Ayahuasca for PTSD: Is Psychedelic the Future For PTSD

Are you one of those who are wondering if ayahuasca is a safe and effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Is it worth it to try it to improve your mental health?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition that many, including veterans, suffer. They develop this condition after experiencing dreadful and frightening events that result in trauma. PTSD needs serious attention and treatment and many find a potential solution in the psychedelic brew like ayahuasca.

If you are among those who are battling PTSD and still weighing whether you should try ayahuasca or not, then this article is for you.

Let’s get started by examining PTSD first before delving into ayahuasca’s potential in helping resolve this mental health condition!

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that one develops after physical or psychological trauma. Those who are exposed to traumatic events like personal assault, a serious accident, a natural disaster or war are likely to develop it.

According to statistics(1)https://www.statista.com/topics/7449/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/, 49% of rape victims developed PTSD. However, most of those who are affected are war veterans. In fact, 83% of U.S. veterans and active service respondents are experiencing PTSD during military service after 9/11. But it can actually happen to anyone regardless of race, nationalities, culture and age.

Those with the said condition tend to experience intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic experience they encountered. They might even relieve the event through flashbacks or nightmares and experience sadness, fear or anger.

Meanwhile, some feel detached or estranged from other people and may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event. They may also have strong negative reactions to ordinary events, loud noise or an accidental touch. Worst, they can be suicidal.

Causes of PTSD

It remains unclear why people develop this condition after being exposed to a threat, actual death or a serious injury. Family history may also play a role because those who have a history of anxiety and depression are likely to develop PTSD. Also, PTSD is linked to inherited mental health risks.

Here are some of the probable events that could lead one to develop PTSD according to the NHS(2)https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/causes/

• Torture
• War and conflict
• Serious accidents
• Physical or sexual assault
• Abuse (childhood or domestic abuse)
• Exposure to traumatic events at work
• Serious health problems
• Childbirth experiences such as losing a baby

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories, according to American Psychiatric Association. To help you understand whether you have the condition, here are some of the things to watch out for.

Intrusion — Intrusive thoughts including repeated and involuntary memories, distressing dreams and flashbacks of the traumatic event. The flashbacks may be so vivid that one feels like reliving the experience.

Avoidance — People who experience traumatic events tend to avoid the persons, places, activities, objects or similar situations that could trigger distressing memories. Avoidance manifests when one resists talking about what happened or how they feel about it.

Changes in cognition and mood — Individuals with PTSD tend to forget the important aspects of the traumatic events, negative thoughts and feelings leading to ongoing and distorted belief about oneself or others. They might think no one can be trusted or that they are bad. Usually, they are void of happiness or satisfaction.

Alterations in arousal and reactivity — Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts. One may behave recklessly or can be self-destructive, be easily startled or have problems concentrating or sleeping.

A number of veterans who have been seeking healing experienced most of the symptoms mentioned above. I will be sharing some of their testimonies below to see how PTSD affected them and how ayahuasca turned their lives around.

What Is The Most Common Drug Prescribed For PTSD?

Those who are suffering from PTSD have a number of potential medications. You can either take prescribed drugs or get therapy to feel better about your condition.

Here are some of the prescribed medicines for healing PTSD.

Therapy

Aside from taking certain drugs to address PTSD, therapy is among the recommended medications. PTSD therapies have three main goals — to improve symptoms, teach you skills to deal with them and restore self-esteem, according to WebMD(3)https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-treatments-for-posttraumatic-stress-disorder

Most therapies for PTSD fall under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The idea behind it is to change the thought patterns that disturb your life. The process usually includes talking about the trauma and concentrating on where the fears come from. So, visiting traumatic memories may be necessary for healing.

PTSD therapy can be done by group or family therapy which can be good for individual sessions.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT is a 12-week course of treatment with weekly sessions of 60 to 90 minutes. When attending CPT, you have to talk about the traumatic event with your therapist and how your thoughts have affected your life.

After talking about the incident, you might still be asked to write about it. This process is done to help you examine how you think about the trauma and figure out new ways to live with it.

