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MAPS BULLETIN
MAPS Bulletin Summer 2014: Research Edition
 
Research > Ayahuasca Treatment for Addiction
Banisteriopsis caapi
Banisteriopsis caapi

MAPS supports research into the safety and effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted treatment for drug addiction. We also support conferences, meetings, and publications about the scientific, therapeutic, sustainable, and spiritual uses of ayahuasca. We also serve as non-profit fiscal sponsor for organizations that support these uses.

We recently completed the first North American observational study of the safety and long-term effectiveness of ayahuasca treatment for addiction and dependence. The paper describing the results of the study was published in June 2013 in Current Drug Abuse Reviews.

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew or tea most commonly derived from Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine containing monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and the leaves of Psychotria viridis or other plant containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and often several other admixture plants.

Ayahuasca is legal in many countries in South America. The United States Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favor of the legal religious use of ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the Santo Daime Church's freedom to use ayahuasca for religious purposes. However, ayahuasca's principally active ingredient—DMT—remains a Schedule I controlled substance.

In recent decades, international researchers have been exploring the effects of ayahuasca on brain function as well as the potential use of ayahuasca-assisted therapy as a treatment for substance abuse and other disorders. Although preliminary, current research suggests that when administered in therapeutic settings, ayahuasca may help reduce problematic substance use by helping promote personal or spiritual insights or self-knowledge.

The pharmacology of ayahuasca is not completely understood, and there are physiological and psychological risks associated with its use. Most contemporary ayahuasca retreats are unregulated and lack systems of accountability, though the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council is working to develop standards. Anyone considering using ayahuasca in a religious or therapeutic context should carefully weigh the risks and benefits, and ensure that medical assistance is available.

Watch videos from the Ayahuasca Track at Psychedelic Science 2013.

Explore MAPS in the Media for the latest headlines.

View our Event Calendar for upcoming events.

MAPS-Sponsored Ayahuasca Research

contract Ayahuasca Research News Timeline
July 29, 2013
  MAPS "Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy May Have Benefits for People with Substance Use Disorders" .

People suffering from substance use disorders may experience significant benefits from ayahuasca-assisted therapy, according to a recently completed observational study published in the June 2013 edition of Current Drug Abuse Reviews. The first-of-its-kind study reported significant improvements in measures of mental and behavioral health related to substance use disorders, as well as significant reductions in harmful cocaine use following treatment. MAPS was a co-sponsor of this study.

Download the press release…

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July 29, 2013

Results Published: Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy May Have Benefits for Substance Use Disorders

Press Release (July 29, 2013): People suffering from substance use disorders may experience significant benefits from ayahuasca-assisted therapy, according to a recently completed observational study published in the June 2013 edition of Current Drug Abuse Reviews. Sponsored by MAPS, this study reported significant improvements in measures of mental and behavioral health related to substance use disorders. Learn more… | View the article…

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September 27, 2012

Researchers Present Findings from Canadian Study of Ayahuasca Treatment for Addiction

On September 27, 2012, researchers affiliated with MAPS Canada presented the findings from their now-completed MAPS-supported study of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction and dependence to the Canadian First Nations Band involved in the study. Combining Western psychotherapeutic techniques with South American shamanic healing practices, this study gathered preliminary evidence about the safety and effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted therapy. Treatment consisted of participation in a five-day retreat (facilitated by Gabor Maté, M.D.) in British Columbia, which included ayahuasca-assisted therapy.

The presentation was made in accordance with the First Nations Principles of OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession) for research conducted involving First Nations communities. The Band was enthusiastic about the impact of the ayahuasca-assisted treatment on the subjects who participated and granted permission for the research team to present their findings to the scientific community. The research team is currently working on a paper for submission to a scientific journal, and will present the study results at our upcoming Psychedelic Science 2013 conference in Oakland in April 2013.

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September 23, 2011

Canadian Study Explores Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy for Addiction and Dependence

On September 23, 2011, the final treatment session (consisting of a five-day therapeutic retreat) took place in MAPS Canada’s observational study of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for individuals suffering from addiction and dependence. The research team has now recruited and is following up with 15 study subjects that have been treated. This study is taking place in British Columbia, and is overseen by MAPS Canada Board Member Philippe Lucas, M.A., with Principal Investigator Gerald Thomas, Ph.D., Rielle Capler, M.H.A., and Kenneth Tupper, Ph.D. Combining Western psychotherapeutic techniques with South American shamanic (Vegetalista) healing practices, this study is gathering preliminary evidence about the safety and effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted therapy. Treatment consists of participation in a five-day retreat (facilitated by Gabor Maté, M.D.) including ayahuasca-assisted therapy, which may help reduce problematic substance use as well as addictions, compulsive behavior, and self-harming thought patterns. The study is being conducted in cooperation with a British Columbia First Nations band.

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contract Ayahuasca-Assisted Treatment for Addiction (British Columbia, Canada)

Principal Investigator: Gerald Thomas, Ph.D.
Study Site: British Columbia, Canada

Sponsored in part by MAPS Canada, this observational study investigated the safety and long-term effectiveness of ayahuasca treatment for individuals suffering from addiction and dependence. Combining Western psychotherapeutic techniques with South American shamanic (Vegetalista) healing practices, this study successfully gathered preliminary evidence about the safety and effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted therapy.

