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Can Ayahuasca Really Treat PTSD?

Ayahuasca Treats PTSD

I was having a great discussion with Julie Megler, a board-certified nurse practitioner, and one of team members of ERIE – (Entheogenic Research, Integration, and Education based in San Francisco), on whether ayahuasca can truly be used to treat PTSD for war veterans. Julie has been studying the potential use of ayahuasca for the treatment of PTSD – you can see her presentation at Psychedelic Science 2013.

See more on “Everything You Need to Know About Ayahuasca”

She was of the opinion that MDMA might be a better, more gentle medicine for the treatment of wartime trauma. Ayahuasca does have this tendency to bring on intense, frightening visions which could be too much for someone who survived the horrors of war. However, there are a number of efforts aimed at making ayahuasca available to war veterans for the treatment of PTSD, and many personal stories of veterans having experienced positive results and deep healing from having participated in ayahuasca ceremonies.

PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a syndrome that affects a huge degree of the population, spanning a range of individuals from war veterans to survivors of abuse. PTSD can be hard to diagnose and treat as there is often a late onset of symptoms as well as concurrent disorders. There are currently a range of therapies employed for treating PTSD, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and prolonged Exposure Therapy.

While many of these therapies have proven effective, the wide-range of PTSD symptoms and causes calls for an equally wide range of therapies. People are seeking alternatives in the form of psychedelic medicines, and studies are showing that substances ranging from ayahuasca to CBD oil can be effective in alleviating depression. Whether it’s with marijuana or cannabis extracts, MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms or ayahuasca, it is hard to predict how every form of therapy is going to work for every individual due the highly varied nature of the disorder.

Whether it’s the trauma experienced by soldiers during the violent events of war, or imprints suffered by victims of sexual abuse or childhood trauma, there is an increasing need for effective therapies that will help re-stabilize and rehabilitate victims of trauma. In this article we will explore why scientists and researchers are calling for deeper investigation into the use of ayahuasca for the treatment of PTSD.

Ayahuasca Mimics Psychotherapeutic Techniques and Potentially with Greater Efficacy

Research showing the effectiveness of various psychedelics in treating PTSD are still in their preliminary stages — but so far, they are demonstrating promise. Early studies conducted by MAPS have already shown that the administration of MDMA with psychotherapy is proving effective for treating PTSD and other disorders as well. Ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew originating in the Amazon, is also being considered for similar purposes. Several psychiatrists, psychologists, and scientists alike are proposing the possibility that ayahuasca could be an extremely viable candidate for the treatment of PTSD.

In their scientific article entitled “Consideration of Ayahuasca for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, Jessica Nelson, PH.D and Julie Megler, MSN, NP-BC say, “Current research indicates that ayahuasca mimics mechanisms of currently accepted treatments to PTSD, and its use as an alternative treatment for other types of disorders are also being considered.” In the article they propose that ayahuasca mimics what is commonly know in psycho-therapeutic terms as “exposure therapy”.

In a scientific paper Ede Frecska and her co-authors in this related article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine add that exposure therapy could be integrated with desensitization and reprocessing for an efficient, effective and long-term strategy for healing. The authors state that “Ayahuasca facilitated cognitive exposure therapy could possibly cut down the long desensitization period necessary in the traditional psychotherapeutic approach.”

What is Exposure Therapy & How Does Ayahuasca Mimic It?

The main idea of exposure therapy is that sufferers of PTSD need to first be re-exposed to traumatic or fearful memories in order to re-assign meaning to the memories and become de-sensitized the the trauma-related triggers. Traumatic memory plays a huge role in the development of PTSD, and how those memories get processed and re-worked is a central focus in many of the present-day therapies.

In a scientific study published by PubMed Central, researchers were able to prove that while individuals are under the influence of ayahuasca, the amygdala is highly activated. Emotional processing is the main function of the amygdala, and is the area of the brain most commonly linked as the source of PTSD symptoms. When this part of the brain gets re-triggered, traumatic memories can be re-lived and re-processed. Anecdotal reports indicate that in the ayahuasca experience, this traumatic re-exposure is also often accompanied by moral lessons and higher perspectives which help to re-integrate the experience. In her article, Frecksa says that she believes the redemptive qualities and moral lessons commonly experienced during an ayahuasca session could be crucial in helping heal PTSD.

Most psychotherapists agree that simply re-living the traumatic memory is not enough in and of itself to help re-structure a person’s relationship to that memory. In their article, Megler and Nelson note that intention setting is often practiced in ceremonial, focused settings of ayahuasca use. It is their belief that the combination of the exposure therapy with intention settings could be effective as a comprehensive treatment of PTSD.

Anecdotal Evidence Shows Ayahuasca to be a Effective As Treatment for PTSD

From extreme range, workaholic tendencies, to addictive impulses, the symptoms associated with PTSD in war veterans can be devastating. Many veterans are coming forth with stories of profound healing, recovery and re-integration after working with the ayahuasca. Russ Binicki is one such Vietnam war vet who was suffering from severe PTSD. After multiple visits to the Amazon rainforest to journey with the sacred plant medicine in the presence of indigenous healers, Binicki says he was able to make peace with his PTSD, and move forward in pro-active ways to support his healing.

In an article published by Reset.me the author says, “The difference now is that he is able to recognize and control its effects instead of have the effects control him. He says he would recommend Ayahuasca to most anyone dealing with PTSD.” Binicki is one of thousands of veterans who say that working with ayahuasca has helped them cope with the traumatic instances of war, alleviating many of the extreme challenges come with PTSD. While the science is still being corroborated, there is an ample amount of anecdotal evidence showing the positive effects of ayahuasca on individuals suffering with PTSD.

PTSD can be a debilitating mental health condition that can make it difficult for individuals to maintain healthy relationships and basic functions of everyday life. Constant flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety make living with post traumatic stress disorder a crippling case.

Scientific research, anecdotal evidence, and experienced psychotherapists say that it is more than likely that ayahuasca can help individuals to re-live their painful memories in a way that helps them to process and give meaning to the experience in a way that ultimately puts them on the road to healing and recovery.

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About the author, Lorna

Lorna Liana is a new media strategist and lifestyle business coach to visionary entrepreneurs. She travels the world while running her business as a digital nomad. Lorna's boutique agency provides “done for you” web design, development and online marketing services for social ventures, sustainable brands, transformational coaches and new paradigm thought leaders. She is also a personal development junkie, and 20 year practitioner of shamanism, with extensive training in Tibetan Bon Shamanism and the ayahuasca traditions of the Amazon Basin.

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