For example, you may be blaming yourself for something and the therapist will help you take into account all the things that were beyond your control to help you understand and accept that it’s not really your fault.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

If you’ve been avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event, this PTSD therapy will help you confront them. Just like CPT, it involves several sessions. This usually involves 15 sessions, 90 minutes each.

The therapist will teach you breathing techniques to ease your anxiety when you recall the traumatic incident in your life. Later, you will make a list of things you’ve been avoiding and learn how to face them.

In another session, you will have to recount the traumatic experience to your therapist, go home and listen to a recording of yourself. Doing this will eventually help you ease your depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Unlike the other two previous PTSD therapies, this has a different approach. You might not tell your therapist about your experience. Instead, you will concentrate on it while you watch or listen to something they’re doing — probably moving a hand, flashing light or making a sound.

Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)

SIT is a type of CBT and you can do it alone or in a group. With this approach, you do not have to go into detail about what happened. Instead, you just have to focus more on changing how you deal with the stress from the event.

You will probably learn massage and breathing techniques and other ways to stop your negative thoughts by relaxing your mind and body. After three months of practicing those relaxing techniques, you will develop the skills to release the stress and anxiety from your life which could significantly boost your mental health.


Drugs and Medications

The brain of a human with PTSD works differently when it comes to processing “threats” because the balance of the chemicals called neurotransmitters is out of whack. They can trigger a “fight or flight” response which can make you anxious, uneasy, and on the edge.

If you constantly shut down that feeling, it can lead you to feel emotionally cold and isolated. PTSD medications can help you stop thinking about and reacting to what happened in your life, including nightmares, traumatic memories, and flashbacks. They can also help you develop a more positive outlook in your life and probably feel “normal” again.

There are several types of drugs that can affect the chemistry in your brain related to fear and anxiety. Doctors will usually start with medications that affect the neurotransmitter serotonin or norepinephrine (SSRIs and SNRIs) including:

• Fluoxetine (Prozac)(4)https://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-6997-prozac+oral.aspx
• Paroxetine (Paxil)
• Sertraline (Zoloft)(5)https://www.webmd.com/drugs/mono-8095-SERTRALINE+-+ORAL.aspx?drugid=35&drugname=zoloft+oral
• Venlafaxine (Effexor)(6)https://www.webmd.com/drugs/mono-5047-VENLAFAXINE+-+ORAL.aspx?drugid=4870&drugname=venlafaxine+oral

However, only paroxetine and sertraline are the FDA-approved drugs for treating PTSD. Also, people respond differently to medications and not everyone’s PTSD condition is the same. So, some physicians might prescribe other “off-label” medications for their mental condition or PTSD symptoms which could be any of the following:

• Antidepressants(7)https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-medications-antidepressants
• Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
• Antipsychotics or second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs)
• Beta-blockers
• Benzodiazepines

Here are more drugs recommended for PTSD.

• prazosin(8)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/prazosin.html
• sertraline(9)https://www.drugs.com/sertraline.html
• lamotrigine(10)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/lamotrigine.html
• mirtazapine(11)https://www.drugs.com/mirtazapine.html
• quetiapine(12)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/quetiapine.html
• amitriptyline(13)https://www.drugs.com/amitriptyline.html
• venlafaxine(14)https://www.drugs.com/venlafaxine.html
• paroxetine(15)https://www.drugs.com/paroxetine.html
• risperidone(16)https://www.drugs.com/risperidone.html
• aripiprazole(17)https://www.drugs.com/risperidone.html
• desvenlafaxine(18)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/desvenlafaxine.html
• dronabinol(19)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/dronabinol.html
• asenapine(20)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/asenapine-sublingual.html
• fluvoxamine(21)https://www.drugs.com/mtm/fluvoxamine.html

Are stimulants used to treat PTSD?

One case report(22)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12404325/ claimed that the use of stimulants helped an individual suffering from PTSD experience complete remission of her symptoms. However, one should take caution when it comes to using stimulants for their mental health condition, especially those who are already diagnosed with PTSD.

Stimulant medications used to treat attention deficit problems and keep service members alert when out in the field might increase vulnerability to a post-traumatic stress disorder, a study suggests per Los Angeles Times.(23)https://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-stimulants-ptsd-20151119-story.html

A study from nearly 26,000 service members found that those with prescriptions for stimulants were five times more likely to develop PTSD. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin raise concentrations of the brain chemical norepinephrine which has been shown to result in more vivid and persistent memories of emotionally charged scenarios.

