her late husband.

Not long after that, the shaman and his assistant awakened her and the rest of the group, including a young couple with a baby, to the light of a Brooklyn morning. The woman got a ritual hug, a ceremonial brushing with a frond from the jungle, ate the healthy foods people had brought, and listened to and shared hallucinatory experiences. A man in the group seemed unmoored as he talked about his discovery on this evening that everything written on paper is a lie. Others shared gentler visions and insights. Then, with two friends she had brought along, the woman left to drive back to Manhattan.

One of her friends wasn’t so sure of what she had just experienced.

“It was cool, but what did I learn from it?” she asked.

Correction: June 15, 2014
An earlier version of this article described Ayahuasca as a stimulant. It is a hallucinogen.