Ayahuasca alarm: Traditional botanical brew can lead to 'acute mental health troubles' - Australian study

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers say 68.2% of people surveyed sipping the tea would vomit and feel nauseous, 17.8% had headaches, and 12.8% had stomach pain.
Researchers say 68.2% of people surveyed sipping the tea would vomit and feel nauseous, 17.8% had headaches, and 12.8% had stomach pain.

Related tags: botanical, Herbal

The traditional botanical drink ayahuasca causes more than two thirds of the consumers negative physical symptoms, and over half of them acute mental health troubles, Australian and international researchers have reported.

The team say 68.2% of people surveyed sipping the tea would vomit and feel nauseous, 17.8% had headaches, and 12.8% had stomach pain.

Additionally, 28.5% of them reported hearing or seeing things, 21% felt disconnected or alone, and 19.2% had nightmares or disturbing thoughts. Notably, 87.6% of these people believed that the bad symptoms were completely or somewhat part of a positive growth process.

Overall researchers from Western Sydney University, Swinburne University of Technology, The University of Melbourne, and Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, found in the Global Ayahuasca Survey that 70% experience physical and 55% mental health adverse effects.

Despite this, the brew, which uses the Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis plants, does not usually lead to conditions that require medical treatment - in fact only only 2.3% needed attention.

 contemporary use has been expanding throughout the world for mental health purposes and for spiritual and personal growth. Although clinical trials and observational studies have examined the potential benefits of ayahuasca, few have analysed its adverse effects.

In the new study, the researchers used data from an online Global Ayahuasca Survey carried out between 2017 and 2019, involving 10,836 people from more than 50 countries who were at least 18 years old and had used ayahuasca at least once. Information on participants’ age, physical and mental health and history and context of ayahuasca use was collected.

Severe stats

They noted: "Overall, acute physical health adverse effects were reported by 69.9% of the sample, with the most common effects being vomiting and nausea (68.2% of participants), headache (17.8%) and abdominal pain (12.8%). Only 2.3% of participants reporting physical adverse events required medical attention for this issue. Among all participants, 55% also reported adverse mental health effects, including hearing or seeing things (28.5%), feeling disconnected or alone (21.0%), and having nightmares or disturbing thoughts (19.2%). However, of all respondents identifying these mental health effects, 87.6% believed they were completely or somewhat part of a positive growth process."

The researchers also identified several factors that predispose people to the adverse physical events, including older age, having a physical health condition or substance use disorder, lifetime ayahuasca use and taking ayahuasca in a non-supervised context.

The authors make the observation that ayahuasca has notable, although rarely severe, adverse effects according to the standards used for assessing prescription medicines.

In that sense, they state that ayahuasca practices can hardly be assessed with the same parameters used for prescription medicines, since the myriad of its effects include challenging experiences that are intrinsic to the experience, some of which are considered as part of its healing process.

The authors add: “Many are turning to ayahuasca due to disenchantment with conventional Western mental health treatments, however the disruptive power of this traditional medicine should not be underestimated, commonly resulting in mental health or emotional challenges during assimilation. While these are usually transitory and seen as part of a beneficial growth process, risks are greater for vulnerable individuals or when used in unsupportive contexts.”

Source: PLOS Global Public Health

10.1371/journal.pgph.0000438

'Adverse effects of ayahuasca: Results from the Global Ayahuasca Survey'

Authors: Daniel Perkins, et al

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