“When you take a stimulant, you enhance learning,” said Dr. Richard Friedman, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, who was not part of the study. “PTSD is form of learning. Traumatic experiences hijack circuits in the brain.”

Another study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress followed 25,971 active-duty troops who screened negative for PTSD from 2001 to 2008. The subjects were part of the Pentagon’s Millennium Cohort Study, which will track their mental health for the next decades.

Of the 131 service members who were prescribed stimulants over the course of the study, a total of 20 or 15% had PTSD. There were a total of 1,215 PTSD cases. Those who had been prescribed multiple stimulants were the most likely to have PTSD.

However, the result did not prove that the drugs caused the disorder because in the majority of cases, the data did not tell the researchers if the prescriptions preceded the onset of PTSD.

“The vast majority of people with PTSD did not receive stimulants,” said Dr. Charles Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who was not involved in the study.

He added that more research is needed on the issue. He doesn’t believe that the drugs played much role in the overall rates of PTSD.


Does Ayahuasca Help PTSD?

Ayahuasca is used by the indigenous tribes from the Amazon for medical and ritualistic purposes. Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug, most travel to Amazonian countries like Peru, Ecuador or Brazil to experience it not for thrill but for spiritual enlightenment and healing. Ayahuasca contains DMT which is only legal when used in ceremonial settings in the United States. However, ayahuasca is rampant and legal in South America.

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic plant that contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and β-carboline alkaloids (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine). Although the local tribes in the Amazon have been using ayahuasca to heal different illnesses, this psychedelic and hallucinogenic brew only got more attention in potentially treating mental health conditions and symptoms after a study from the Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin, the psychedelic component in what is called magic mushrooms and MMDA a.k.a ecstasy as “breakthrough therapies.” The rare designation encourages scientists to fast-track larger studies that could pave the way to using psychedelics as medicine, The New York Times(24)https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/30/world/americas/psychedelics-therapy-war-stress.html reported.

Since then, there have been several studies showing that psychedelics including lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), methylene dioxin methamphetamine (MDMA), dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and Psilocybin(25)https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/psychedelic-assisted-therapy (magic mushrooms) help in treating various mental health conditions.

Ayahuasca, the traditional plant medicine, is a popular alternative for those with PTSD that’s why more and more are trying this especially after unsuccessful therapy and medication. This psychedelic brew shows promising therapeutic potential in psychiatry.
According to a study(26)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5895707/, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that ayahuasca might be beneficial in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD. However, there are no pre-clinical or clinical studies that investigate the possibility.

Can Ayahuasca Help With Anxiety?

Yes, there are chances that it can by giving you a new perspective in life. Many said that it helped with their mental condition by rewiring their brain. According to several veterans who tried ayahuasca, the emotional and rewarding experience removed their fear, took away their depression and gave them hope and will to live.

“These experiences have a way of completely blasting people out of the mental ruts they’re stuck in and to look at a broader set of possibilities,” said Dr. Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins, one of several universities conducting clinical trials.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, the director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore spoke about psychedelic therapy on Speaking of Psychology, the bi-weekly podcast from the American Psychological Association that explores the connections between psychological science and everyday life.

During the discussion, Griffiths admitted that he had personal ambivalence about whether or not the administration of psychedelics would lead or fulfill the kinds of expectations he saw promulgated by psychedelic enthusiasts. In his personal opinion at the time, they were “overzealous.” However, the results of their study were “stunning to me.”

According to him, patients or volunteers who were given a reasonably high dose of psilocybin reported meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their entire lifetimes. However, those involved in the study were carefully prepared and screened. In fact, the team spent a significant amount of time preparing them for a psychedelic session.

“When it’s given to these people, they end up reporting having had experiences that are among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their entire lifetimes. They may compare it, for instance, to the meaningfulness of the birth of a firstborn child or a death of a parent,” Griffiths said.(27)https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/psychedelic-therapy

He continued, “More stunning than that was that the attributions that people made to these experiences endured over time. Months after the session, people would continue to claim that these were continuing to be the most meaningful experiences of their lives. They made many positive attributions in terms of changes and moods, attitudes and behavior to the experiences. There’s something really fundamentally interesting about these kinds of experiences that for me as a scientist has just been riveting to explore, because so little research has been done on these compounds for some number of decades.”

