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Opening and Introduction by Bia Labate
Ayahuasca, Safety and Biomedical Research, by Luis Fernando Tófoli, MD, PhD
This section will offer a general overview of the biomedical research on ayahuasca with a special focus on the discourse about its safety. Some claim that the interpretation of biomedical data generally points to a considerable safety in the use of this decoction with psychedelic properties, provided that certain precautions are taken. On the other hand, the corpus of biomedical findings on ayahuasca is interpreted skeptically by those who stress that there is no absolute absence of risk to health in its consumption. Although there is no unconditional impartiality in the life sciences and the interpretation of scientific research is subject to diverse worldviews, some issues in ayahuasca research require more biomedical evidence. Based on the analysis of the scientific literature and the author's experience with ayahuasca, some dilemmas in the biomedical universe of ayahuasca will be discussed. These are: its general toxicity; the use by pregnant women, children and adolescents; drug interactions; and effects on mental disorders and substance misuse, among others. This section will also explore new paths for the potential development of biomedical research in the field of ayahuasca, and its contextualization within the broader disputes concerning psychoactive substances.
Revisiting the UDV Ayahuasca in Adolescence Study: Did Methodological Bias Influence Outcomes? by Dartiu Xavier da Silveira
This presentation aims to revisit a research conducted by a group of experts, published in 2005, that evaluated adolescents who used ayahuasca in the religious group União do Vegetal (UDV). Ritual use of ayahuasca within the context of the Brazilian ayahuasca churches often starts during late childhood or early adolescence. Premature access to psychoactive drugs may represent a risk factor for drug misuse. Conversely, religious affiliation seems to play a protective role in terms of substance abuse. Compared to a matched control group of adolescents who did not use ayahuasca, our findings suggested that there were no significant statistical difference between the two groups on neuropsychological measures, except for subtle cognitive abilities (encoding and learning). Considerably lower frequencies of positive scoring for anxiety, body dismorphism, and attention problems were detected among ayahuasca-using adolescents. We concluded that the low frequencies of psychiatric symptoms detected among the UDV adolescents might have reflected a protective effect of their religious affiliation. However, this presentation will suggest that it is possible that some bias may have been responsible for these favorable results. First, ayahuasca-using adolescents were particularly motivated to answer the questionnaires and to be interviewed. Next, important evidence of subtle cognitive disabilities related to ayahuasca use may have been minimized by the presence of confounders, such as: privileged baseline cognitive performance, social background, comorbid conditions, and frequent use of alcohol or other drugs among controls. Finally, problematic adolescents may have been excluded from the study by their ayahuasca-using parents. I will reflect on the political backstage and scientific implications of this study, and conclude by pointing out how further research could address the possible interference of different variables in order to better understand this complex phenomenon.
Ayahuasca’s Evolving Worldview and Practices: From Indigenous-Mestizo Ceremony in 1976 to a Global Phenomenon in 2013, by Kathleen Harrison
As recently as the 1970s, the ayahuasca culture of the Peruvian Amazon exhibited a worldview that was a blend of indigenous and mestizo elements and practices. The living tradition exhibited an astonishing depth of knowledge on the varieties of botanical form and their parallel spiritual content. Based on original fieldwork carried out in Peru in the seventies, the speaker will begin by describing that worldview and its traditional means of transmission via the oral tradition, shamanic performance, and direct experience. We are now midway through a fascinating evolution of worldviews that has developed over the past forty years. The spread of ayahuasca culture has pollinated external worldviews with nature-based knowledge, ideas of animism, concepts of causality (fate, health, luck), the dynamics of personal and collective ceremonial experience, and complex interactions with apparent shamanic power. The newcomers have gained much, yet have overlooked, changed and, to some extent, homogenized or depleted the diversity that those sources held. By regarding the “bio-cultural diversity” of the ayahuasca complex such as plant species, varieties and attendant perceptions, we still have much to learn and to investigate. As the metamorphosis continues, what is a possible model for the future of ayahuasca use?
