Should marijuana be legalized? How about for medical purposes? Over the past decade, the media has examined this issue through opinions of doctors, patients and the general public as well as picking through scientific studies on the topic. Currently, 23 states and D.C. have laws that legalize marijuana for medical purposes and three more states currently have pending legislation (ProCon, “Medical Marijuana,” 8.27.14). Medical marijuana has been a hot topic that will most likely consume the media for many upcoming years. However, it appears medical marijuana will now have to share the spotlight as the Amazon drug ayahuasca is now also being examined for medical purposes. CNN has even termed this drug as the next medicinal marijuana (CNN, “Could this be the next medicinal marijuana?,” 10.24.14).
So what exactly is ayahuasca and why should you care? Ayahuasca is a vine that is usually combined with other various plants to create a brew. The drink has been credited with alleviating post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and paralyzing anxiety. Many believe this brew is the medical answer for multiple types of mental trauma. Currently, the brew is illegal in the United States and is considered a schedule I drug, which implies the drug creates serious risk to public health and that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs does not currently acknowledge the therapeutic value of ayahuasca. Many psychedelics are in the category of schedule I drugs. However, exceptions can be made if one uses the drug for religious reasons, but in general, many travel to foreign countries to experiment with ayahuasca.
There has been a rise in the coverage of ayahuasca because a lot of medical health professionals believe the drug can help our veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Former Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan LeCompte is a veteran who has used ayahuasca for emotional and mental trauma. He has organized numerous trips to Peru for other veterans to seek treatment for their trauma with ayahuasca as well. LeCompte expresses his dissatisfaction with other methods of PSTD treatment and states, “The ayahuasca medicine is a way to, instead of sweeping your dirt under the rug, you know, these medicines force you to take the rug outside and beat it with a stick until it’s clean” (CNN, “Could this be the next medicinal marijuana?,” 10.24.14).
I am in agreement that the help vets receive is often very limited and not exactly ideal, but I am curious as to what exactly LeCompte meant. Many state it is hard to explain their experience while under the influence of ayahuasca and how it helps with mental and emotional healing, but writer and blogger Conor Creighton does his best to explain his experience with the brew when he states, “Watching all the traumatic experiences that have touched your life sweep past like a dream helps to place them in perspective: They’re over. In a way, it takes you back to your original essence in nature” (Vice, “AYAHUASCA WILL MAKE YOU CRY, VOMIT, AND FEEL AMAZING,” 9.18.14).
However, those who have been researching the effects of ayahuasca bear caution. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to help someone overcome the trauma. Author and ayahuasca expert Peter Gorman, who has been studying ayahuasca since the 1990s, states: “If you think you’re just going to take ‘joy juice’ … you’re nuts. The five years of work to get rid of [mental trauma] is still gonna be on you” (CNN, “Could this be the next medicinal marijuana?,” 10.24.14). Often, people will get caught up in the hype of a drug from the coverage of it in the media, and ayahuasca, in my opinion, is not something you should try for fun.
One must be cautious of the risks associated with ayahuasca. Like any drug, side effects are not uncommon and can lead to serious or permanent damage. Reports of teenagers dying from participating in ayahuasca rituals in other countries are starting to be more prominent in the media. However, it appears that many of the teenagers decided to seek ayahuasca without consulting a doctor. I question why parents let their children travel halfway across the world to try a drug that not fully understood. Many administrations of ayahuasca are not certified and one must really do their research to attend a certified center for ayahuasca administration. Without proper consultation with a doctor, making plans to try ayahuasca is not recommended. Even with research and experts studying ayahuasca for decades, relative to other drugs, little is known about ayahuasca. Mother of Kyle Nolan, an 18-year old who was found dead after his third night of ayahuasca sessions, Ingeborg Oswald cautions those who want to travel to use ayahuasca: “If you’re going to do this, you really, really, really need to research it and make sure wherever you find is properly supervised and there’s medical supervision there” (CNN, “Teen’s quest for Amazon ‘medicine’ ends in tragedy,” 10.25.14).
I expect that research regarding ayahuasca will be continued, but that in the United States, the research for now will be limited and the drug will stay outlawed for at least the next few years. While ayahuasca has started to take some of the spotlight away from medical marijuana, in reality, the FDA is much more in tune with side effects of medical marijuana and there appears to be more knowledge about this drug. With some states already having medical marijuana legalized, I believe it will stay the hot topic until we see many more states on board or until marijuana used for non-medical purposes is legalized. Medical marijuana may be sharing the spotlight with ayahuasca for now, but I am not sure the hype around ayahuasca will last, at least in terms of bringing the drug to the United States.
—Delaney Fisher ’15 is a neuroscience major.