Griffiths went on and explained that the changes psychedelics offer are “almost magical.” He believed that the scientific community and psychiatric community were reluctant to believe such a solution exists because they were not accustomed to seeing abrupt changes in one’s personality and dispositional characteristics in such a short time and that it could be done prospectively.

The expert explained that psilocybin along with other classic psychedelics including DMT, the active ingredient in ayahuasca and mescaline, peyote cactus and LCD have a principal effect by binding the serotonin to a receptor which initiates a cascade of activity.

When a psychedelic such as psilocybin is administered it affects vast network interconnectivity with the brain. When it is eliminated, the brain circuits fall back into a much more normal-looking pattern.

“One of the interesting observations that’s been made with respect to brain function is that under acute administration of the psychedelics, there’s a decreased functioning in something called, the default mode network,” Griffiths explained. “Now that’s an interesting brain network that is usually online when people are told in the scanner, ‘Don’t do anything,’ and it’s associated with mind wandering or self referential behavior, also perceptive behavior of various types. The default mode network function is increased in depression, is decreased under psilocybin, and interestingly it’s decreased in long-term meditators. That fits with a story, if you will, of a decrease in self referential processing, decreased egoic functioning, if you.”

So what made the experience life-changing? According to Griffiths, psychedelic therapy works because it leads one to find their sense of self and self-referential inner discussion that slipped away. It leads one to drop the past and the future and live in the present moment. The overall experience can boost one’s mental health.

Among the qualitative features of the experience is being very present. Also, people often report a “mystical type experience” where they find a sense of interconnectedness of all people and things. They feel united to themselves and their environment. That is coupled with a sense of preciousness of that experience and the true value of the experience which makes the memory of that experience endure. People who are altered psychologically tend to experience long-term positive changes within themselves.

“People make these positive attributions to these experiences in terms of their moods, their moods tend to be better, they’re less inclined to become upset, they’re more mindful, their attitudes, they’re more curious and engaged with life, they’re more sensitive to other people and their behaviors. People are more likely, if these are healthy volunteers, to take on self-care activities like a better diet or change their exercise routine or engage more in a more satisfying way with their loved ones,” Griffiths went on.

He added that those people develop psychological flexibility where they seem to have more curiosity about the nature of their mind. Thus, they are more able and willing to endure discomfort and have an increased sense of self-efficacy.

Psychological flexibility plays a huge part in the transformative changes one experiences after psychedelic therapy. If one comes out of that experience after facing a demon, which could be literally or figuratively a vision of a demonic figure on their mind, that’s about to destroy them, it may make them feel like they are dying or have gone insane. They might feel like they are never going to get back to consensual reality. But if one can stay with it and get over it, then they can return to engaging in their normal everyday life with a new perspective.

“These difficult experiences can take any form and shape and they’ll be unique to the individual, but if one can experience that and stay with it and see it for what it is, and that is that it’s simply a temporary illusion of consciousness, then one comes out of those experiences and is able to engage in normal everyday life, and the difficulties one normally faces in life, and recognize the extent to which they’re wrapping their own thoughts around and they’re becoming their own worst enemy in how they’re holding their experiences of life. Therein, I think, lies the power of this psychological flexibility,” Griffiths said.


Real-Life Testimonies From Veterans Who Tried Ayahuasca For PTSD Healing

Many veterans packed their bags and visited the Amazon jungle to experience the power of ayahuasca after the traditional PTSD medication failed them. And they were impressed at how the DMT brew from the jungle melted their fear and guilt. They became more emotional and grounded to their spiritual side. Happier and more alive.

Here are real-life testimonies from veterans who traveled to the jungle to seek the potential healing they could achieve with ayahuasca as documented by The New York Times.

1. Rudy Gonsior, an American former Special Forces sniper

Rudy Gonsior is among those who traveled to the jungle of Costa Rica in hope of finding healing from the vomit-inducing psychedelic brew after feeling damaged following years of being in combat.

