Second millennium. Modern medicine is everywhere. Its technologies and remedies have spread all over the world to all human societies. All? No. Some Amazonian tribes still resist using medicinal plants and using a magic potion, Ayahuasca. Of course the comparison with the french comic books’ characters of Asterix and Obelix ends here. Ayahuasca does not provide superhuman strength, but many other things …
It is above all a powerful emetic acting on the stomach, the digestive system and the urinary system. It also helps to get rid of parasites and some microbial infections. Native Amazonians have been using Ayahuasca for millennia. In many tribes, especially in Brazil, it is consumed in a collective ritual where all members of the tribe (including children) are invited. This collective medicine can be compared to another Amazonian medicinal practice called “Kambo”, known as the forest vaccine. But Ayahuasca’s collective rituals often look more like a party than a mass vaccination campaign. Indeed, ayahuasca is not only an emetic but one of the most powerful natural antidepressants. Scientists are just beginning to measure its true potential. Meanwhile, Amazonian tribes far from wondering about the issue are just healing themselves by consuming and vomiting Ayahuasca and get drunk.
Another aspect of Ayahuasca is the effects and visions it causes. Many Westerners looking for a cure for various diseases such as psychological disorders have begun their initiation with this medicine. This growing phenomenon and some misusings have led Western countries to qualify Ayahuasca as a drug and prohibit it. Nevertheless, a growing number of Westerners continue to travel to Peru, “the mecca of Ayahuasca”. They sometimes stay for months in indigenous communities or in Ayahuasca centers, with generally positive results, especially in the case of psychological traumas. Scientists on their side did not remain inactive, and some of them took the risk of doing research on this controversial medicine.
It appears that ayahuasca, a mixture of two plants (Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis) has a great medicinal potential that is not limited to the treatment of psychological disorders, but may well help cure many modern degenerative diseases such as autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, neuropsychiatric diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, bipolar disorder, atherosclerosis, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disorders… Click on this following link to read more about Ayahuasca chemistry . “We already knew it!” Would say the natives. It is deeply human to be wary of foreign medicine like Chinese one for example, just because it does not fit our way of thinking.
Traditional Amazonian medicine is not just about Ayahuasca
Since their medicine has so much potential, it would be wise to learn and consider all of their healing process as a whole. And I have to apologize to the skeptic and Cartesian minds, but that also includes shamanism. Amazonian shamans call themselves vegetalists. This means they have a strong spiritual connection with medicinal plants called “master plants” acquired during a hard process of restrictions called “the diet” that one could compare to asceticism. These plants are their teachers and help shamans make a diagnosis to heal their patients. They also give shamans the power to heal by giving them medicine songs (ikaros) that they use in Ayahuasca rituals.
What can Amazonian shamans teach us about medicine? One of the most crucial aspects of healing is to fully engage in the process. And that may involve drastically changing our way of life to restore health and harmony within. All this is common sense you might say, and resembles the teachings of many Eastern philosophies. To be healthy or to heal we need to pay attention to what we eat, how we feel and what we think. Did not the father of Western medicine, Hypocrates, say, “Let your food be your medicine”. The well-known “mens sana corpore sano”, a healthy mind in a healthy body is still used today.
The origin of degenerative diseases
We knew this before, but it was before embracing our modern way of life. Junk food, stress, pollution, addictive behavior, all these factors seem to cause chronic inflammation at the base of modern degenerative diseases, as recent research suggests. Combined with cellular stressors, including cell suicide, a vicious cycle occurs, resulting in abnormal protein build-up, followed by complications. These chronic inflammations seem to have their origin in the microbial degradation of the intestines increasing the intestinal permeability.
So most modern diseases would have originated from the intestines… but it is precisely the favorite terrain of Ayahuasca! As stated before, it is an emetic, cleansing the digestive system of parasites and microbial infections. Since the DMT (psychoactive substance) contained in Ayahuasca is a serotonin agonist (capable of mimicking serotonin), it actually increases the level of serotonin but also increases the brain’s ability to capture it. This helps to gradually reduce stress and provide the patient with greater emotional stability.
But there is another neuro-receptor capable of capturing the DMT contained in Ayahuasca; the Sigma 1-R receptor. And it appears to play a major role in curing degenerative diseases. Recent research tends to prove that it prevents the accumulation of misfolded proteins, reduces the apostose cells (cell suicide) under stress as well as cellular stress. Other research reveals that Ayahuasca has anti-cancer potency. It destroys cancer cells, inhibits sugar consumption by cancer cells (warburg effect) and blocks their spread.
Is Ayahuasca an alternative to modern diseases?
