Study presents potential of psychedelic brew ayahuasca on palliative and hospice care

Authors suggest ayahuasca may promote a change of perspective on life and death

Indigenous people in South America have traditionally used the ayahuasca beverage for religious and therapeutic purpose since ancient times. Photo by Eskymaks/Getty Images.

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A recently published study about ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic beverage, advances the understanding of pyschedelics as a therapeutic tool.

In particular, the paper suggests that the brew facilitates a shift in the way a seriously ill person views life and death.

Because of this, mortality becomes less of a frightening prospect, promoting a sense of peace and acceptance.

This finding presents opportunities in the fields of palliative and hospice care.

Palliative care involves improving the quality of life of patients with life-threatening illness, through methods such as pain management. Further, hospice care means providing comfort to people facing imminent death.

Lead author Lucas Maia told CannCentral that the study reinforces the growing body of evidence about the value of psychedelics.

Specifically, Maia pointed to the treatment of pyschological and psychiatric distress associated with life-threatening illnesses.

In particular, psychedelics provide a means of “facilitating illness acceptance and easing anxiety associated with facing death”.

“Ayahuasca experiences may facilitate illness resignification and acceptance,” Maia told CannCentral.

Canada bans ayahuasca

Maia works as a researcher at the University of Campinas in Brazil.

The Brazilian government permits ayahuasca in religious ceremonies that use the brew as sacred potion.

In Canada, a number of churches consume the beverage as part of their rituals.

Last summer, CannCentral asked Health Canada for a list of religious organizations with exemptions for ayahuasca under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CCSA). In response, the federal agency noted that ayahuasca also goes by the name Daime Tea.

Moreover, the government lists the brew made from plants native to Brazil and other South American countries as a controlled substance.

This means that the law prohibits the sale, distribution, import, or export of this substance without a CCSA exemption.

As of June 2020, when Health Canada responded to CannCentral, the Canadian government had granted five exemptions.

These exemptions were issued to three religious groups in Montreal: Ceu da Divina Luz do Montréal on May 1, 2018; Céu do Montréal on June 5, 2017; and Beneficent Spiritist Center União do Vegetal on June 5, 2017.

Health Canada also granted an exemption to a group in the Quebec town of Val-David: Église Santo Daime Ceu do Vale de Vida on December 13, 2018.

Lastly, group in Toronto, the Ceu de Toronto, got an exemption on November 26, 2018.

Health Canada explained to CannCentral that these exemptions provide the “authority to possess, provide, transport, import, administer and destroy Daime Tea”. These activities have to be related to the groups’ religious practice.

Ayahuasca gives new meanings

Indigenous peoples in South America have historically used ayahuasca for religious and therapeutic purposes.

On December 7, 2020, the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs published the study on ayahuasca that was principally authored by Maia.

The paper carries the title “The ritual use of ayahuasca during treatment of severe physical illnesses: a qualitative study”.

Dimitri Daldegan-Bueno and Luís Fernando Tófoli co-authored the study. All three belong to the International Cooperation for Ayahuasca Research and Outreach. The group works out of the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Campinas.

In connection with their study, the researchers conducted interviews with people suffering from serious physical illnesses.

The authors wrote that most participants noted that their disease “evoked existential reflections in which death emerged with greater proximity, generating distress or fear”.

“The experience induced by ayahuasca seems to have amplified these reflections, lessening the fear and facilitating the acceptance of death, often raising new meanings to death other than fearing it,” they stated.

The authors note that previous studies indicate the therapeutic potential of psychelics on people with serious health conditions.

“Our findings strengthen this perspective, indicating that experiences with ayahuasca, if properly performed and integrated, may produce beneficial therapeutic effects during the management of death anxiety for certain individuals with life-threatening illnesses,” the authors wrote.

Moreover, participants also “reported that the ritual use of ayahuasca fostered changes in lifestyle, favoring choices aimed at better health status”.

“Some of our reports suggest that the experience with ayahuasca boosted motivation to spark previously sought changes, changes often motivated by the search for ‘balance’ in life,” they stated.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter: @carlitopablo

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