“I have traveled across continents to come to the jungle to do psychedelics,” he was quoted by The New York Times. “I guess this is what might be considered a Hail Mary.”

Gonsior enlisted in the Marine Corps to avenge the attack on Sept. 11 which happened when he was in high school. He was deployed in western Iraq where he and his men were constantly ambushed with powerful roadside bombs and by snipers. He returned home with 17 of his comrades in body bags.

The traumatic experience turned him into a ruthless warrior. According to him, it came to a point when his goal was only to survive and he did a lot of things he was not proud of. In 2007, he joined the Army Special Forces as a sniper and it left him feeling he was joining a “cult of death.”

“The last 17 years of my life, my job in one way or another has revolved around death,” he said. “As I get older, it weighs heavy.”

In 2012, an incident happened which haunted him for years. He took the life of one man on a motorcycle believing he was an insurgent only learning later on that he was an Afghan intelligence source working with his unit. Gonsior didn’t allow himself to grieve or process the guilt until years later, he was gripped by depression and bouts of rage.

He experienced abstract thoughts and became suicidal. He was advised to take antidepressants but he refused due to the potential side effects. Then, he heard a story about ayahuasca on the radio and was fascinated by the idea that healing deep wounds requires grappling with their roots.

He knew deep down inside that there was a lot of “emotional wreckage,” so he headed Mother Aya’s call. He traveled to the Amazon jungle to try the popular hallucinogenic concoction. He likened his ayahuasca experience to a “final surrender.”

“You have so many experiences that run the gamut from absolute terror to pure joy,” he said. “You realize there’s another layer of understanding there.”

2. Jesse Gould, former Army Ranger

Jesse Gould is another veteran who had a life-changing experience with ayahuasca after overcoming his traumas. For him, the benefits one can find in the jungle retreat experience outweigh the risks.

Gould created the Heroic Hearts Project, a nonprofit group that raises money to send veterans who are at the low point of their lives to psychedelic retreats. After Gould left the Army and traveled, he found a comfortable job in finance that drove him to heavy drinking and left him “a feeling of dread about everything.”

When he sought the Department of Veterans Affairs in Tampa where he lived, he was encouraged to take antidepressants that did not appeal to him. So, in 2016, he quit his job and booked a trip to Peru to join an ayahuasca retreat. He admitted that it was an unexpected decision and was out of character for someone like him who avoided drugs all his life.

“I definitely grew up in the D.A.R.E. generation. I was very much into ‘Just say no’,” Gould shared.

Looking back at his ayahuasca experience, the first few ceremonies were brutal for Gould. He even described them as “an all-out war.” He vomited 20 times in one night and felt like he was pushed “to the edge of sanity.” However, several months later, his depression mellowed after using ayahuasca. Also, his crippling social anxiety melted away and his mood swings which were like a “tug of war in my brain” ceased. No more traumas. No more fear. He became free from what used to hold him back and weigh him down after attending several ayahuasca ceremonies.

“It seemed to almost rewire my brain,” Gould added.

“People instantly have the image of a hippie,” he said. “But because of my service, a lot of people that are in a completely different demographic tend to listen.”

Gould and his team have raised over $250,000 to pay for psychedelic retreat scholarships for dozens of veterans. They also support the move to decriminalize psychedelics with their positive testimonies.

3. Chris Sutherland, a Canadian soldier

Chris Sutherland retired on full disability for PTSD after years of panic attacks, binge drinking and periods of taking antidepressants. All of those left him feeling, “I was no longer human.”

When he attended ayahuasca ceremonies, he encountered the “most terrifying night of my life.” Yes, it was the worst that he felt, it was “more terrifying than any combat I have ever been in.”

However, the ayahuasca trips he made helped him overcome his long standing fear and made him realize one thing — “I am not a sociopath,” he said.

“I was always worried that I was evil, but I was shown where my compassion lies,” he added.

The good thing with classic psychedelics is that they are not considered drugs of addiction, according to Griffiths. The National Institute on Drug Abuse does not classify them as drugs of addiction or dependence. Instead, they have the potential to combat drug addiction.

