MOVING LAWS FORWARD

Making A Case For Legalizing Psychedelics Like Ayahuasca

Elio Geusa

Elio Geusa

January 17, 2024

Medicine, psychology, and other restrictive laws have evolved. Why not evolve our relationship with psychedelics?

What you will be learning

In this article you will find a brief overview of what psychedelics are, how our understanding of psychedelics in general and ayahuasca in particular have progressed in recent years, and why a new legal outlook towrd ayahuasca and other similar substances would be a net positive for society as a whole.

It goes without saying that psychedelics have long captivated the human imagination. They hold the potential to offer users profound experiences that can expand consciousness and even provide therapeutic benefits. So why have psychedelics been historically stigmatized and even criminalized, discouraging their use?

As complicated as it may be to answer such a question, it is just as important to look past the long-standing problem of stigmatization and criminalization and look forward to the growing movement to reevaluate the potential benefits of psychedelics and, as such, their legalization. It is important to explore the advantages of psychedelics, not only from a subjective perspective but also from a more objective, scientific, emprirical perspective. To do this, it is a good idea to focus on the plant medicine ayahuasca and its healing properties demonstrated in Peru’s ayahuasca retreats. Does this potentially have implications for justifying a call for legalization of psychedelics like ayahuasca in places like the United States? Let’s find out.

 

What Exactly Are Psychedelics?

Psychedelics are a class of substances that can alter human perception, cognition, and emotion when they are consumed1, whether that be through inhalation of smoke, ingestion through the digestive system, or other means of entry into the body. Psychedelics include natural substances like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca, as well as synthetic compounds like MDMA.

Psychedelic substances have been used throughout history, with evidence dating back thousands of years, in various cultural and spiritual practices worldwide. In modern times, a newfound appreciation for the potential therapeutic and healing potential of psychedelics for certain conditions has opened many doors of possibility in traditional Western medicine. Pre-existing regulations being what they are however, presents a difficult path forward both for lawmakers and for healing practitioners to find the common ground required to move things forward responsibly and realistically.

 

Ayahuasca: A Particularly Therapeutic Psychedelic?

Ayahuasca, a potent psychedelic brew originating from the Amazon rainforest, has gained significant attention due to its profound healing potential. Ayahuasca is made by combining two plants: the climbing vine Banisteriopsis caapi, and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis plant. The plant matter from these two species is mixed together in a tea to create a drinkable liquid that can induce intense visionary experiences, revelatory thoughts, and profound emotional insights.

The great Amazon, home to indigenous tribes of people who have used ayahuasca in their traditional medicine for millenia.

Indigenous tribes in Peru have used Ayahuasca for generations as a spiritual sacrament and a tool for healing physical, emotional, and psychological ailments. Ayahuasca is one of the many plant medicines that make up the pharmacopoeia of traditional medicine in the Amazonian jungle, and the collection of plant medicines is in turn one of many healing practices that contribute to the gnosis of traditional medicine in the Amazon. Because of its potentially profound effects, Ayahuasca has gained popularity among Westerners seeking alternative therapies through Ayahuasca retreats, including the popular area in and around Iquitos, Peru.

These retreats provide a safe and controlled environment where participants can experience Ayahuasca’s transformative effects under the guidance of experienced shamans and facilitators. Many participants in these Ayahuasca ceremonies report profound personal insights, enhanced self-awareness, and spiritual growth after taking part in a ceremony. The plant medicine found in Ayahuasca is understood to help individuals confront and heal past traumas, cut the cords tying them to addiction, work through depression, balance anxiety, and confront and deal with other mental health conditions.

 

Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy – Real Benefits for Real People

Ayahuasca is now well recognized, perhaps more than any other psychedelic substance, for its therapeutic potential. But even beyond Ayahuasca, psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA are showing great promise in the field of mental health treatment. Ongoing research, which has picked up significantly since the 1990s with the advent of renewed interest and favorable laws2 addressing psychedelics for therapeutic purposes, has indicated that these substances, when administered in a controlled therapeutic setting, can effectively treat conditions such as depression, PTSD, addiction, and anxiety disorders. Rather than fringe science, these applications are now more and more well established with a growing body of research backing them up.