Thus, Ayahuasca proves to be a potential alternative to cure most degenerative diseases. Some people have already taken the risk of healing with Ayahuasca and have gone to Peru to cure cancer for example. Some have healed, others have not. Like modern medicine, it is not 100% sure that you can cure yourself of serious diseases like cancer. It also depends on what type of illness you have and the level of its progression, but also consider that traditional Amazonian medicine can not be reduced simply to Ayahuasca. It is a medicinal science that combines hundreds of plants, and unfortunately we are sorely lacking in information about it … One or a few of these plants will be consumed by the patient during a process called “healing diet”. This is a very important process and much of the outcome will depend on how the patient gets involved in this process. Then there is also the power of the shaman. They know how to cure various diseases but sometimes their “diet” or their knowledge is not adapted to cure serious diseases. You would do well to choose the right one. Therefore, it is also difficult to speak with certainty about the effectiveness of a cure with traditional Amazonian medicine. So many factors are at stake.
Many Westerners have since experienced Ayahuasca during a retreat in Peru and spoke of it as a strong and unique experience. During the Ayahuasca sessions, they were able to see what was wrong in their lives, and during this emotional , spiritual and physical process they were able to see what needed to be changed in order to heal themselves and restore harmony. In many cases, it led to radical changes in addictions, spirituality, work, place of life and even relationships. It’s easy to advise to eat healthy and with plenty of fresh food, live close to nature away from stress and pollution; however, modern society is adapted to an urban lifestyle where most people live and work, and it’s even harder to consider when you have a serious illness. When we do become ill, we take pills and sometimes follow dietary restrictions in order to be operational again, but as soon as we feel better we return to our routine as if nothing had happened. Over time, inflammations and stress factors weaken our bodies while diseases become more severe and sometimes to the point where we can no longer be operational. We Westerners should really reconsider the concept of healing as a whole and admit the obvious. We are the master of our lives, and we have the choice to change for our well-being.
Warnings and therapeutic limits
Despite all this, and the extraordinary potential of Ayahuasca, it is necessary to approach this practice with great circumspection, especially in the case of serious illnesses. We advise people with serious illnesses not to take Ayahuasca without preparing themselves in advance. The acidity of Ayahuasca combined with acidity and weakness of the body could cause a devastating effect. As with many other diseases, the patient will have to undergo a cleansing process that can last one or two months as appropriate, before working with Ayahuasca. One must take care as well with serious psychological disorders such as psychosis or bipolar disorder.
Although Ayahuasca has proved very effective in dealing with psychological problems, we can not deny that the framework in which traditional Amazonian medicine is practiced does not offer the same level of security as modern psychiatric institutions. Several cases of suicide, psychosis and decompensation syndromes have been reported in some healing centers in Peru. This lack of framework is easily understandable since traditionally, healers did not treat this type of modern psychological disorder in their own communities. Although they have sometimes had to deal with people who have “lost their minds” and are aware of Ayahuasca’s possible interactions with modern psychiatric treatments, they are not always prepared to respond to crises or regressive episodes. Some Western-run centers like Takiwasi based in Tarapoto, Peru, provide a safe framework for patients with psychological issues.
Legal use of Ayahuasca in western lands: dream or reality?
It seems that the great therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca no longer seems to be in doubt. But if we want to open the chapter of traditional Ayahuasca medicine to the Western world, we must take into account the needs of the modern world in order to practice Ayahuasca safely. Several so-called shamans organize Ayahuasca ceremonies in Western countries. These people who surf the “Ayahuasca business” without having received a reall “jungle training”, practice Ayahuasca out of traditional settings and often ignore the true potential of this medicine. This will not help Western countries to reconsider Ayahuasca as a serious therapeutic alternative. We recommend to people who want to heal with Ayahuasca to practice it in ceremony with serious shamans. If it is not possible for them to travel, at least choose qualified practitioners who have been “jungle trained” according to tradition, and whom have been really dedicated to this medicine. It would not occur to us to be operated on by an unskilled surgeon. It’s the same with Ayahuasca.
Switzerland new eldorado?
How could we consider the legal therapeutic use of Ayahuasca in Western countries? There have been some precedents with LSD for example. Stanislav Groff treated his patients with LSD in a psychiatric hospital and had good results, but when LSD was banned he had to stop his research.
In Switzerland, however, the country of A.Hoffman who invented of LSD, research on psychedelic therapies never really stopped. In Zurich, several psychiatrists including Dr Franz X. Vollenweider or Dr Milan Scheidegger to name a few are working on protocols for the therapeutic use of psychedelics such as hallucinogenic mushrooms in the treatment of psychological disorders. A Swiss citizen recently told me that Ayahuasca was of great interest to the medical authorities and that they were in the process of reconsidering the use of Ayahuasca for therapeutic purposes. If it’s true it truly is a big step for humanity, but a small step for the recognition of native peoples. Do doctors have the qualifications to know how to practice this medicine in its true potential as shamans do? Obviously not.
However in the same country, a collaborative project was born, with the aim of legally practicing Ayahuasca traditional medicine in Switzerland in collaboration with ashaninca shamans from Brazil. We wish them a lot of success and hope that this project will help create a synergistic model combining modern medicine and traditional Ayahuasca medicine for the benefit of all.