Griffiths initiated their first study on addictions and chose tobacco dependence. They didn’t want to start with cocaine or alcohol or opiate dependence because they didn’t know what to expect. After running a small pilot study in 15 chronic cigarette smokers and combining psilocybin administration with cognitive behavior therapy for cigarette smoking cessation, their team discovered that 80% of that group was abstinent which was an “outrageous outcome for cigarette smoking.”

According to Psychology Today(28)https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/202008/ayahuasca-and-its-potential-treat-ptsd, ayahuasca can treat a variety of mental health issues. However, the experience can be unique to the individual. Nicole Anders, a clinical psychologist who specializes in PTSD discussed the topic in an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report. She shared her experience with the psychedelic brew.

“I have sat in a ceremony with Ayahuasca twice. The first time it was a transformative, positive, and beautiful experience, which allowed me to grieve the loss of my mother. I felt so much love. The second time was dark, scary, and felt defragmented. I felt like I was dying,” she said as quoted by Psychology Today.

4. David Radband, British former special forces soldier

David Radband decided to travel to the jungle in hope of drowning out the rage that had consumed him after leaving the army. He admitted to being violent which landed him in prison for assault, he also tried to kill himself twice by hanging and once by stabbing himself in the gut. His PTSD also cost him the custody of his children. Things were so bad for Radband before he encountered ayahuasca.

“I was blocking emotions with anger,” Radband shared. “I was putting up a wall all the time.”

After attending an ayahuasca ceremony, Radband discovered something in himself — he found a will to live. The ayahuasca ceremonies he attended reignited his desire to live, survive and appreciate himself. He started to realize that he has something to offer to the world.

“You know, I tried to kill myself twice, but I’m not ready to die,” he said. “I have so much more to give.”


Risks When Taking Ayahuasca

Ingesting ayahuasca is not a smooth and easy experience. Despite the positive stories you will often hear about it, the actual ayahuasca experience may not be very pleasing at all. In fact, those who tried it experienced dizziness, weakness, tremors, altered consciousness and abnormal sensations.

Also, most go through intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea which is called “the purge.” The ayahuasca shamans and experienced ayahuasca users consider it an essential part of one’s ayahuasca journey which could lead to “spiritual awakening.”

Yes, ayahuasca is promising but one still has to be cautious when taking it. Dr. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University who has studied psychedelics since 2004 warns about the “Wild West element” of ayahuasca.

According to him, a controlled setting can help the brain unleash and revisit repressed trauma for you to generate new insights about it. There are medical establishments that were once skeptical about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics but are already embracing its potential as medicine or drugs.

But Dr. Johnson had a concern — that psychedelic retreat centers offering the psychedelic brew ayahuasca may be ill-equipped in screening patients for the trip. In extreme cases, patients high on psychedelics may commit suicide. Others may experience psychotic episodes that require hospitalization. The risks when taking ayahuasca in an uncontrolled setting can be serious.

“These are powerful, powerful tools and they can put people in a very vulnerable place,” Dr. Johnson said. “That is not to be underestimated.”

James Kingsland who visited Peru to try the intriguing psychedelic brew — ayahuasca — also shared the same concern as Johnson. In an article he penned for The Guardian(29)https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/apr/06/a-puke-bucket-and-an-ancient-drug-is-ayahuasca-the-future-of-ptsd-treatment-, he noted that most ayahuasca retreat centers in Peru do not exert so much effort to screen applicants. The cheaper ones advertised on the streets of tourist hotspots such as Iquitos and Cusco will take the patients’ money without any question and they provide little to no psychological support.

Alli Feduccia of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies(30)http://www.maps.org/, warned everyone to pursue using ayahuasca “with great care.” She also encouraged them to do thorough research and find reputable retreat centers because counseling and support are very important and not all ayahuasca retreat centers in South America offer them.

“Counselling and support during and after ayahuasca retreats are necessary to integrate the intense experiences that can emerge,” she said. “People have been traumatised by ayahuasca experiences because this very needed support is lacking.”

Indeed, several experts are worried about the use of psychedelics in retreats and other settings without adequate controls due to the potential adverse effects.

