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The ritual use of ayahuasca during treatment of severe physical illnesses: a qualitative study

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Abstract

Diseases that threaten life raise existential questions that can be a source of psychological distress. Studies with psychedelics demonstrate therapeutic effects for anxiety and depression associated with life-threatening illnesses. Ayahuasca has been proposed as a possible therapeutic agent in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Preliminary studies suggest that ayahuasca could promote therapeutic effects for people with physical illnesses. The aim of this study was to explore how the ritual use of ayahuasca during the treatment of severe physical illnesses (SPI) may influence the way people understand and relate to their illness, using qualitative methods to assess the participants’ perspectives. Participants who consumed ayahuasca ritualistically during the period of treatment for SPI were purposely chosen. Data were obtained through semi-structured interviews. A thematic analysis was performed with 14 individuals. The ritual experience with ayahuasca acted on the participants’ illness understanding through multiple psychological mechanisms, including introspection, self-analysis, emotional processing and catharsis, recall of autobiographical memories subjectively related to illness origin, illness resignification, and perspective changes. This study suggests that the experience with ayahuasca may facilitate illness acceptance through an influence on the meanings of the illness, life, and death. These changes may favor a more balanced relationship with illness and treatment.

Maia, L. O., Daldegan-Bueno, D., & Tófoli, L. F. (2021). The ritual use of ayahuasca during treatment of severe physical illnesses: a qualitative study. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 53(3), 272–282. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2020.1854399

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