I’ve recently been engaged with the preparation for a long term, multidisciplinary study into the effectiveness of Ayahuasca assisted therapy for the treatment of addiction & other mental health issues. As you can see above, we’re in the final days of a crowd-funding campaign to facilitate the first face-to-face meeting of the various participants [and potential participants] in the meeting. Through wonderful efforts of the team and many others to disseminate the information, we’ve just surpassed our goal of $25,000 to fund the meeting. There’s still a number of days left, and if you would like to support the ongoing study of Ayahuasca’s efficacy please follow the link above to donate.
Those of you who know me, or of my work, will know that my relationship with the Master Plants of the South America’s is a deeply personal and personified one with the spirits of the plants, and their attendant doctors and helpers. It seems perhaps odd then, for me to be so directly engaged with a scientific endeavour which seeks to quantify treatment outcomes, and perhaps reduce the action of said plants to a molecular one in physical bodies. Over the last decade that I have been in relationship with Ayahausca and Huachuma I have seen many healings which I would put squarely in the camp of “miraculous”. Not only do I feel that it would have been impossible to quantify the breadth of that healing for the individual in a scientific fashion, I feel that there is not currently a scientific language to address all of the facets of those individual hearings.
That being said I don’t feel that it’s impossible to develop a language for such phenomena, and indeed such a language is already well established in those cultures who have a historical relationship with these plants – it’s just that it’s deemed “unscientific”. What troubles me about the rejection of that language as unscientific and merely culturally bound descriptors, is that it runs the risk of the throwing out of myriad babies with bath waters. It’s my understanding that these languages are indeed a kind of science, which is to say labels and ontological theories applied on the basis of repeated observations. When those observations are discarded, such as is often seen in modern “neo-shamanic” usage of these Master Plants, much practical wisdom is discarded as well. As a result I have seen more and more damage to bodies and psyches wrought in ill-considered usage of these plants. An “anything goes” attitude flies in the face of accumulated knowledge and runs the risk of diffusing the traditions who carried them to this historical point.
This is not to say that traditions do not change, and in the last 5 years or so there has been an explosion of interest in Ayahuasca particularly in the modern, urbanised psyche. The cultures from whence this interest springs reject these Sacred Medicines, at a legislative level, as dangerous drugs and prohibit their usage under law. This knee-jerk legislative response stems from a misunderstanding of the profound potential benefits of these medicines. Given that the cultures which reject these plants are one’s dominated [purportedly], by a scientific world view, it makes sense to understand the therapeutic value of these medicines from within the linguistic structures of those cultures. If that legitimacy in the scientific realm is determined, then there is a huge potential for a shift in attitude towards these profound medicines.
Of course the situation is not ideal, and one should have the opportunity to do with one’s psyche & body whatsoever one chooses but currently our societies do not have such enlightened attitudes about personal sovereignty, despite the cultural rhetoric, and for this reason [& knowing something of the hearts and minds of colleagues and friends involved in the study], I’m in direct support of it.
The combined experiences of those researchers on the team well surpass a century of work in the field, and I recently spoke with the lead researcher Dr Brian Rush, a researcher with nearly 40 years experience in the field of addiction treatment. Our conversation is embedded at the top of the page.
Dr. Rush’s bio at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health site states;
Dr. Brian Rush is a Senior Scientist in the Social and Epidemiological Research Department. Dr. Rush is also a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Associate Professor in Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto. In 2005, Dr. Rush was granted an “Award of Merit” for his work in support of the Anti-Drug Secretariat Brazil in recognition to the significant contribution to the reduction of drug demand in Brazil.
Areas of Research
Dr. Rush has worked for over 30 years in a research and evaluation capacity in the substance abuse and mental health fields. He has a background of addiction and community mental health services and systems research, social /psychiatric epidemiology, with a focus on co-occurring mental and substance use disorders, evaluation and planning of community prevention, program and policy evaluation, and community needs assessment. His research interests have included: the longitudinal study of the addiction treatment system in Ontario; outcome assessment and performance measurement systems for substance abuse, problem gambling and mental health services; and prevalence and impact of concurrent substance and mental disorders. His research findings have been applied many times to needs-based planning and policy analysis for alcohol and drug treatment services in Ontario, other parts of Canada and internationally.
Dr. Rush has been extensively involved in the evaluation of assessment protocols and their potential for substance abuse treatment outcome assessment. He is also an internationally recognized expert in the area of screening for co-occurring disorders. In 2001, he completed a report commissioned by Health Canada on Best Practice for the identification, assessment and treatment of people experiencing concurrent mental health and substance use disorders and following the publication of that report worked to improve Canadian data on the subject. This has included establishing prevalence rates in the general population and clinical samples and also evaluating various screening tools to improve detection rates. He is consulted widely on regional, provincial, and national issues related to the integration of mental health and substance abuse services.