Light and Shadow of Sexuality in Shamanism: Beneficial and Harmful Experiences in Ayahuasca Ceremonies by Yalila Espinoza
This presentation is based on a heuristic research study of North American women who participated in ayahuasca ceremonies within the tradition of vegetalismo in Peru, Canada and the USA. It explores how ayahuasca and other Amazonian plant teachers can heal women’s sexual trauma as well as the potential for women to be sexually harmed by healers in ayahausca ceremonies. Participants stated that they experienced physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing that was intimately interwoven with past sexual trauma. On the other hand, my subjects also reported the occurrence of being re-traumatized in ayahuasca ceremonies, ie. healers sexually assaulting women, or using their power over them. Shamanism can be viewed as a path of power and both within South and North America there is rarely a system of accountability; sexual assaults may not be reported to the authorities for various reasons. This presentation will highlight the complexity of cross-cultural pollination of ethical ideologies between North and South America and how the expansive interest in ayahausca requires a new level of awareness through honest dialogue and diligent education for all parties involved.
Beatriz Caiuby Labate has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the State University of Campinas (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, UNICAMP), Brazil. Her main areas of interest are the study of psychoactive substances, drug policies, shamanism, ritual, and religion. She is Visiting Professor at the Drug Policy Program of the Center for Economic Research and Education (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE) in Aguascalientes, Mexico. She is also Research Associate at the Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University, co-founder of the Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Studies of Psychoactives (NEIP), and editor of its site (http://www.neip.info). She is author, co-author, and co-editor of eight books, two with English translations, one journal special edition, and several peer-reviewed articles. For more information, see: http://bialabate.net/
Kathleen Harrison, M.A., is an independent scholar and teacher of ethnobotany. She has initiated and participated in recurrent fieldwork, mostly among indigenous people in Latin America, since the 1970s. She is the president and co-founder of Botanical Dimensions, a non-profit organization that has worked for 28 years to collect medicinal and shamanic species and the lore that helps us understand how to regard them. Kat teaches at various universities (currently University of Minnesota, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Albany College of Pharmacy, and Goddard College), specializing in tropical ethnobotanical field courses in Peru and Hawaii and integrative healing traditions in California. She helps her students understand the nature-based worldviews of traditional cultures, along with the role of plants in healing and story. She is based in rural Northern California and Hawaii. For more information, see: www.botanicaldimensions.org
Dartiu Xavier da Silveira, graduated in medicine and obtained his Ph.D. degree in psychiatry at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and his specialization in addictive behaviors at the Centre Medical Marmottan, Paris. He is a professor at the medical school of the Federal University of Sao Paulo and has been coordinating the addiction unit of the institution for the last 25 years. He has been conducting research on different themes, specifically in psychiatry and neuroscience, such as: alcohol and other drugs misuse, impulse control disorders, psychiatry comorbidity, neuropsychiatry, harm reduction, psychometrics (validation of diagnostic and screening instruments), assessment of effectiveness of therapeutic interventions, and systematic reviews and meta-analysis.
Luís Fernando Tófoli, MD, PhD, is a medical doctor with a residency and a Ph.D. degree in Psychiatry at the University of São Paulo (USP). He is a professor of Psychiatry at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and his production as a scholar is focused on community mental health policies, mental health in primary care, and ayahuasca and mental health. He has studied the onset of mental disorders in UDV members and is currently working on three projects concerning ayahuasca: a survey about quality of life and history of drug use in UDV members, the validation of the Brazilian Portuguese version of the Hallucinogen Rating Scale, and a preliminary study on the influence of drug, set, and setting in ayahuasca experiences.
Yalila Espinoza is a sexual/spiritual counselor who received a PhD in East-West Psychology and a Spiritual Counseling degree at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Yalila offers Erotic Intelligence groups in California and British Columbia, Canada and co-facilitates a 13 Moon Women's Initiation group in Northern California. She is currently writing a book titled: 'Celebrating Your Erotic Intelligence: Revitalization with Sacred Plant Teachers' focused on how the purification and guidance of plant teachers are vital for erotic health and liberation.