This paper presents a series of reflections on the therapeutic potential of the ritual use of ayahuasca in the treatment and
handling of substance dependence problems. Ayahuasca is a psychoactive mixture typically made from the Amazonian plants
Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, among other possible admixtures. The mixture contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT),
a controlled substance subject to national and international drug laws. Ayahuasca has been traditionally used in indigenous,
mestizo shamanic, and religious rituals in South America. In the last 20 years, its use has spread beyond the Amazon to the world,
and has been accompanied by great controversy. One of the main aspects of this controversy is related to the native claims of the
therapeutic potential of ayahuasca, especially in the treatment of drug abuse and depression. This claim has engendered increased
academic discussion, with the production of a series of Ph.D.s and conferences on the topic that, nevertheless, remain little known
outside of South America. This presentation will analyze anthropological and psychiatric data on the ritual use of ayahuasca for
healing dependence in psychotherapeutic centers (in Peru and Brazil), as well as within the ayahuasca religions (in Brazil).
Methodological, ethical, and political considerations for current and future research in this area are further discussed, and an
interdisciplinary agenda for studies on the use of ayahuasca to treat or handle substance dependence is proposed.
Beatriz Caiuby Labate has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil. Since 2009, she has been a Research Associate at the Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University. She is also researcher with 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, and one journal special edition. For more information, see: http://bialabate.net
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