“The room for error is not having adequate medical support” added Collin Reiff(31)https://nyulangone.org/doctors/1205249331/collin-reiff) a psychiatrist at New York University,

Also, people taking prescription drugs are at risk of interaction because aside from DMT, ayahuasca contains potent monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which block an enzyme that usually breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin. Taking ayahuasca while on an SSRI or MAOI antidepressant can lead to a fatal condition “serotonin syndrome.”

Under normal circumstances, the enzymes will break down tyramine which is found in fermented and smoked foods, pork, pickles, chocolates and alcoholic drinks. However, when tyramine is in excess, it can trigger a dangerous spike in blood pressure.

Thus, it’s unlikely for doctors to send one with PTSD to an ayahuasca retreat. But, they might offer psychotherapy under the influence of MDMA.

Meanwhile, when Griffiths was asked if psychedelic drugs should be deregulated or be made widely available since they sound promising, the expert said people need to be very cautious with it because psychedelics have “significant risks attached to them.”

Griffiths’ team conducted a large survey of people who had used psilocybin in non-medical circumstances and encouraged them to share their difficult experiences and the consequences they faced after that.

Only 10% of the people endorsed psychedelics after having put themselves or others at risk for serious harm. According to him, people can engage and they can become panicked or confused and engage in dangerous behavior like running out into traffic or jumping out of a window. They could also potentially harm someone else.

He added that another 10% said they endured psychological problems that lasted a year or longer after the experience. Moreover, in vulnerable populations, people who have a predisposition to psychotic illness may be enough to trigger their enduring chronic illness.

Thus, for safety, Griffiths and his team exclude anyone with a personal or family history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.


Wrap Up

Psychedelic therapy including ayahuasca is very promising in treating PTSD. However, it must only be used in a controlled setting and the patients should be properly screened. A number of veterans suffering from PTSD found new hope and joy after attending ayahuasca therapy which prompted many to hope that psychedelics are the future treatment for PTSD.

But, then again, there are serious risks that come with it. Individuals taking antidepressants and those with a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are best advised to stay away from ayahuasca and other psychedelic treatments because it could trigger or worsen their condition.

Although many experts agree that more studies are needed to conclude the safety of psychedelic therapy among PTSD patients, those who have tried it are convinced that the benefits outweigh the risk.

If you wish to know more about ayahuasca, check our homepage.

References

  • statista.com/topics/7449/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/
  • nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/causes/
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5895707/
  • theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/apr/06/a-puke-bucket-and-an-ancient-drug-is-ayahuasca-the-future-of-ptsd-treatment-
  • apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/psychedelic-therapy

References

References
1 https://www.statista.com/topics/7449/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/
2 https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/causes/
3 https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-treatments-for-posttraumatic-stress-disorder
4 https://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-6997-prozac+oral.aspx
5 https://www.webmd.com/drugs/mono-8095-SERTRALINE+-+ORAL.aspx?drugid=35&drugname=zoloft+oral
6 https://www.webmd.com/drugs/mono-5047-VENLAFAXINE+-+ORAL.aspx?drugid=4870&drugname=venlafaxine+oral
7 https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-medications-antidepressants
8 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/prazosin.html
9 https://www.drugs.com/sertraline.html
10 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/lamotrigine.html
11 https://www.drugs.com/mirtazapine.html
12 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/quetiapine.html
13 https://www.drugs.com/amitriptyline.html
14 https://www.drugs.com/venlafaxine.html
15 https://www.drugs.com/paroxetine.html
16, 17 https://www.drugs.com/risperidone.html
18 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/desvenlafaxine.html
19 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/dronabinol.html
20 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/asenapine-sublingual.html
21 https://www.drugs.com/mtm/fluvoxamine.html
22 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12404325/
23 https://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-stimulants-ptsd-20151119-story.html
24 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/30/world/americas/psychedelics-therapy-war-stress.html
25 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/psychedelic-assisted-therapy
26 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5895707/
27 https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/psychedelic-therapy
28 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/202008/ayahuasca-and-its-potential-treat-ptsd
29 https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/apr/06/a-puke-bucket-and-an-ancient-drug-is-ayahuasca-the-future-of-ptsd-treatment-
30 http://www.maps.org/
31 https://nyulangone.org/doctors/1205249331/collin-reiff) a psychiatrist at New York University