Ayahuasca, also known as “Vine of the Soul,” is a psychoactive brew that has been used for shamanic healing in the Amazon for thousands of years. Made by combining the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with one or more other plants containing the compound dimethyltriptamine (DMT), most often Psychotria viridis, it produces in the user a powerful visionary and healing experience.
Ayahuasca and PTSD
Up until the middle of the 20th century, ayahuasca was virtually unknown outside of the Amazon Basin, and in recent years most of the media attention it’s garnered has been due to its use by celebrities. But this potent brew is considered sacred by indigenous cultures for a reason: its extraordinary capacity to heal.
Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatrist, professor, and program director at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, traveled to Manaus, Brazil in 1993 to study the short- and long-term effects of ayahuasca use by members of the Uniao de Vegetal, a religion whose members consider the brew—which they call “Hoasca tea”—a sacrament.
“[M]any of our ayahuasca-using subjects reported alcoholism, drug abuse, violence and antisocial behavior before they joined the UDV,” he recounts. “But our psychiatric interviews showed that virtually all this psychopathology stopped after they started participating in the religious ceremonies where ayahuasca is a ritual sacrament.”
While Dr. Grob’s team was not focused on PTSD, the problems they observed are commonly associated with it. And more recent studies have shown that the amygdala, the area of the brain with which the fear-associated symptoms of PTSD originate, is activated by taking ayahuasca. That makes it similar to exposure therapy, which involves re-experiencing traumatic memories in order to reduce the distress they can cause.
Moreover, a recently completed randomized clinical trial in Brazil looking at ayahuasca for the treatment of depression—the first of its kind—showed dramatic improvement in the moods of those given the brew vs. a placebo. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the UDV was allowed to continue using ayahuasca as part of its religious ceremonies in the United States. But because DMT, its core compound, remains a Schedule I substance, any other use is still considered illegal.
U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Ryan LeCompte has experienced the healing that ayahuasca can bring firsthand, and he is now working to bring that healing to his fellow vets. His organization Veterans For Entheogenic Therapy recently obtained non-profit status so that it can help vets who on their own cannot afford to travel out of the country to attend ayahuasca ceremonies.
Veteran Ryan LeCompte, founder of Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy, describes his experience using ayahuasca.
Veteran Matt Kahl talks about the spiritual healing he sought—and found—with ayahuasca during our filming in April 2016.
“Veterans…need to know that there’s alternative methods of healing that work.” –Marine Corps Veteran Christian Gomez
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