Drugs, Religion, and Cultural Heritage : An Analysis of the Public Policies Regarding the Use of Ayahuasca in Brazil
Henrique Fernandes Antunes
The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, 2018, Volume #, Issue #,
In 1985, ayahuasca was banned for a short period of time by the Federal Council of Drugs (CONFEN). After more than two decades of debates and public policies, the Brazilian government consolidated the regulation of ayahuasca consumption for religious purposes and recognized ayahuasca groups as legitimate religions and part of the cultural heritage of the Amazon region. The aim of this work is to demonstrate that scholars played a crucial role in shaping public policy related to the regulation of ayahuasca exclusively for religious purposes, as well as influencing the public recognition of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions. Thus, by participating in the decision-making processes and incorporating elements from the academic field into the debate, Brazilian researchers contributed to mold the regulation of ayahuasca and shape public policies.
Keywords : Ayahuasca, Drugs, Religion, Culture, Public Policies
The First Public Policies Regarding the Use of Ayahuasca in Brazil yahuasca2 is one of the many names given to a tea with psychoactive properties produced from two plants native to the Amazon forest—the vine Banisteriopsis caapi and the leaves of a shrub, Psicothrya viridis. It contains, among other psychoactive substances, DMT (dimethyltryptamine), an internationally banned substance according to the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (CSP) of the United Nations (Labate 2012). In Brazil, besides the vast majority of indigenous groups that consume ayahuasca, one can also highlight the significant presence of three ayahuasca groups in the Amazon region founded between the 1930’s and 1960’s: Santo Daime, Barquinha, and the União do Vegetal. They are known in the academic literature as Brazilian ayahuasca religions.3 In the late 1970s and beginning of the 1980’s, the expansion of ayahuasca use throughout Brazil created new dynamics, as churches linked to Santo Daime and União do Vegetal were founded in some of the country’s largest cities. As a result, ayahuasca groups acquired increased visibility.
The debate concerning ayahuasca use reached its highest peak in the 1980’s with the participation of new social actors in the debate such as scholars, governmental institutions, and the national media. In the mid-1980s, ayahuasca was banned for a period of six months by the Federal Council of Drugs (CONFEN), but later its use was temporarily authorized by the Brazilian government. After more than two decades of debates and public policies, in 2010, the Brazilian government, through the National Council of Drug Policy (CONAD), regulated ayahuasca consumption for religious purposes, recognized ayahuasca groups as religious organizations, and as part of the cultural heritage of the Amazon. In this light, the aim of this article is to analyze some of the key developments that contributed to the recognition of ayahuasca use from a potentially harmful drug to a religious and cultural tradition in Brazil. The article will focus mainly on the normative processes developed throughout three governmental institutions: the Federal Council of Drugs (CONFEN), the National Council of Drug Policy (CONAD), and the National Institute of History and Patrimony (IPHAN). The main objective of this article is to demonstrate how the work of scholars played a crucial role in the regulation and recognition of the religious use of ayahuasca, shaping the public policies over the last three decades.
In 1985, Banisteriopsis caapi, one of the plants used in the making of ayahuasca, was included in the list of banned substances by the Division of Drugs (DIMED), an agency that belonged to the Ministry of Health. Months later, members of a Brazilian ayahuasca group, União do Vegetal (UDV), solicited the Federal Narcotics Council (CONFEN) to reconsider the measure. Ayahuasca remained banned for six months when CONFEN decided to allow the use of the tea until a final decision was made (Resolution no. 6, CONFEN, 86). After two years of evaluations, in which members of CONFEN visited ayahuasca groups, participated in rituals, and interviewed its members, CONFEN released the Final Repor —Ayahuasca (1987). A number of scholars from various fields such of as anthropology, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry worked as advisors prior to the publication of the report. It argued in favor of the exclusion of Banisteriopsis caapi from the list of banned substances (Labate 2005).
According to the report, most of the inquiries made by the working group during the investigations involved two categories in particular: “hallucinogens” and “cultures.”