The treatment consisted of a four-day retreat in British Columbia, Canada, facilitated by Gabor Maté, M.D., which combined four days of group counseling with two expert-led ayahuasca ceremonies. Group counseling sessions consisted of various psychosomatic techniques coupled with group sharing and dialogue.

Subjects included 12 members of a rural First Nations community, several of whom had been through numerous unsuccessful treatments.

The first-of-its-kind study reported significant improvements in measures of mental and behavioral health related to substance use disorders, as well as significant reductions in harmful cocaine use following treatment. The paper describing the results of the study was published in June 2013 in Current Drug Abuse Reviews.


Study Team

Gerald Thomas, Ph.D, Principal Investigator

Gerald Thomas is a Collaborating Scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of BC. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Colorado State University in 1998 and has worked in the area of Canadian substance abuse policy since 2004. His areas of expertise include drug policy, alcohol policy, substance abuse treatment, harm reduction and complementary and alternative medicine. His training as a social scientist combined with direct experience using alternative methods to heal emotional trauma led to his current interest in assessing the healing potential of ayahuasca. Gerald lives with his fiancé in Summerland, BC, where he enjoys a variety of outdoor pursuits including mountain biking and windsurfing.

Kenneth Tupper, Ph.D, Co-Investigator

Kenneth Tupper is an Adjunct Professor at the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, where his research interests include the cross-cultural and historical uses of psychoactive substances; public, professional and school-based drug education; and creating healthy public policy to maximize benefits and minimize harms from currently illegal drugs. Kenneth is also a member of the Advisory Board of MAPS Canada, and has been active in the field of psychedelic studies for more than 14 years. His Ph.D. dissertation (and earlier M.A. thesis) in Education developed the concept of “entheogenic education,” a theoretical frame for understanding how psychedelic plants and substances—in particular the Amazonian brew ayahuasca—can function as cognitive tools for learning. More information about Kenneth and his academic interests can be found on his personal homepage.

N. Rielle Capler, MHA, Co-Investigator

N. Rielle Capler, MHA, has worked as researcher and policy advisor in the medical cannabis field for 13 years. She helped pioneer Canada’s first compassion club where she worked as the policy analyst and research coordinator from 1999 to 2007. Rielle is a co-founder of Canadians for Safe Access, a national organization promoting safe access to cannabis for medical use and research, and a co-founder and advisory board member of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. Rielle is a co-investigator on several community-based research projects related to medical cannabis and is also a co-investigator on a observational study of ayahuasca-assisted therapy in the treatment of addiction. She is currently a doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia.


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Ayahuasca Projects

contract Books

More books are available in the MAPS Store.

More Books

The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca by Beatriz Labate and Clancy Cavnar (eds.) (with financial support from MAPS)


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contract Fiscal Sponsorships

MAPS serves as non-profit fiscal sponsor for selected organizations and projects that support our mission. Donations to these projects can be made through MAPS and are tax-deductible for U.S. citizens.


The Ayahuasca Foundation is dedicated to the preservation, continuation, and spread of the ancient science of plant spirit healing. In addition to offering healing treatment programs and educational courses, the Foundation is building a research center to investigate the medicinal properties of various plants in the Amazon region, study the role of consciousness in the healing process, and demonstrate the effect and importance of the shamanic traditions that use ayahuasca. Donate | Learn more...


The Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization dedicated to assuring the sustainable and safe use of traditional plants, and enriching the communities who work with them.The ESC aims to develop and convene individual plant dialogues that provide every constructive stakeholder the chance to share and learn from one another and contribute to shaping broad consensus on voluntary principles, standards, and criteria for ethnobotanicals. Donate | Learn more...


The Yawanawa Project presents an innovative approach to preserve an indigenous culture and the Amazonian rainforest on which it depends. The project is a collaboration by the Yawanawa and a group of people who look at indigenous entheogenic medicines with diverse neurobiological, pharmacological, anthropological or spiritual interests, but who share the conviction that the knowledge of how to safely provide for entheogenic experiences ought to be regarded as world cultural heritage. Donate | Learn more...


For more information about fiscal sponsorships through MAPS, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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Ayahuasca Resources

contract Videos

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Featured Articles

A Psychotherapeutic View on the Therapeutic Effects of Ritual Ayahuasca Use in the Treatment of Addiction
Anja Loizaga-Velder, Dipl-Psych
MAPS Bulletin, Spring 2013

Exploring Ayahuasca at Psychedelic Science 2013
Stephan V. Beyer, PhD, JD, and Bia Labate, PhD
MAPS Bulletin, Winter 2012

Consideration of Ayahuasca for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Jessica L. Nielson, PhD, and Julie D. Megler, MSN, NP-BC
MAPS Bulletin, Winter 2012

Gabor Maté on Psychedelics and Unlocking the Unconscious, From Cancer to Addiction
Gabor Maté, MD
Alternet, May 30, 2013

More articles...


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