How Ayahuasca Tea May Help With Mental Health Issues
Ayahuasca tea is a powerful psychedelic brew that originates from the Amazon basin. Since its discovery by Western explorers, people from all over the world have participated in ayahuasca ceremonies. Its popularity has skyrocketed in recent decades. One main motivation for people to seek out ayahuasca tea is for its potential to improve mental health issues. Several mental health problems people try to treat with ayahuasca include depression, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction.
We will examine what the evidence says about the effectiveness of ayahuasca tea as a mental health treatment. This will help you decide whether you are likely to benefit from an ayahuasca ceremony.
Ayahuasca Tea Leads to Improvements in Mental Health
As part of a 2020 study published in Scientific Reports, researchers gathered participants who had never used ayahuasca tea. This group tried the brew to see how their mental health changed as a result. In the first mental health assessment of participants, researchers found that 45 percent of users met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder. These disorders included depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and substance abuse/dependence. After ayahuasca use, over 80 percent of the naïve users with a diagnosable mental disorder showed clinical improvements. These benefits lasted up to six months.
This study illustrates how ayahuasca tea can be highly effective in ameliorating a range of mental health issues.
Ayahuasca Tea and Depression
Major depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting an estimated 17.3 million American adults. This is a whopping 7.1 percent of all U.S. adults. The condition can also be hard-to-treat or treatment-resistant. The former means an individual will find it difficult to reduce the symptoms using conventional treatments. The latter means that such treatments have been ineffective.
Depression symptoms include low mood, low energy and motivation, a loss of interest in activities you used to find enjoyable, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. These symptoms can cause massive disruption to your life. However, ayahuasca may prove useful when other treatment options or lifestyle changes fail to provide relief.
A 2019 placebo-controlled study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, found that ayahuasca tea can cause rapid and significant antidepressant effects in people with treatment-resistant depression.
An earlier study from 2015 also highlighted how ayahuasca tea can act as an effective antidepressant. This research showed that ayahuasca can cause significant reductions in depressive symptoms in patients with recurrent depression for 2-3 weeks. This is a type of depression characterized by intermittent depressive episodes. Patients with recurrent depression will recover from a depressive episode, only to experience another one later on. While depressive symptoms may have returned, a 2018 follow-up study revealed most patients found the ayahuasca experience to be beneficial.
Ayahuasca Tea and PTSD
An estimated 3.6 percent of U.S. adults had PTSD in the past year. Some groups of people are more susceptible to the condition, including war veterans, police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, National Guardsmen, and disaster relief and response workers. As with depression, PTSD can often be hard-to-treat and treatment-resistant. PTSD follows the experience of a traumatic event. The symptoms of the condition include nightmares, flashbacks, feelings of isolation, guilt, irritability, insomnia, and concentration issues. PTSD can make it extremely difficult to function in day-to-day life. Normal situations such as loud noises may even trigger distressing symptoms.
There is less evidence that ayahuasca tea can resolve PTSD symptoms compared to major depression. However, the potential of ayahuasca tea to treat PTSD is an existing area of study. Many researchers are hopeful that the brew could act as a superior alternative to existing treatments, which often prove insufficient.
In a 2018 paper in Frontiers in Pharmacology, researcher Antonio Inserra outlines his hypothesis for how ayahuasca may heal traumatic memories. Inserra states the following:
“As Ayahuasca alkaloids enhance synaptic plasticity, increase neurogenesis and boost dopaminergic neurotransmission, and those processes are involved in memory reconsolidation and fear extinction, the fear response triggered by the memory can be reprogramed and/or extinguished.”
Other researchers in the field believe that ayahuasca can act in a similar way to exposure therapy. This is one of the common treatments for PTSD. After trying ayahuasca tea, it is common to face deep-seated traumas that can cause PTSD symptoms. Through this exposure, people can learn to accept the trauma and reframe what the traumatic event means to them. As with exposure therapy, this helps people to live with traumatic memories without feeling distressing fear in response to them.
Ayahuasca Tea and Addiction
Substance abuse and addiction are extremely common. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 19.7 million American adults struggled with a substance use disorder in 2017. Substance use disorders can affect people from all walks of life and they can be hard to overcome. Many people enter treatment, such as therapy, counseling, 12-step programs, and rehab, only to relapse after a period of sobriety. Those struggling with addiction may find themselves in a cycle of recovery and relapse, unable to achieve long-term sobriety.
One common reason people join an ayahuasca retreat is to beat an addiction to alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids, or stimulants. Several centers using ayahuasca tea to treat addiction claim higher success rates than conventional types of addiction treatment.
In a 2013 study, researchers found that ayahuasca-assisted therapy (ayahuasca tea combined with counseling) led to reductions in alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine use. There were also statistically significant improvements in mindfulness, hopefulness, empowerment, and a sense of meaning. Positive changes in these psychological factors can help you overcome addiction. Substance abuse and addiction are often ways to cope with poor mental health. When your sense of well-being and outlook on life improves, there is less of a need for self-medicating with drugs.
So Is Ayahuasca Right For You?
A 2019 follow-up analysis of this study discovered that participants began to notice negative patterns that fed into their addictions. This was during ayahuasca sessions, so researchers highlighted that these insights are linked to reduced substance use and cravings.
There is evidence illustrating how ayahuasca tea may be helpful in the treatment of various mental health conditions. However, a psychedelic like ayahuasca might not mix well with all mental issues. You should be aware of this before making a decision about whether to join an ayahuasca retreat.