Assessment of the Psychotherapeutic Effects of Ritual Ayahuasca Use on Drug Dependency : A Pilot Study, Xavier Fernández et al., 2014

Assessment of the Psychotherapeutic Effects of Ritual Ayahuasca Use on Drug Dependency : A Pilot Study

Xavier Fernández, Rafael Guimarães dos Santos, Marta Cutchet, Sabela Fondevila, Débora González, Miguel Ángel Alcázar, Jordi Riba, José Carlos Bouso, Josep María Fábregas, Xavier Fernández, Rafael Guimarães dos Santos

in “The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca“, Chapter 11, 183-196

Beatriz Caiuby LABATE, Clancy CAVNAR Editors, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2014


Using personality, psychopathology, and neuropsychological assessment instruments, our team assessed the therapeutic effects of an ayahuasca ritual treatment. Data was collected at the Institute of Applied Amazonian Ethnopsychology (IDEAA), in the Brazilian Amazon Basin. Psychological assessments were obtained both before and at the end of the treatment. The ayahuasca treatment lasted between 3 and 9 months and included biweekly ayahuasca consumption. The sample consisted of 13 patients (8 men, 5 women) with a mean age of 35 years. Nine had a diagnosis of drug abuse and/or dependence; one of borderline personality disorder, and 3 were at IDEAA for personal growth. Results showed that the “Impulsiveness,” “Disorderliness,” “Anticipatory Worry,” and “Shyness with Strangers” subscales of the Temperament and Character Inventory presented statistically significant reductions after treatment, while the “Self-Directedness,” “Responsibility,” “Purposefulness,” and “Congruent Second Nature” subscales presented significant increases. The psychopathology subscales “Positive Symptoms,” “Obsessive–Compulsive,” and “Anxiety” of the Symptom CheckList90Revised, were significantly diminished after treatment, as well as all subscales of the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale: “Total,” “Apathy,” “Disinhibition,” and “Executive Dysfunction.” In addition, the “Resistance to Interference” measure of the Stroop Color and Word Test, the Purpose in Life Test, and the “Transcendent Dimension,” “Meaning and Purpose in Life,” “Mission in Life,” and “Material Values” subscales of the Spiritual Orientation Inventory presented statistically significant increases after treatment. Despite important limitations, such as the small sample size and the lack of a control group, the present pilot study provides preliminary evidence suggesting psychotherapeutic effects of ritual ayahuasca treatment in drug-related disorders.

Keywords : Ayahuasca, Hallucinogens, Ritual, Spirituality, Drug dependence, Personality,  Psychopathology, Cognition, Psychosocial well being, Psychotherapy, Therapeutic assessment



Anecdotal evidence suggests that the ritual use of ayahuasca, either in the traditional indigenous and mestizo contexts, in the syncretic Brazilian religions, or in diverse neo-shamanic practices, and in clinics like the Takiwasi Center in Peru, may help the treatment of drug-related disorders (see Bouso and Riba, in this volume). Nevertheless, to the best of our knowledge, there is neither any efficacy study, nor a longitudinal research devoted to assess, within the same study, personality, psychopathology, executive functions and neuropsychological status, life attitudes, and spirituality, in drug-dependent individuals after a ritual treatment program with ayahuasca.

This chapter presents preliminary data obtained at the Institute of Applied Amazonian Ethnopsychology Instituto de Etnopsicología Amazónica Aplicada( IDEAA). The Institute was created by one of the authors, Fábregas. It is placed at the Brazilian Amazon basin, near the Mapiá River, a tributary of the Purús River in the municipality of Pauiní, in the Amazon State (Fernández and Fábregas, in this volume). The aim of this text is to describe an observational study on the variations on personality, psychopathology, and neuropsychological measures in individuals treated with ayahuasca in the IDEAA setting.