The brain’s neuroplasticity increases under the influence of psychedelics like ayahuasca, facilitating unusually efficient and transformative connectivity of thought and meaning

Studies have shown, for example, that psychedelics can promote neuroplasticity – the ability of the human mind to make rapid and disparate neuronal connections as a result of high-level thought, resulting in the creation of new meaning, ability, and morals – allowing individuals to break free from harmful thought patterns and ingrained behaviors. Psychedelics can also facilitate introspection and enhance emotional empathy, which can lead to improved relationships and a greater sense of connectedness with others and the world. Such feelings of empathy, belonging, and self-awareness are in many cases important considerations in the treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy involves combining the administration of a psychedelic substance with psychotherapy sessions. Some see the psychedelic as a compliment to the psychotherapy, while others see the psychotherapy as a compliment to the psychedelic. In any case, this combined approach allows individuals to explore their subconscious mind, gain insights into their struggles, and develop new perspectives – both from the guidance of a trained professional and from the inspiration of a traditional plant medicine. With both treatments working together, the treatment process is in effect stronger than its separate parts. Insights formed from the use of psychedelics is informed by therapy sessions, and sessions are informed by psychedelic insights.

 

Legalization in the United States: Closer Than Many Think

Despite the potential benefits of psychedelics, they remain classified as Schedule I substances in the United States, alongside drugs like heroin and LSD. The same is also true in many other countries around the world – too many countries to enumerate, in fact. The truth is that up to today, psychedelics substances, even those which come directly from nature, are prohibited by the laws of almost all governments on earth. This sort of stigmatization and legal classification, while perhaps somewhat understandable in a historical context, does little to protect or better the lives of people living in the modern world and in fact only serves to hinder scientific research, restrict access to potential therapies, and perpetuate the baseless stigma surrounding psychedelics.

Regulating psychedelics – that is, providing a clear set of laws that describe the circumstances in which psychedelics are allowed – would provide a host of benefits. First, it would allow for safer consumption. The ongoing stigma and legal worry would be removed, providing for legal industry to approach consumption in a safe and sensible way. Oversight would guarantee safe delivery of plant medicines to those who would benefit from them and there would be no guesswork involved in patients sourcing their medicines.

Regulation would also improve therapeutic protocols. Those who are informed regarding treatment protocols could contribute to standards that compliment regulation. In this way patients would receive treatment that is informed by those with experience and sympathy for their conditions and the treatments that can help them.

Regulation would also contribute strongly to normalizing psychedelics, removing their stigmas, and integrating them into mainstream healthcare systems. This in turn would also enable researchers to conduct more extensive studies on the efficacy and safety of these substances. It would also open the doors of further inquiry into how psychedelics can plan a role in other treatments, how psychedelics interact with and can be used in combination with other drugs and treatment protocols, and how current treatment protocols can be improved to further the efficacy of psychedelic treatments.

Several cities in the United States have already taken steps towards decriminalization or legalization of certain psychedelics3. These steps are small ones, but they are steps in the right direction. The initiatives toward legalization, however, for the most part emphasize the decriminalizing non-violent drug use as a means of reducing prison populations, saving costs in criminal prosecutions, and hopefully contributing to public health by focusing on education and responsible use. Again, steps in the right direction, but there is much room for improvement. Official recognition of psychedelics as viable treatments for various psychological, emotional, and mental conditions would take these steps further from legalization to implementation, putting these plant medicines to good use for the betterment of those who can benefit from them medically.

In Conclusion: Hope For The Future

Psychedelics like Ayahuasca clearly offer immense potential as therapeutic substances and as part of a larger treatment strategy. Ayahuasca retreats in Peru provide an environment in which many of these potential benefits can be realized, and the ever-growing mass of evidence coming from the results of such retreats continue to confirm Ayahuasca’s ability to provide transformative effects to individuals seeking spiritual and emotional healing. Because psychedelic-assisted therapy is showing promising results in treating mental health conditions, modern-day Ayahuasca retreats are increasingly supported by trained psychologists, social workers, and others who can provide a psychological compliment to the experience. This, too, is a step in the right direction.

As the benefits of psychedelics become increasingly evident, it becomes more and more important to reconsider their legal standing in the laws of countries around the world. Legalization would allow for further research, regulation, and responsible use of these substances, as well as their integration into existing medical treatment protocols and a deeper understanding of where and how psychedelics are most effective in modern health care. This would ultimately serve to benefit individuals struggling with mental health issues who would benefit from the exposure to such plant medicines. And lest we forget, the betterment of ourselves and others is the primary objective of all who work with plant medicines and offer such profound experiences as Ayahuasca retreats as we do at AYA Healing Retreats.

 
References
 

¹ Britannica, Encyclopedia. Psychedelic Drug. Retrieved 16 January, 2024.

² Felix, Jorge Armando. RESOLUÇÃO N° 5 CONAD, DE 04 DE NOVEMBRO DE 2004.* Dispõe sobre o uso religioso e sobre a pesquisa da ayahuasca. https://www.bialabate.net/pdf/texts/resolucao_05.pdf. Retrieved 16 January 2024.

³ Wikipedia. “Psilocybin decriminalization in the United States”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin_decriminalization_in_the_United_States. Retrieved 16 Jan. 2024.

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