Ayahuasca in Adolescence : A Preliminary Psychiatric Assessment, Dartiu Xavier Da Silveira, Charles S. Grob et al., 2005

Ayahuasca in Adolescence : A Preliminary Psychiatric Assessment

Dartiu Xavier Da Silveira; Charles S. Grob; Marlene Dobkin de Rios; Enrique Lopez; Luisa K. Alonso;
Cristiane Tacla & Evelyn Doering-Silveira

Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2005, 37, (2), 129-133.




Ayahuasca is believed to be harmless for those (including adolescents) drinking it within a religious setting. Nevertheless controlled studies on the mental/ psychiatric status of ritual hallucinogenic ayahuasca concoction consumers are still lacking. In this study, 40 adolescents from a Brazilian ayahuasca sect were compared with 40 controls matched on sex, age, and educational background for psychiatric symptomatology. Screening scales for depression, anxiety, alcohol consumption patterns (abuse), attentional problems, and body dysmorphic disorders were used. It was found that, compared to controls, considerable lower frequencies of positive scoring for anxiety, body dismorphism, and attentional problems were detected among ayahuasca-using adolescents despite overall similar psychopathological profiles displayed by both study groups. Low frequencies of psychiatric symptoms detected among adolescents consuming ayahuasca within a religious context may reflect a protective effect due to their religious affiliation. However further studies on the possible interference of other variables in the outcome are necessary.

Keywords : adolescence, ayahuasca, hallucinogen, psychopathology, religion, scales


Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic concoction of plants used as a psychoactive ritual sacrament in ceremonies of the syncretic churches União do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime. In Brazil, law has sanctioned the use of ayahuasca within the context of religious practice since 1987. Ayahuasca is consumed only during religious ceremonies, which last approximately four hours, being regularly scheduled twice monthly and often attended by multigenerational families. Within the UDV, adolescents are offered the opportunity to voluntarily join their parents and participate in ritual ceremonies where ayahuasca is consumed, and it is a common belief among members of the UDV that ayahuasca presents no risk for adolescents as long as they take it within a religious context. Nevertheless, to date there have been no controlled studies on the effects of periodic ritual ayahuasca use on adolescents.

In 1993, a comprehensive research investigation of ayahuasca use in long-term adult members of the UDV called the Hoasca Project was conducted in the Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus (Callaway et al. 1999, 1996 1994; McKenna et al. 1998; Grob et al. 1996). Phase I evaluations of pharmacokinetics, neuroendocrine assays, serotonin function, and psychiatric and medical health were then conducted. Contrasting the findings on 15 subjects from the UDV for at least 10 years with matched controls who had never consumed ayahuasca, this pilot investigation concluded that there was no evidence of injurious effect induced by ritual use of ayahuasca. Indeed, UDV subjects appeared to have experienced a remission of severe psychiatric disorders, including drug and alcohol abuse, following their entry into this religion.

Currently, the membership of the UDV in Brazil is estimated at close to 9,000, including approximately 1,200 adolescents. Considering the proportion of this age group within the population that uses these psychoactive substances on a regular basis, it is advisable to investigate the adolescents’ psychiatric status and behavioral functioning.

The main objective of this study is to evaluate the mental condition of these adolescents through screening instruments for psychiatric disorders.