Mental Health Safety of Ayahuasca Religious Use: Results from an Epidemiological Surveillance System by the União do Vegetal in Brazil

The risk of psychotic outbreaks and major psychiatric incidents is an important but yet unresolved issue regarding the safety of the Amazonian entheogenic beverage ayahuasca. The União do Vegetal (UDV, one of the Brazilian syncretic ayahuasca religions) has a set of customs and beliefs that reinforces the attention to one’s mental health status before approving one’s experience with ayahuasca. To appraise the risk of psychotic outbreaks (POs) within UDV’s religious use of ayahuasca in order to evaluate whether UDV’s culture regarding mental health may prevent a greater risk of psychosis incidence when compared to the general population. We used retrospective UDV data from its censuses and an internal epidemiological surveillance system of mental health incidents to assess the number of POs during the years 1994-2007 in order to calculate: 1) the incidence of POs in the UDV; 2) the PO/ayahuasca servings ratio. The potential relationship between ayahuasca use and the emergence of psychosis was also analyzed. Considering Brazilian data and the population exposed to ayahuasca during the studied period, the expected number of cases of psychosis is 208. The number of psychotic outbreaks reported by the surveillance system in the UDV from 1994 to 2007 was only 29 (10 showed no relationship to ayahuasca intake). The number of individual ayahuasca servings associated to the occurrence of one psychotic incidence was around 263,000. Even considering that there might be missing cases, the results do not refute the hypothesis that UDV culture of attention to mental health has been enough to prevent an over-representation of POs within its religious use of ayahuasca. Nevertheless, well-controlled follow-up prospective studies would be welcomed to better address this issue in the future.

This video is from Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century, a conference taking in place in San Jose, California on April 15-18, 2010. The conference was organized by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in collaboration with the Heffter Research Institute, the Council on Spiritual Practices, and the Beckley Foundation.

This video was produced by Green Fuse Media, contact Nathan at greenfusefilms@gmail.com.

To learn more about MAPS or to support our work, visit maps.org.

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